The Freddie Factor: Does it matter?
As Jean Pascal heads into his rematch with IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev on Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT), he does so with a new head trainer, the renowned Freddie Roach, who replaced longtime coach Marc Ramsay in the corner. Last March during their first encounter, Kovalev subdued Pascal in eight rounds.
It’s a fight that Roach has watched “10 times, at least.”
And the end result is always the same – Kovalev hammering Pascal along the ropes with referee Luis Pabon waving off the action.
“There’s things he could’ve done better; I thought maybe (Pascal) hurt him a couple of times along the way but he just didn’t follow up on it as well as I would want to,” said Roach. “It was maybe a quick stoppage. It was a great victory though (for Kovalev).”
During the first fight, Kovalev controlled the first couple of rounds and scored an early knockdown. At that point, it looked like this would be an easy night for the “Krusher” but, to his credit, Pascal rallied in the middle rounds and got Kovalev’s attention more than once with flashing right hands over the top. However, eventually Kovalev steadied himself behind his educated left hand and regained momentum and control of the fight by the seventh round.
Coming into this rematch, Kovalev is listed as high as a 20-to-1 favorite, much of it based on the results of their first bout. This is certainly logical but perhaps even more alarming is, in Pascal’s very next bout, he struggled mightily to salvage a 10-round decision over Cuban upstart Yunieski Gonzalez in July. Afterward, Pascal enlisted Roach’s services and moved his camp to the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood.
When asked his thoughts on his new fighter, Roach states, “I’m really a lot more impressed by him today than when he came here.”
As he was pressed for specifics, the trainer explained, “He’s a better fighter now, we made a lot of switches and we’ve developed both hands and he’s doing really well and he’s not fighting like he used to. People tell me, ‘Well, he’ll never do that going into the ring.’ I say, ‘Well, I bet you he will.'”
For years, Pascal was a prizefighter who relied more on athleticism than fundamental grounding. In many ways, he tried to mimic his idol, Roy Jones Jr – who he actually enlisted to help train him in the past – and eschewed traditional boxing techniques and strategies. “Yes, I told him, ‘You’re not Roy Jones. He’s a great fighter and all that but you are Pascal – be yourself. You can’t be anyone else,'” stated Roach, who says that there has been a great emphasis on boxing basics, specifically the jab.
So is Pascal a good pupil?
“Oh, excellent,” said Roach. “Whatever I say, he does. I got mad at him one day. I said, ‘You ever do that again, I’m going to go home.’ I think that scared him.”
You have to wonder, though, can this old dog be taught new tricks? Just as importantly, can any real alterations to Pascal be made in a span of two months? And is it the optimal situation for their first voyage together to come against Kovalev, considered one of the most dangerous and lethal fighters in the sport?
Roach is a premier jockey; the problem is Kovalev just might be a superior thoroughbred compared to the one Roach is riding. “He’s a good fighter,” Roach admitted of the Russian power-puncher. “He kinda paws with his left hand a little bit and he’s trying to get your chin on the left side a little bit and he comes with a big right hand. His most dangerous weapon is the right hand but I think the only dangerous weapon he has is the right hand and, I think, once we take that away from him, we’ll be in much better shape.”
Of course, that is easier said than done but Roach believes – at least outwardly – they can reverse the fortunes of last March.
“I’m really expecting Pascal to really fight a good fight like we’ve been doing in the gym and the way he’s been training. I expect a huge upset.”
Here’s this weeks edition of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly.
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