Kovalev vs Pascal II: Replay or Redemption?

Kovalev vs Pascal I was replayed on HBO again the other night. I saw it live of course, but watching it again, what really stunned me was how good it was. Yep, this fight was a bruiser, not to mention a thriller. Although Kovalev beat Pascal fair and square and in tough fashion, the Montrealer more than got his share of licks in. Indeed, he landed more shots on the Russian than anyone in recent memory. And now that Pascal has enlisted the help of Freddie Roach, it’s worth asking if he has a chance of pulling off the upset when he and Kovalev clash again at the end of the month.

First things first, though: Pascal is a terrific fighter with one hell of a record to back up his rep. Not only has the man more than made the likes of Chad Dawson and Bernard Hopkins earn their keep, he also fought a thriller against Carl Froch not that long ago that more people should be talking about. Sure, Froch won, but make no mistake about it, Pascal took the guy to the limit. Needless to say, the bout was at least a minor classic, whether people realize it or not.

Sergey Kovalev v Jean Pascal
Pascal got his licks in during the first fight

But against Kovalev the second time around, Pascal must bring something extra. Clearly he’s aware of this, for he’s teamed up with Roach in the hopes of surprising the world in 2016. What can Roach do to help Pascal? Well, re-watching that first fight with Kovalev, I think the proprietor of the Wild Card Gym in L.A. might well give Pascal some improved footwork. That’s right – footwork.

Watch the first battle carefully and you’ll see that Pascal was essentially a stationary target which Kovalev could easily and ferociously land against. Roach, as everyone who follows the man can tell you, employs amazing footwork in his best fighters. Pacquiao. Cotto. Those guys come forward at odd, ever changing angles. Should Pascal be able to pick up this technique to some degree or other, he should be much harder to hit than he was in the first match.

Pascal will need to be hard to hit the second time around
Pascal will need to be hard to hit the second time around

Add that to the fact Pascal has proven he can land on Kovalev effectively and it’s clear Roach might help the former champion up his game the second time around. Just how much can Roach improve Pascal, though? Even more importantly, how much more can Pascal improve himself?  He’s 33, after all, and with a lot of tough fights behind him. What’s more, Pascal didn’t look very good at all when he faced Yunieski Gonzalez last summer. Indeed, many are of the opinion Pascal actually lost that one and that Gonzalez was robbed.

Could it be that Pascal is simply past his prime and has started the inevitable downward spiral? Possibly, but let’s remember the same thing was said about Cotto not that long ago and Roach effectively resurrected the man’s career. Likewise, Pacquiao was said to have been finished after being put to sleep by Juan Manuel Marquez, yet fans are still dying to know who the Filipino legend will fight next. Roach clearly has something to do with that, as well.

Roach has worked wonders with Pacquiao
Roach worked wonders with Pacquiao.

And while it’s true Roach isn’t invincible, it’s also true he’s going to want to prove to the world he’s back in a big way after what must have been a depressing 2015. Sure, the dude clearly made boatloads of money for himself, but with both Pacquiao and Cotto losing, his reputation has taken a hit. And guys like Roach rely on their reputations.

The biggest problem for both Pascal and Roach, however, may be Kovalev himself. For the Russian really does seem to be that good. Not only can he hit, he’s also a skilled boxer. Even if he does find it difficult to adjust to whatever new tactics Pascal employs, his thunderous power could still determine the outcome. Kovalev, after all, can knock people out with a simple jab, and he’s going to get to Pascal sooner or later, probably sooner, since Pascal isn’t the slickest fighter around.

If, however, Pascal can somehow manage to avoid getting knocked out or stopped, he might be able to present Kovalev with some issues that could plague the Russian as the rounds go on. This is a tall order, true, but it’s not entirely inconceivable. And if Pascal does defeat Kovalev, boxing will be shaken to its core. Not only will many potential big fights (Kovalev vs Stevenson, Kovalev vs Ward) fall through, but boxing will lose a true rising star who presently appears destined for a long run at the top.

The man is going to have to bring it
The man is going to have to bring it

Furthermore, Pascal will become the toast of the sport and Roach will be truly redeemed. Indeed, the trainer will be hailed as a genius (stunning events inevitably lead all of us towards hyperbole). Again, though, it’s hard to imagine any of this actually happening. Kovalev, simply put, has proven himself to be that good.

That’s not to say Pascal can’t pull it off, however. And if he does happen to earn the upset win, Roach may well have had a lot to do with it.  For Pascal simply can’t walk into the ring with the same game plan he had the last time. Roach is aware of this, of course, and is clearly having his new fighter work on new things. At the very least, Kovalev vs Pascal II may indeed be closer than the first one…and that alone may shock a lot of people.      

— Sean Crose

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