This is not an indictment of Jean Pascal’s skills as a fighter. He’s a perfectly fine boxer, and he’s fun to watch. He’s got a huge heart and stones to match. He’s got the grit. And he actually won a couple of rounds in his first meeting with the terrifying Sergey Kovalev, backing his opponent up on occasion and strafing him with hard power shots. This is not easy to do against one of the most lethal fighters in the world. But he also took a beating, getting bounced around the ring like a pinball until the fight was finally stopped in the 8th round. Pascal protested vehemently, but he was more than likely saved from a horrific knockout.
The plan for Pascal was to look good enough in his next outing, a battle against the relatively-unknown Yunieski Gonzalez, to secure a rematch with Kovalev. He did not. In fact, he probably shouldn’t have won. The judges awarded him a unanimous decision victory over Gonzalez, who in the eyes of many who watched, deserved a draw at the very least. Pascal did not look like a man who deserved a rematch with a top fighter in the division. He looked like a man who may have been suffering with some lingering effects from battling a top fighter in the division.
And yet, despite barely hanging on to win the Gonzalez fight, despite being stopped by Kovalev after making the fight marginally competitive, here he is, poised for a rematch. This is how boxing works now. There are rival networks. Rival promoters. Rival advisor/manager/promoters. The result? Less fights. At least, less of the good ones. Less of the ones we give a shit about. More mismatches. More retreads. There are no leaders, so everyone is a leader.
Adonis Stevenson is the lineal light heavyweight champion. He wrecked Chad Dawson a couple of years ago with a gorgeous one-punch knockout to earn the title. Since then, he’s done very little with it. HBO showcased him, along with Kovalev, in an obvious attempt to build their respective followings before dropping the big one on us — a standoff between the two for 175-pound supremacy. But Stevenson decided to jump on board with advisor Al Haymon, one of the most powerful men in boxing. Doing so meant jumping networks, from HBO to Showtime. Doing so meant killing a fight with Kovalev for the time being. Doing so denied fans a huge fight with major implications. It also left both men to fight lesser opponents.
Stevenson made his choice, and he’s been paid handsomely for it. And breaking down “who is ducking who?” is for another time, in another article. But there are two guys sitting on top of the light heavyweight division, and they aren’t fighting each other. They won’t be fighting each other any time soon, either. Meanwhile, Kovalev secured his spot as an elite, pound-for-pound fighter by completely dismantling Bernard Hopkins. “B-Hop” is no longer the top-10 fighter he used to be, but he’s still viable, even at an age where he should be deciding between the five or six iron. Nobody has ever beaten Hopkins up like that. Pascal was next, and though Pascal is not on Kovalev’s level, he’s got an iron chin. Kovalev cracked it.
Still, there have been some lame ducks thrown in there as well. Blake Caparello had no business being in the ring with Kovalev, and poor Nadjib Mohammedi had the same expression on his face when the opening bell rang that I had when I watched a live birth for the first time. This is what happens when politics get in the way. Fighters run out of quality options.
For Stevenson, his post-title fight competition has ranged somewhere between decent and vomit-inducing. Andrzej Fonfara turned out to be a pretty damn solid fighter, and he gave Stevenson a good scare. But names like Dmitry Sukhotsky, Sakio Bika, and Tommy Karpency aren’t really getting the job done, challenger-wise. Bika is like 80, and usually fights at 168 lbs., and Karpency is, well, not very good.
The good news? It appears that Andre Ward, the current super middleweight champ, is angling to fight Kovalev next year. Ward, when active, is brilliant. If he’d kept even remotely busy instead of languishing on the sidelines while desperately trying to get out from under his promotional contract, he’d be number one on every pound-for-pound list. If this fight somehow does come off, it would of course leave Stevenson as the odd man out. But at least the division would get a huge fight, even if the lineal championship won’t be on the line.
A fight between Kovalev and Ward would probably make it worth going through an unnecessary fight with Pascal. But there’s no reason for this rematch. If anything, the rematch Pascal should be getting is one with Gonzalez, who deserves another shot. But Kovalev needs a fight, and Pascal has a name. Sadly, he’s still the most competitive option available. Stevenson and Kovalev will continue to trade barbs on twitter, and barring a major change, that will be as close as they get to each other.
Boxing might someday* get to a place where politics, promoters, advisors, and networks all take a back seat to THE FIGHTS. The best guys will battle it out to decide who is king of the hill. All of the top fights will be made, perfect-records-be-damned. Fans will get to settle in for long nights of boxing, with showcases tossed aside for one great match-up after another.
For now, we’ll just settle.
*This will never happen