The Sunday morning headline writers probably checked the pre-fight odds and thought they were in for an easy shift. Massacre in Montreal. Carnage in Canada. Krusher Kovalev KOs …. You get the general alliterative idea. But while the final result, Kovalev by TKO between rounds eight to twelve, was exactly where all the smart money had been placed, the journey to that seemingly inevitable destination was far removed from how many had predicted.
Jean Pascal walked to the ring to the tune of the Rocky IV training montage music. You know, the one where Balboa beats the big, bad, killer Russian. As always, the Haitian Canadian had butchered any trace of body fat from his frame to leave an impressive assortment of muscle upon muscle. Appearances matter to Jean, but most expected his formidable mandible to be the key attribute last night. Key, that is, in deciding what round he would lose in.
Sergey Kovalev emerged to a cacophony of boos that even Ivan Drago in his prime would have been proud to receive on North American soil. Other than dozing off mid-ring walk, however, Krusher could not have appeared any less concerned by the hostile pantomime-reception.
There was little of note to report from the opening stanza. Kathy Duva’s shrewd marketing brain probably chose wisely when ordaining her man Krusher, but Sergey the Stalker, though not as threatening, would be just as apt.
Making the most of a rangy frame, hurtful jab upstairs or down, and a reputation for punching people in the face extremely hard, Kovalev quickly forces opponents onto the back foot and then marches them down with sustained pressure for as long as it takes. Pascal began as tentative as a cat at Crufts and more than one bookie out there must have thought his prayers for an early finish were being seriously considered by someone up above.
The action started for real in the second. A couple of straight rights awoke the local fighter from his slumber and he responded with wide arching hooks, one from the east and one from the west, that moved Kovalev first one way and then the other. The Russian had got enough of his own glove on both blows to remove the vast majority of the venom they contained but the crowd reacted and we were reminded that these men are big enough that one clean shot can immediately change the course of a fight.
But standing tall and doing all his work behind that ramrod jab, Kovalev continued to dominate proceedings. Pascal wanted to get in close or land a bomb but both strategies resulted in him eating stiff, stunning counters and he spent the majority of the three minutes in retreat. At one point a Canadian leg straightened for the first time but a slippery patch on the canvas floor may have been the culprit. Only at the sound of the ten second clapper did Pascal stand his ground and briefly trade. Rounds can occasionally be stolen in late furious flurries but rarely when they follow two minutes and fifty seconds of almost total inactivity. Two nil Krusher.
Pascal started to show a little more in the first half of the third. Another looping, thudding right hook shifted Kovalev before a cuffing left did likewise. With his back to the ropes the Canadian then threw a straight right counter that landed flush and had the partisan crowd on their feet. This little success and the noise it generated emboldened Pascal and he swaggered to the centre of the ring to engage.
The swagger was soon a stagger, however, as a big Russian left looked to have the local fighter in trouble. Rather than hold his way through this moment of peril, Jean decided to swing for the fences. He was never going to hit a homerun but a low blow that could be generously described as borderline did enough to slow down his opponent and buy some time.
He only had enough credit to purchase about 30 seconds, however. Kovalev resumed his assault and by the end the round Pascal had been battered half way between the top two ropes and had heard referee Luis Pabon count to eight in a thick Puerto Rican accent. The chime of the bell immediately after was sweet music to the Canadian’s ears.
As Kovalev charged out for the fourth, Pascal’s head still hadn’t cleared. For the entire opening he could only cover and cower as a furious Russian tried to land the big one. Pascal swayed like a heavy bag coming loose from its bracket and in catching a left as he retreated, the entire shebang was nearly ripped from the ceiling.
Yet again Pascal came back. A counter right drew a nod of appreciation from his foe before an even better one had Kovalev briefly holding on. Once more Pascal went to war at the sound of the clapper and while he deserved the cheers at the bell from the Montreal crowd, he was surely five points down after four rounds.
The fifth was as good as it would get for the home fighter and to his immense credit he probably did enough to win it fair and square. But every silver lining has an ominous dark cloud and the fact that Kovalev was largely unmoved by the best Pascal could do suggested the end was near.
Any wind the Canadian’s sails had garnered in the previous minute and a half of action was immediately released by a short, sharp left-hand counter from Kovalev as both men claimed the centre of the ring. Pascal continued to draw ooh la las with right-hand haymakers but either they never landed cleanly or Sergey Kovalev has a chin made of a substance that laughs in the face of granite. The Russian’s punches, meanwhile, were half as eye-catching in their trajectory but infinitely more effective in their design.
A relatively quiet seventh proved to be the calm before the final destructive storm although a late burst from Kovalev sent Pascal traipsing back to his corner with the gait of a thirsty seaman on shore leave.
As the eight commenced he still hadn’t fully found his sea legs and The Stalker scented blood. He found his prey with little trouble before a short juddering left snuck upwards and between Pascal’s guard and severely wobbled the Canadian. An overhand right and clubbing left bludgeoned him into Kovalev’s corner were, in his anxiety to capitalise, the Russian slipped and went down.
It may have been a reprieve for Pascal but as Pabon concerned himself with Sergey, Jean staggered alarmingly in the background. The Russian gestured and at first it appeared a motion of compassion, begging someone to call a halt to proceedings and spare him the responsibility of battering Pascal further. On review it looks more like the sadistic grin of a Hollywood villain who has been presented with a free shot at a big name co-star.
For my money, the much maligned Pabon would have been justified in stopping it right then and there. As it happened, he decided to allow two more big rights to detonate on Pascal’s chin before saving him from serious punishment. The brave champion disputed the decision and insisted he was fine. Of course, he wasn’t.
Incredibly, Twitter still erupted in indignation at the stoppage. Pascal had foolishly mentioned the tragic Roman Simakov in the pre-fight trash talking. You would think that is all the reminder needed for a more circumspect approach to when and why a referee stops a prize fight.
Krusher marches on and his legend grows. His recent victory over Bernard Hopkins dispelled any doubt over his pedigree but this performance cemented his position as a pound for pound top ten fighter. Much to the delight of those newspaper headline writers, Adonis Stevenson may well be next. Superman’s Kryptonite anyone?