There are always going to be pointless rematches in boxing. Hell, in a couple of months, Manny Pacquiao will fight Tim Bradley for a completely superfluous third time, even though one could make a strong argument that even the second fight was unnecessary. Yes, technically Pacquiao lost the first fight. But anyone besides the judges and human brillo pad Brian Kenny could see that “Pac Man” had won easily. The second fight, the one in which he completely dominated (again), further proved that Pacquiao was simply the better fighter. But in a sport where dollars mean more than sense, where the best aren’t fighting the best due to warring promoters or safety-first fighters, boxers are going to have a tendency to bat around the order.
That brings us to Saturday night’s fight on HBO, where Sergey Kovalev will take on Jean Pascal for the second time in Montreal. On paper, this isn’t a horrible match-up. Pascal is ranked third in the light heavyweight division by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, while Kovalev sits just under lineal champion Adonis Stevenson, whom Kovalev would likely be favored to beat. But this wasn’t a bad match-up on paper the first time either. Kovalev had just finished wiping out previously unwipeout-able Bernard Hopkins, the guy Pascal fought to a questionable draw before losing a unanimous decision to him in 2011. If Stevenson wasn’t available (as he probably never will be), Pascal seemed like the most logical choice for a dance partner. He combines fast hands and reflexes with a rock-solid chin and a willingness to engage. In short, he made for fun fights. He wasn’t the champion, but he was a pretty damn good consolation prize for fans. Now? He’s simply a retread, one with very, very little chance of winning.
The first fight was pretty damn fun to watch. Whether or not Pascal was actually ever really in the fight is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that his chin was even better than we thought, clearly made of the finest titanium this side of an aircraft. He took bomb after bomb from the menacing Russian, but he wouldn’t relent. He even won a couple of rounds, using that hand speed and timing to slightly throw Kovalev off his game for a brief period. For his part, Kovalev’s expression remained mostly stoic, with the occasional bemused grin. Pascal’s problem (and really, it’s always been his problem), is that he was hittable. And when the guy in front of you is Kovalev, who derives a horrifying glee from trying to bounce an opponent’s dome into one of the back rows, being hittable is bad. Very bad.
Eventually, Pascal was simply outgunned by a lethal, homicidal, highly-skilled fighter. The best fighter at 175. Maybe the best fighter in the world. There’s no shame in that. Pascal fought his ass off, and he desperately tried everything he could to win the fight. And even when the fight was finally stopped, he complained bitterly to referee Luis Pabon. This was directly after Kovalev whacked him, causing his body to bend unsteadily over the ropes like a drunkard puking over a railing. No, Pascal wasn’t finished, at least in his eyes. Thing is, he’s finished now.
And maybe Kovalev is the one who precipitated his decline. Pascal had the opportunity to bounce back this past July when he fought Yunieski Gonzalez on the undercard of Kovalev’s fight with poor Nadjib Mohammedi. The premise was simple enough — Pascal wins, and he earns a shot at a rematch. Even then, fans were lukewarm about a do-over. Things didn’t get better after the fight. Pascal looked horrible, was rocked a couple of times, and barely survived a highly- questionable decision win over Gonzalez. I thought Gonzalez deserved a draw at the very least. Instead of emphatically stamping his name on the rights to a rematch, Pascal looked shakier than ever. He looked like he hadn’t yet recovered from what Kovalev did to him. Maybe the unheralded Gonzalez was better than people thought. Maybe Pascal simply had an off night. But if anything, it seemed like Gonzalez now deserved a fight with Kovalev, not Pascal. But that’s not how things work, is it?
So Pascal gets another shot at Kovalev, and as is frequently the case in boxing, the prefight buildup has gotten a bit ugly. This isn’t really surprising; outside of someone being set on fire at a press conference, boxing has given us basically everything. The weigh-in should be fun to watch, maybe even as fun to watch as this was before the first fight. As for the bout itself? That thing could get even uglier. Pascal is determined to make “The Krusher” pay for his past indiscretions. He’s determined to show the world that he can beat Kovalev. Determination is a powerful thing. The problem in this case is that Kovalev’s right hand is more powerful, and Pascal won’t be able to avoid it.
Pascal got what he wanted, even if fans didn’t. And credit where it’s due — there aren’t a whole lot of guys out there who’d fight Kovalev once, let alone a second time. I doubt he’ll be thrilled about it once the bell rings.