Sunday January 31st, 2016

Before a largely hostile crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal, a relentless Sergey Kovalev lived up to his “Krusher” nickname by pounding an overwhelmed Jean Pascal into submission to earn a seventh-round TKO, retain his unified light heavyweight championship and cement his place as one of the most intimidating fighters in boxing. It was the 32-year-old Russian-born Kovalev’s 29th victory and 26th KO, against no defeats and one draw. Pascal, 33, dropped to 30-4-1. In the wake of Kovalev’s impressive victory on Saturday night, here are three thoughts:

1. The Krusher is only getting better

Kovalev, who came into the ring looking leaner and more angular than ever—almost skinny, in fact (think: Bob Foster)—dominated from the start. Last March, Pascal had given Kovalev the toughest fight of his career, landing a number of hard shots before being stopped (some said prematurely) in the eighth round. This time Kovalev seemed almost to toy with the former champion, spearing him throughout with heavy left jabs, banging him to the body and dropping in thudding overhand rights again and again. On the SI card, Kovalev won every round—the fifth by a 10–8 margin even without a knockdown. The HBO commentators speculated that Kovalev was punishing his opponent for having accused him of racism in the pre-fight build-up. Watching the champion’s business-like approach to the battering, it was easy to agree with them. And, indeed, in the post-fight interview, Kovalev admitted as much, saying of Pascal, “I don’t respect him. I would fight more rounds and make him more pain and punish him more.”

FRIEDMAN: All the stats, storylines you need to know for Kovalev-Pascal II

Kovalev’s 2014 decision over Bernard Hopkins (one of those impressed HBO commentators) was a revelation, showing that the “Krusher” was also a keen and disciplined tactician. Saturday night’s dismantling of Pascal was a reminder that he is also one of the most devastating offensive forces in boxing today.

2. The light heavyweight division is rocking

As HBO’s Max Kellerman was interviewing Kovalev in the ring after his victory, another 175-pounder of note inserted himself into the picture. Adonis Stevenson, who holds the WBC slice of the light heavyweight title (and who, like Pascal, is a Haitian-born resident of Quebec), shouldered through the crowd, resplendent in dark suit and purple tie, to bellow challenges to Kovalev. This was immediately after Kovalev had referred to Stevenson as “Adonis Chicken-son” and delivered a series of derisive clucks.

Stevenson, a rangy and hard-punching southpaw with a 27–1 record (22 KOs), would be a compelling opponent for Kovalev, one with enough size and power to keep Kovalev on his guard. Certainly it would be a fan-friendly affair. But Stevenson, who is managed by Al Haymon, has insisted that Showtime join with Kovalev’s network, HBO, for a joint pay-per-view venture for any bout. Which means that, for all his post-fight bluster, Stevenson is a long way from landing a shot at Kovalev.

FRIEDMAN: Q&A with Kovalev on his fight preparation, Pascal and more

More intriguing is the prospect of a Kovalev bout against Andre Ward, the undefeated (28–0, 15 KOs) super middleweight champion now moving up to the light heavweight division. The 31-year-old Ward, like Kovalev a contender for the top rungs of the current pound-for-pound list, has not fought since June of 2015. He has a bout tentatively scheduled for June 3 against lightly-regarded Sullivan Barrera. After that, and perhaps one more tune-up, Ward could sign to fight Kovalev. It would be a classic match of styles—Ward’s boxing skills and athleticism against Kovalev’s precision firepower—and a fight of huge attraction to boxing fans everywhere.

3. Freddie Roach is a credit to the sport

Much was made going into the Kovalev-Pascal rematch that Pascal had switched trainers and was working with Hall of Famer Freddie Roach. The trainer said all the right things before the bout: that Pascal had shown new-found dedication in the gym, that he was learning to be more disciplined in his offense and not simply charging in and winging punches, that he was controlled and determined.  Once the fight started, Roach worked hard between rounds to keep Pascal focused on all the new points. But it was also clear he was registering just how much punishment his new charge was taking. After the sixth round, Roach told Pascal that he was going to stop the fight. Pascal, game if not exactly effective, asked for one more. Roach gave it to him—seemingly reluctantly—and then, when Pascal simply absorbed another three minutes of punishment, called a halt from the corner. It was a compassionate and totally professional move, and one that deserves as much acclaim as all of Roach’s victories over the years.

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