Sergey Kovalev Grotesquely Punishes Jean Pascal

That wasn’t a rematch we needed, Sergey Kovalev vs Jean Pascal II, and Saturday night confirmed it. On HBO, the two light heavyweights rumbled again, and just like the first time, Kovalev massacred Pascal, who had only moments of effectiveness. Someone should’ve stopped it long ago, before it ever happened, and once it actually began it should’ve been stopped well before the 7th round.

Kovalev was too disciplined, too sharp on defense and too much of all the things he usually is — powerful, with a great chin and intelligent offense — for Pascal to have a chance. Pascal looked worse for the wear in his last fight, his first since the beating he took from Kovalev. That fight, a lucky win against Yunieski Gonzalez, was supposed to help sell a second Kovalev fight. Instead, it should’ve been an indicator of the opposite.

By the 4th round of this rematch, Pascal wasn’t even landing the occasional wild, funky left hand — he just stopped fighting. It looked, by the end of the bout, like he’d broken his nose, and perhaps that explains his sudden drop in work rate. Everyone responsible for the fight — the doctors, the ref, Pascal’s new trainer Freddie Roach — should be ashamed that they let the fight go much longer than that. The bout was increasingly uncomfortable to everyone watching who cares whether a boxer lives or dies in the ring, yet it persisted until the 7th, when Roach finally ended it.

Also uncomfortable to some of us, and perhaps a minority — at least judging by my Twitter timeline — is that Kovalev deliberately didn’t knock Pascal out. He wanted to punish him indefinitely, as he said afterward. That Kovalev has killed a man in the ring before already made it all the more uncomfortable. He well knows how people get badly hurt or fatally injured in the ring, and he proceeded along this course anyway.

There’s the “fight game,” and even the “hurt game,” but some fans draw the line at “murder game.” That Kovalev was apparently willing to go there again is disturbing to me. Some find it more appealing. It all depends on whether you want Kovalev to be a real, living, Russian counterpart to Ivan Drago, where a fictional line “If he dies, he dies” is far less serious. And the answer of “It’s a fighter’s job to fight, what was he supposed to do, stop fighting?” is irrelevant here. Kovalev wasn’t just fighting his hardest until the ref stopped it. He was fighting in a way designed to keep the ref from stopping it, specifically so he could “punish” his opponent more, which is a very, very different thing.

But he’s a hugely talented fighter, is Kovalev, and that’s why people are pining for him to take on a worthwhile opponent. Adonis Stevenson, the division’s lineal champ, was ringside and stormed the ring to talk some empty trash (both fighters have ducked each other at times, but Stevenson inaugurated the cat-and-mouse games; we can all agree that Kovalev making chicken noises at him and flipping him the bird was pretty great). World-class boxer Andre Ward says the fight with Kovalev will happen. It’s as enticing a match-up as exists in the sport today.

(On the undercard, welterweight Dmitry Mikhayleno beat Karim Mayfield for nine or even more of the bout’s 10 rounds in what was an awkward, ugly affair. Some writers are high on Mikhayleno, but his wild arm punches make the reasons why a mystery.)

Photo: Sergey Kovalev lands on Jean Pascal; via

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.