They got there in very different ways Saturday night on HBO, but Sergey Kovalev and Jean Pascal ended up in the victory circle and are now moving toward the light heavyweight rematch that seemed inevitable before the evening began.
In the main event, Kovalev took on hopeless mandatory contender Nadjib Mohammedi and treated him like the hopeless opponent he was. This fight didn’t really need to happen; if Kovalev and his team hadn’t insisted on defending his alphabet belt and instead targeted division champ Adonis Stevenson (who has an alphabet belt of his own, by the way), we might have actually gotten Kovalev-Stevenson. It’s only a “might” because of some of the HBO vs. Al-Haymon-other-networks boxing politics, but still — this was as meaningless and unnecessary a mandatory title defense as you’re likely to get, and it only served to remind of the better fight that didn’t happen.
Mohammedi was at least elusive in the 1st round, but his loopy, goofy French punches had no effect at all, and the first few times Kovalev landed you could tell Mohammedi wasn’t going to be able to withstand — not that anybody has been able to, really. Kovalev landed a big right in the 2nd that wobbled Mohammedi and then dropped him with a flurry, and probably would’ve knocked him out that same round if he hadn’t thrown him to the ground twice, once landing on top of him with an apparent Knee of Malice. Mohammedi survived the 3rd with Kovalev not really looking to finish, then in the 4th landed another big right, followed by a flush straight left, that sounded like it broke some part of Mohammedi’s face. Mohammedi was cringing and pawing at his left eye as he was counted out.
At least the undercard delivered, and how. Pascal wants a Kovalev rematch and took a dangerous fight against Yunieski Gonzalez to get it. Gonzalez was unproven as a pro but Cuban, which means loads of amateur experience, and he came in with a rep as a big puncher. He established that right away, landing enormous right hands that tested the full limits of Pascal’s big-time punch resistance. Pascal decided to slug in the 2nd, with the pair delivering 30 full seconds of two-fisted brawling. Gonzalez controlled most of the early rounds — if not all of them — as Pascal worked his way into things with his trademark awkward lunges and Gonzalez slowly began to drop off. The 6th was another highlight, with Pascal apparently getting wobbled but overall winning the exchanges. When the pace was slower, Pascal won with pot shots, but when Gonzalez found a little bit of a second wind, he might’ve won a few of the later rounds. Pascal definitely took the 10th, though, and he probably was hoping that it was a 12-round fight with the way he had more energy late. As it happened, he didn’t need them — he won 96-94 on all three cards, whereas TQBR scored it for Gonzalez 97-93. Most people on Twitter scored it for Gonzalez.
Because there was already talk of a rematch before this fight, conspiratorial wisps also drifted across Twitter about the Gonzalez-Pascal decision. I’d rather watch Kovalev-Gonzalez, myself, given whom I considered the true victor in Pascal-Gonzalez and a style match-up that’s more interesting, especially given that we’ve already seen what Pascal can do against Kovalev — which is more than anyone else, but not enough to really warrant it happening again. But don’t expect that. What was scripted before almost certainly shall be, and we’ll have to wait a while longer — for the hope of a Kovalev-Stevenson or Kovalev-Andre Ward, most likely — for there to be any mystery in the outcome of a Kovalev fight in the works.
(pictured: Sergey Kovalev, via HBO Sports)