Fresh off an easy victory over Bernard Hopkins, the great Sergey Kovalev is a heavy –700 favorite on the boxing odds board for his light heavyweight title fight against Jean Pascal later this month.
Imagine how much richer the sport of boxing – or just about any professional sport – would have been had the Iron Curtain never gone up at the end of World War II. We might have seen great amateur boxers like Boris Kuznetsov and Stanislav Stepashkin step out of the shadow of the Soviet Union and fight the best prizefighters in the world. Let’s hope that Curtain doesn’t go up again, because right now, one of the most exciting champions in the sport today is from Russia. He’s Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev, and we want to keep him on the international stage.
Kovalev will be defending his unified Light Heavyweight belt (WBA Super, WBO and IBF) on March 14 against Jean Pascal, who should have a significant hometown advantage when they touch gloves at the Booth in Montreal. But Pascal is a sizeable underdog at +400 and higher on the UFC odds as we go to press. Does the former champion have a realistic shot at regaining his title?
I’m Gonna Krush You, Then I’ll See You Later
It doesn’t look too good for the local hero. Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs lifetime) has yet to lose a pro fight in the squared circle; the only blemish on his record was a technical draw against Glover Young in 2011, after judges determined that Kovalev hit Young in the back of the head with a left hook in the second round. Otherwise, Kovalev – who now lives in Fort Lauderdale – has been thoroughly dominant.
Bernard Hopkins can attest to that. In November, Hopkins lost the WBA Super and IBF titles to Kovalev in a lopsided unanimous decision. It was the first time since the draw against Young that Kovalev failed to knock out his opponent, but he did put Hopkins on the canvas in the first round, and he did officially win each of the 12 rounds. No controversy this time.
That victory was enough for Ring Magazine to name Kovalev its Fighter of the Year for 2014. We’re not about to disagree. Kovalev has just about everything you could ask for in a prizefighter: power, technique, intelligence, and plenty of tread left on his tires at age 31. He’s also got marquee value after appearing multiple times on HBO, who will be on hand in Montreal to broadcast this title fight (9:45 p.m. ET).
Pascal (29-2-1-1, 17 KOs) is no tomato can. He won a number of smaller titles at super middleweight before moving up in class and taking the WBC Light Heavyweight strap off Adrian Diaconu in 2009. However, Pascal could only manage a draw and a loss against Hopkins when they fought in 2010 and 2011, respectively. And questionable judging may have kept Hopkins from winning the first fight, which was held in Quebec City.
While Pascal hasn’t lost in four fights since dropping the title to Hopkins, his last bout was a no-contest in December against Roberto Feliciano Bolonti, again in Montreal. This was an ugly affair; Bolonti was a late replacement for Donovan George, and in the second round, Pascal landed an overhead right during a clinch, after the referee had called for the break. Bolonti went down like a sack of potatoes.
It’s difficult to give Pascal his due credit, given the fact that all but two of his fights have taken place in his adopted Quebec, and given the dubious quality of some of his opponents. But the 32-year-old is an explosive fighter with definite athletic gifts. He simply doesn’t have the technical skills or the ring savvy of Kovalev. We’re likely to see another one-sided affair when they meet later this month, and given how often the Krusher knocks out his opponents, we probably won’t have to worry about the judges this time, either; so take Kovalev with your UFC picks.
Free Boxing Pick: Take Kovalev by KO/TKO