MONTREAL — Sergey Kovalev, the Russian they call “Krusher” who has rolled through everyone he’s faced since arriving on the world stage, finally got a test Saturday night, from a courageous Jean Pascal, who made a bold stand to defend his home soil. The result was still the same: Kovalev brutalized yet another top fighter at light heavyweight.
The ending was divisive. In the 8th round, Kovalev unleashed a frightening sequence of punches that had Pascal reeling back into his corner, though he remained on his feet. In fact, in his hunger to attack, Kovalev slipped on the wet canvas in his own corner and fell. Pascal, too, slipped as referee Luis Pabon steered Kovalev to a neutral corner while Kovalev watched Pascal stumble back into the opposite one, pointing as if in recognition that Pascal was finished. Pabon apparently saw that Pascal was propped up by the ropes, yet let the bout continue. Two more right hands and he stepped in. Pascal was lifting his arms to defend himself again, so it’s not as if that moment was any more decisive to stop it than when Pascal could barely stand. It’ll be debated for a while whether Pabon should’ve stopped it at that moment; whether Pascal was going to last much longer should not be a point of debate, because he absolutely was not.
But he put up a helluva fight prior to that point. The 1st was pretty clearly Kovalev’s, although Pascal showed with some chippy wrestling that he wasn’t going to back down easily. Kovalev was doing perfect work against a wily mover by the 2nd, jabbing to Pascal’s body and head, walloping him with long 1-2s. In the 3rd, he landed his best shot, a counter right off the ropes that sent Kovalev backward. Oh, and angry. Kovalev hurt Pascal in that anger, staggering him with a left, slugging with him on even terms and then thrusting him through the ropes with a right for a knockdown.
Pascal was starting to hurt Kovalev back in the next several rounds, though, and Kovalev lost some of his steam. As it happened, Kovalev had done the greater amount of accumulated damage, or else had more in the tank than Pascal, who tends to fade late, or both. Because by the 7th Kovalev was back on track and Pascal wasn’t doing much but moving. We know what happened in the 8th.
It’s nice to see fighters who can destroy opponents who don’t normally get destroyed — it’s one sign of excellence. It’s even nicer to see an excellent fighter not have it easy for once — we learned Saturday that Kovalev isn’t invulnerable, but he knows what to do when what little vulnerability he has is exposed. We’ll have to live with Nadjib Mohammedi for Kovalev next, and maybe Kovalev could use an easier one, after this. But if you’re Adonis Stevenson, sitting on the lineal light heavyweight championship, watching this fight from ringside in your own homeland, you just watched an athletic countryman who can punch just test the other best man in the division and take a bit of good news (that Kovalev isn’t immortal) with the bad (that he’s a mortal who now has proven that he won’t blink if he runs into a spot of trouble). Make the damn fight already.