Sunday March 15th, 2015

MONTREAL — Three thoughts on Sergey Kovalev’s eighth-round knockout of Jean Pascal at the Bell Centre:

Expectations, met    

Coming in, Kovalev-Pascal was the best fight the 175-pound division had to offer. Yes, lineal champion Adonis Stevenson was out there, but Stevenson has spent the last year doing whatever he could to avoid a major fight. Pascal, a former titleholder who is wildly popular in Canada, was considered the next man up. More importantly, his fan friendly style was considered a perfect match for Kovalev, who had knocked out nine of his last 10 opponents.

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And it was. For seven-plus rounds Kovalev and Pascal traded punches, slugging it out in a clear early Fight of the Year candidate. Kovalev got the better of most of the exchanges, battering Pascal in the first few rounds. A thudding combination toppled Pascal in the third, sending him halfway through the ropes. For every power shot Pascal landed, Kovalev was there with three or four more.

Pascal briefly turned the momentum in the fifth, landing several huge shots that backed Kovalev up. With a raucous crowd of nearly 12,000 behind him, Pascal appeared poised to get back into the fight. Then came the sixth, which was more Kovalev, more power shots, more punishment for the rugged Pascal to take. In the eighth Kovalev pushed Pascal into a corner and looked ready to finish him. He slipped, causing a momentary stoppage, during which Pascal stumbled across the ring into an opposite corner. When the fight resumed, a grinning Kovalev charged in and enveloped Pascal with punches, forcing referee Luis Pabon to stop the fight.

Rematch? Eh.             

By all accounts, this was a clean stoppage—Pascal was wobbly, his legs were gone and Kovalev was teeing off. Pascal saw it differently. He protested the stoppage after the fight and challenged Kovalev to a rematch. At this point, there is little need for it. Kovalev has a mandatory title defense due against Nadjib Mohammedi, which Kovalev’s manager, Egis Klimas, says could happen in July. After that the focus will be on Stevenson (more on that below). Kovalev’s promoter, Kathy Duva, was quick to praise Pascal after the fight and said they were open to a rematch down the road. For now though, Kovalev is moving on.

Bring on Stevenson   

Stevenson certainly acts like a star. The adopted Canadian walked around the arena flanked by two bodyguards dressed in identical suits and hats. But is he one? We won’t know until he faces Kovalev. Stevenson followed up a spectacular 2013—a year in which he was named SI.com’s Fighter of the Year—with a pedestrian ’14, where he seemed to actively avoid any significant fight. Kovalev has been campaigning for a showdown with Stevenson for awhile, and thanks (gasp!) to a sanctioning body, he may get his chance.

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The WBC—whose belt Stevenson holds—ordered that the winner of Kovalev-Pascal would be the mandatory challenger for Stevenson’s belt. Translation: If Kovalev gets through Mohammedi, he gets Stevenson, or Stevenson gives up the belt. A Kovalev-Stevenson fight would do big business in Montreal or Quebec City, and Duva says Kovalev is perfectly willing to come back to Canada for a Stevenson fight.

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