(Inept photo of Kovalev flipping off a fan by Tim Starks)
MONTREAL — At the weigh-in Friday afternoon at the Montreal Casino for Sergey Kovalev Vs. Jean Pascal, both men were in a foul mood. Kovalev, who heard some boos from the partisan Pascal fans rooting for their hometown man, flipped them the bird. Pascal, apparently still sour about a shoving match at a news conference this week, stalked off the stage early, reportedly because he said that another pre-fight face-off would lead to a brawl that might cancel Saturday’s light heavyweight main event on HBO.
“I’ve never seen that happen before so I was a little surprised,” said Main Events’ Kathy Duva, who promotes Kovalev. “The first time I went to a weigh-in was 1977, and I’ve never seen it happen. I’ve been to thousands of them.” But she’s glad it happened, if Pascal really was thinking of throwing down right then: As a promoter, her biggest worry is just making sure the fight comes off at all, she said, and anything that could’ve derailed Saturday’s fight is bad. And Kovalev’s usually dour around this time, she said; he weighed in at 175 Thursday night, and hadn’t eaten since, just to be safe. “He’s not a nice guy at the weigh-in, and not a nice guy when the bell rings, either. He’ll be a lot nicer in an hour once he gets his stomach full. These guys struggle to make weight. That’s part of the game.”
If Pascal and Kovalev were even in temperament Friday, it’s just one way they’re even: Few fighters or trainers gathered at the weigh-in would predict a winner. They said they saw it as a 50-50 match-up.
Here are their scouting reports, from the likes of Roy Jones, Jr., John David Jackson, Lucian Bute, Abel Sanchez and others.
KOVALEV VS PASCAL
Your biggest concern for Saturday?: “My biggest concern is always that the fight happens. Things can go wrong,” she said.
Referring to the scuffle earlier in the week: “When that fight started, when that alteration started at the wiegh-in, I looked scared. I wasn’t scared for me, I was like, what if someone twists their ankle, gets a cut, hurts themselves, and the fight can’t happen? My next concern is, I want the fights to be great. The fans come back for a great fight no matter who wins or loses.”
What does Kovalev need to do to win? “That’s his job. My job is to get him there.”
When he flipped off the fans, did that say something about his mindset being off? “He’s really, really, really hungry right now. And he’s been in a really, really ornery mood, which is normal for him before a fight. He’s usually very edgy before a weigh-in; this is completely normal for him. He’s always used to going into another guy’s hometown. He was the same in Wales before [Nathan] Cleverly.
“He is the most strong-minded person I’ve ever met, and I met Evander Holyfield a long time ago, who was the most strong-minded person I’d ever met until I met Sergey Kovalev.”
Roy Jones, Jr.
On working with Pascal: “He’s grown a whole lot. Maturity, patience. Patience is my biggest factor I’m bringing him, and that’s the biggest improvement he’s made.”
On what he saw with Kovalev-Bernard Hopkins: “He didn’t finish Hopkins. Maybe he’s not the ‘Krusher’ he’s supposed to be. He should’ve finished Hopkins. Maybe.”
Caparello was in town for sparring for Artur Beterbiev. He’s sparred with Pascal, and lost a fight to Kovalev.
“It’s going to be a tough fight. Pascal’s awkward. I’ve moved around with Pascal, got him ready for the [Lucian] Bute fight. Pascal can give him trouble with the awkwardness, he’s a very athletic fighter. No pick, I’m just going to sit on the fence.
On Kovalev as the favorite: “He has to be the red-hot favorite. He’s going to come with a good game plan, I’m sure. We’re hopefully going to get a helluva fight.”
Bute lost a fight to Pascal, by way of experience. “I think it’s a fight that’s very spectacular, both fighters are strong, very strong. Kovalev is undefeated, Pascal (has) the fans with him. I would like to say 50-50. My opinion is, 12th round tomorrow night. It’s difficult to say (who will win).”
John David Jackson
Kovalev’s trainer sounded confident, but wary. “One thing that could be difficult… it’s awkward movement. He’s not the slickest guy, he’s not the smoothest boxer, but he’s herky-jerky, and that could present a problem. He needs a lot of distance, he tries to create distance. When he creates that distance for himself, he has to lunge in. A lot of time when he’s lunging in he’s not even looking at his opponent. His head’s down, and he fires away. We have to just kind of have to, you know, work our way in behind the jab, feint him, make him create mistakes and capitalize on them. He’s dangerous, but we fought more dangerous fighters than him.
He has power, you can’t sell him short. He has good power and good boxing skills. That’s why he was champion. He’s dangerous and you have to nullify all that. Sergey will use his style to do what he does best and make Pascal fight his fight. (Pascal’s) got a good chin. It’ll get a good test on Saturday. Listen, if he doesn’t get knocked out, he’s going to wish he had been knocked out, because he’s going to take a lot of punishment.”
How does Kovalev deal with Pascal’s movement? “Cut the ring off. You can’t let him run around, once he runs away. Make him fight, be smart, make him engage.”
How can Sergey handle Pascal’s power? “Sergey takes a helluva punch, not that we want to take that. Sometimes in a fight you’re going to land a big punch. He’s been clipped a few times, but he’s taken the shots well. Lucky for him he takes a good shot.”
Sanchez’s fighter Nadjib Mohammedi is on the undercard Saturday and might get the winner of Kovalev-Pascal.
“I think it’s a good fight. I think that Jean has proven that he’s a great champion and I think that the fans are going to be treated to a great fight. I don’t think it’s as one-sided as the Hopkins fight is, that Pascal is going to put up a hell of a fight, and if Kovalev’s not ready, I think Pascal might take it.”
Any preference for who wins? Nah, both present different kinds of styles to deal with, said Sanchez. “Kovalev’s a big puncher, Pascal’s a very sneaky, awkward guy to fight.”
“I saw Jean training, I had another one of my cruiserweights sparred with Jean Pascal several times in Big Bear.”
“I think it’s a 50-50 fight. Pascal has proven he’s a very worthy challenger, an ex-world champion who can adapt to a lot of styles. Sergey needs to impose his will. If he doesn’t do it early, it could be a difficult fight for him at the end. If it’s a knockout, it’d be a TKO. I think Pascal’s too smart to get hit flush by Kovalev.”
(Interviews conducted with David P. Greisman and in some cases other members of the media at Friday’s weigh-in)