On Tuesday, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva confirmed that a deal is now set for Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev to face Montreal native Jean Pascal in March. The bout will take place in Quebec, though it has yet to be determined whether Montreal or Quebec City will host. This is, to say the least, a significant development in what has become boxing’s most intriguing division as Kovalev, the conqueror of Hopkins and an emerging star, will take on arguably the division’s most dangerous and bankable contender. But, while a significant development, it’s also bittersweet, since most fans would rather see Montreal puncher and lineal champ Adonis “Superman” Stevenson face Kovalev. Due to some strange, or ill-advised strategic decisions, Stevenson has effectively ceded this fight, and the spotlight, to local rival Pascal.
In one sense, it’s a bit surprising that Pascal signed on to fight Kovalev when there remained a good chance a bout with “Superman” would have taken place in April, possibly for more money. Pascal is the mandatory challenger for Stevenson’s WBC belt and a fight between the two Montrealers would probably have been bigger than Pascal’s disappointing intra-provincial bout with Lucien Bute. Kovalev is an excellent boxer but he’s not from the province, which makes the promotional angle less appealing, even if it’s still a big event. Essentially, Pascal is possibly taking less money to fight a more dangerous opponent, which doesn’t square with his history of patient career-building. Conversely, perhaps he just figures the opportunity was too good to pass on, given the uncertainty of trying to make a fight with Stevenson.
For Kovalev, it won’t be the first time he’s boxed north of the American border. Last year he destroyed Ismayl Sillah on the Stevenson-Bellew undercard in Quebec City. Given his ascendance in boxing, the “Krusher’s” name resonates everywhere the sport is popular. He is also coming off of his greatest, most legitimizing win, a twelve round domination of Bernard Hopkins. As all Canadian boxing fans know, Hopkins did serious work in Quebec, fighting to a draw with Pascal in Quebec City and then clearly decisioning him in Montreal. Having thoroughly outboxed Hopkins earlier this month in Atlantic City, Kovalev’s stock has never been higher.
What sort of scrap can we expect? Pascal’s willingness to fight such a difficult opponent is admirable, but it’s his boxing acumen, not his toughness, that’s always been questioned. The Haitian-Montrealer is a tremendous athlete and can take a shot, as he did repeatedly in his fist loss to Carl Froch, but he’s never shown the ability to outbox a tactician, as Kovalev demonstrated in his win over Hopkins. “Krusher” punches incredibly hard but he can also fight patiently. Pascal’s defense, which can be easily penetrated, might be his undoing against Kovalev’s calculated, heavy punching. I can’t envision Pascal out striking or out boxing Kovalev, but I can imagine him taking his first stoppage loss.
As for Adonis Stevenson, he must feel like the loneliest man in the loneliest sport. That is, unless he and Al Haymon have hatched a plan in which all of us are their unwitting dupes. I have no information that suggests this is the case, but such is the paranoid speculation Haymon fosters in boxing watchers. In her press conference to announce Kovalev-Pascal, Kathy Duva said: “The truth is that these fights are easy to make when both fighters want to be in the big fights and the promoters and managers are willing to be reasonable and work together.” It’s hard not to read this comment as a shot at Adonis Stevenson and Al Haymon, which whom Duva reportedly had a deal earlier this year to face Kovalev. Duva later sued Haymon, likely in an effort to expose his business practices as much as it was to get money from him, but later dropped the suit.
Before Pascal gets to Kovalev, he has to fight Roberto Bolonti this Saturday in Montreal. No one is particularly interested in this fight, since Pascal’s opponent is so lightly regarded and because this match came about in unusual circumstances. Saturday’s card was supposed to be headlined by a Lucian Bute-Roberto Bolonti main event, with Pascal facing Donovan George on the undercard. Bute pulled out with an injury, and rather than cancel the event, Pascal became its headliner. The whole premise of Pascal fighting on Bute’s undercard—a fighter he’d authoritatively beaten in his last bout—struck many as strange, but Pascal wanted to get rounds in as he sought better competition. Needless to say, Sergey Kovalev represents far better competition.
Roberto Bolonti will provide rounds but he probably won’t provide a test. That Duva announced the Kovalev date this week shows the lack of regard all sides have for Pascal’s challenger. The promoter said she will be in Montreal on Saturday to finalize the details for the March date with Interbox’s Jean Bedard, who is representing Pascal in the fight’s negotiations. If they cannot secure the Bell Center for March 14, the bout will be held in Quebec City. Having twice denied Stevenson and Al Haymon prize money by getting Kovalev to fight Hopkins and now Pascal, she must be thrilled her fighter has another lucrative bout that won’t line the pockets of her enemies. Pascal must be equally happy. He ineptly tried to troll his way to a fight with Stevenson but was rebuffed and made to look foolish. Now he’s getting paid and Adonis Stevenson is not.
This was all big news in the Quebec boxing scene, and caused more than a few derisive smirks at Adonis Stevenson, whose professional momentum, after his spectacular rise, has come to a complete stop. For Team Stevenson, whose primary interest is making money, it would have made more sense for him to fight Pascal, make a boatload, and then move on to Kovalev. Pascal’s date with Kovalev has denied him that opportunity, and Stevenson now has to wait to see what happens.
Saturday looks like another mediocre date in what has been a mediocre year for boxing, but there is intrigue at play behind the scenes in Montreal. We wait, with interest, to see what develops.
— Eliott McCormick