Who: Dmitry Bivol V Jean Pascal
When: Saturday November 24 2018
What’s on the line: Bivol’s WBA Light heavyweight title
Where: Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA
Channel: HBO at 10:00 PM EST
PREVIEW – Bivol V Pascal – No division for old men
In many ways, life has come full circle for Jean Pascal. The man who once insisted he would not become a historical footnote in Bernard Hopkins’ quest to become the oldest champion in boxing history is now eerily wearing similar boots. Where once Pascal admonished Hopkins for being too old, he is that aged veteran now.
Where once Pascal balked at the notion of Hopkins creating history at his expense, he is that same ambitious old man keen in sealing an already successful career with a final renaissance.
And Pascal, like Hopkins before him, has already done it. The Canadian reached the apogee of the light heavyweight division, having bested the prime and undefeated WBC, Ring Magazine and lineal king Chad Dawson back in 2010.
He’s your favourite fighter’s favourite fighter, having graced the ring with the best fighters of his generation and given nothing but the maximum. He’s headlined major shows across multiple TV networks, sold thousands of tickets and made millions upon millions of dollars.
He has climbed to the top of the mountain and shouted his name for the lands of mere contenders below him to hear. That’s the same mountain whose peaks Dmitry Bivol seeks to reach. The Russian of Moldovan and Korean descent has been fast tracked from upstart to contender to interim champion to world champion in the span of 18 months. A man with only 14 professional fights to his ledger, Bivol’s talents were once the subject of many Chinese whispers.
“This is the future of the light heavyweight division.”
“This kid is the goods.”
“He will become the man in the division.”
Those whispers grew louder and louder. By the time Sullivan Barrera was stopped for the first time in his career in March of this year, the secret had become a national news bulletin – Dmitry Bivol is indeed the real deal.
As one star was heading towards the galaxy, the other was descending back down to Earth.
In December 2017, Pascal stopped undefeated prospect Ahmed Elbiali in a noteworthy upset and he did it in the most Pascal way possible – by replaying his greatest hits. The explosiveness, the unpredictable offence, short power hooks, the accuracy – it was vintage Pascal. Following the conclusion of the fight, he announced his retirement from sanctioned competition but like 99% of boxing retirements, it was short lived. The prospect of entertaining former UFC fighter and fellow Canadian Steve Bosse in the Great White North‘s answer to the Floyd Mayweather V Conor McGregor farce was an opportunity too good to pass. Following 8 desultory rounds in July of this year, the fight mercifully ended.
Bosse had put up as much resistance as an egg being hurled at a wall but both men walked away with gaudy pockets of coinage.
Pascal is currently unranked in the top 10 by any of the major sanctioning bodies and absent in the Ring Magazine and Transnational Boxing Board rankings. But the oft-repeated tale of old lion versus young lion is still compelling enough to entice match ups like this to come into fruition. And like Hopkins had before him, such is the equity and prestige that continues to remain in Pascal’s name that meritocracy must be temporarily cast aside so that one of boxing’s oldest storylines can take place.
A graduate from the Russian school of boxing, Bivol…
..employs an extremely voluminous offence, consisting of combinations being thrown off the jab, varying handspeed to keep opponents uncomfortable and maintaining a very high work rate. It’s this style combined with laser accuracy that saw him knockout Trent Broadhurst for the interim WBA title in one last November, stop the aforementioned Barrera in New York in the final round and dominate rugged contender Isaac Chilemba en route to a wide unanimous decision in August.
Pascal conversely, has undoubtedly declined. His younger prime version was a frenzied concoction of explosiveness and athleticism, employing a fighting style that saw him lull opponents into a comfortable trance before exploding with quick bursts of speed and power. It was this style that resulted in his coronation of becoming the man at light heavyweight division and the man in Canada, his ticket sales surpassing those of his contemporaries Adonis Stevenson and Lucian Bute. However, as the years have passed, the effects of the wars waged with the likes of Kovalev, Dawson, Hopkins and Froch have taken their toll. The explosiveness has declined, the reflexes are slower and he is no longer as obdurate as he once was.
Saturday’s opponent is a stylistic nightmare for Pascal. Difficulties were always present against mentally competent, technically sound boxers such as Hopkins and Kovalev who were able to consistently offset the Quebec native’s unpredictable rhythm using straight shots and counters to tame the wild swings. It’s a more difficult map to navigate now because the reality is Pascal has not engaged in high level warfare since his close, competitive yet ultimately clear loss to now current WBO champion Eleider Alvarez. That was back in last June. Further to compound the misery, and perhaps bolt the coffin of success shut, is the fact that Pascal was a onetime mentor and sparring partner to Bivol, who without question now knows exactly what Pascal is about.
Although Pascal may be more amped up than any other fight considering the gravity of the occasion, Bivol too has many motivations. The prospects of unification bouts with Alvarez, the winner of Stevenson/Gvozdyk or more tantalisingly Beterbiev, the final chance to impress on HBO’s penultimate broadcast and the potential of joining Eddie Hearn and DAZN’s fledgling partnership for many millions are factors undoubtedly on his mind.
A recent survey of the light heavyweight landscape strongly extrapolates this is not a division for old men. Pascal’s former foe Dawson was sent packing by Andrzej Fonfara in 2017. His conqueror, the iconic Hopkins took a trip to see Hades after being knocked out of the ring (and the sport) by Joe Smith Jr, who had months prior demolished Fonfara in one. The previously mentioned Alvarez caused the divisions’ tectonic plates to rumble following a seismic upset stoppage of Kovalev in August. WBC boss Adonis Stevenson is himself living on borrowed time, having been woefully inactive over the past couple of years and barely surviving Badou Jack’s late onslaught in May of this year.
The men Pascal beat and the men who beat him have suffered similar fates, bar Alvarez. There is the remote possibility Pascal can do the unthinkable and follow Hopkins’ footsteps in treading familiar terrain – the final city of glory before retirement. Even in a 99% chance of virtual certainty, there remains that 1% of a miracle occurring in his favour. But given the evidence Bivol has provided us regarding his ability, and despite him not really being tested in terms of will and whiskers, conventional wisdom suggests no such miracle will descend from the Heavens this weekend. Bivol will simply be too fresh, too active and too good for the advanced Pascal.
The time is right for Bivol to continue his ascent. This Saturday, he’ll go in possessing the tools, the information and an opponent in the dying embers of his career set up for him to impress. The time is also right for Pascal, for the clock beckons him to join his generational rivals in the highly populated country called Retirement. Expect a lot of respect being shown in the opening stanzas, perhaps with Pascal winning a round or two as Bivol takes rounds to adjust. Once the pleasantries have been exchanged however, expect Bivol to outwork Pascal with accurate straight shots and drown him in the later rounds.
The Pick – Bivol TKO within 10