With much of the media scrutiny this week fixed on another press conference, for another fight elsewhere, Wednesday afternoon also saw the wrap-up of the pre-fight obligations for another bout that has deserved much more attention than it's received.
Sergey Kovalev vs. Jean Pascal is arguably the most significant fight of the year to date, and neatly coincides with a period this spring where boxing has just begun to shift through the gears for, really, the first time in 2015. Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs) has no claim to divisional lineage at 175lb, but certainly Adonis Stevenson - The Man Who Beat the Man at light-heavyweight - hasn't yet looked to be in a rush to face him, and many fine judges would tell you that the Russian has his number, as and when the recognised champion eventually decides to run that particular gauntlet.
Pascal (29-2-1, 17 KOs), meanwhile, is a sort of perpetual top-five name in the division, and despite a curious sequence of big-fights, low-key tune-ups, and inactivity in past couple of years, maintains his position as a man forever in touching distance - at worst - of an alphabet title. It's probably worth pointing out here that he was awarded the fantastically-extraneous WBC Diamond belt for a win over Lucian Bute, seemingly purely for the fact that it was a high-profile fight between two high-profile adopted Canadians in Canada. So, that's something.
It's a Sergey Kovalev fight, though, which these days means only one thing: he's the firm betting favorite. At a general 1/6 (-600, although there may be a touch of the early 1/5 available by Saturday night), he's far more heavily fancied to see off Pascal (at best a +500 outsider here) than he was Bernard Hopkins in November, the litmus test in which Kovalev surely - and comprehensively - silenced his doubters by outboxing a man who's rarely ever been outboxed.
On paper, and in the most basic of terms, that's a quote that would at least appear to make logical sense, given the wins he's notched so far. Pascal, most would agree, is considerably better than Ismael Sillakh, for whom Kovalev went off as the -800 jolly, but probably a more straightforward assignment than Hopkins, a fight in which Kovalev started as a -250 shot. The Russian - who now has the IBF, WBA, and WBO titles under his stewardship - fought twice more in 2014, with the seemingly-inevitable steamrollering of both Cedric Agnew (Kovalev -3300) and Blake Caparello (-1000) keeping him busy.
Since facing Hopkins - the shared opponent and obvious point of reference here - for the second time in May 2011, Pascal has fought just four times. In the same stretch, Kovalev racked up 12 wins. Ordinarily, of course, you'd say that a man fresh off fighting Bernard Hopkins, would of course be operating at a higher level compared to a then-prospect blasting his way through the lower ranks of the weight class. Given that Pascal decided to dial down his level of competition and activity rate were the likes of George Blades and Aleksy Kuziemski worth taking so much time off for? Are they, really, at a higher level than the Cornelius Whites and Gabriel Campillos of the world? The evidence suggests not, and that the Haitian-born man's lack of application is likely more of a concern tomorrow night that he might have you believe.
Pascal, though, is no stranger to the role of betting underdog, most notably turning over a 1/3 favorite in Chad Dawson (Pascal +333) in what may well still be his signature win. The scalp of Dawson meant that Pascal started a firm favorite (-260) against Hopkins in their first encounter, with the rematch much closer to coin toss territory, although it was generally Pascal who started just south of even money for that clash at around -140. In the handful of walkover fights since, Pascal has, predictably, been the landslide favorite - around -5000 for both the Blades and Kuziemski bouts, and -2000 for Roberto Bolonti last June, a two-round no-contest. Only against Bute at the turn of 2014 has Pascal been in anything approaching a challenge, at least from a betting perspective, but did start favorite there too, albeit considered about a -140 poke.
Breakdown: Kovalev vs Pascal
Sergey Kovalev and Jean Pascal do battle this Saturday night in Montreal. Who has the advantage? Samuel Chen breaks down the matchup.
It's in the side markets here where the best opportunities might lie. It's tough to make a case for Pascal outright, but given that he wasn't stopped in either of his two defeats - and, for all his flaws, he's a fine athlete, impressively strong even at 175lb - the argument for another trademark Kovalev stoppage (priced at just -200 or thereabouts) isn't hugely compelling. An early KO for the titleholder would be a considerable statement, and with the kind of thudding power that he has, it'd be foolish to rule out Pascal (+1000 for a stoppage of his own) deciding that he didn't much fancy an entire evening of it.
The challenger, however, is more than capable of turning his into the kind of firefight that we haven't yet seen Kovalev in, and there could be some mileage for bettors in getting the rounds onside. There's a market-best 19/20 (-105, just shy of even money) available that the fight sees the ninth bracket and, in the Method of Victory prop market, the +350 on the Russian taking a second points victory on the spin has reasonable appeal.
The convincing nature of his performance against Hopkins, though, and the clear scorecards at its conclusion, suggests that Kovalev may not have a problem working his way to a decisive verdict with the judges, and there's a tempting +500 on offer for the unanimous decision. Those looking to back a Pascal whitewash may be heartened by the sizeable +2200 for him to chalk up a third UD in his last five outings, or indeed the +900 for a points nod of any description.
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