by Cliff Rold
As the youngest major titlist in his division, the ceiling could be high for Russian light heavyweight Dmitry Bivol. He looks the part and fights it as well. Already with some solid wins like Sullivan Barrera and Isaac Chilemba under his belt, he seeks Saturday (HBO, 10 PM EST) to go through the ritual of adding a notable former champion to his ledger.
Former WBC and lineal light heavyweight titlist Jean Pascal looked like he might have hit the wall after a pair of stoppage losses to Sergey Kovalev and a decision loss to future titlist Eleider Alvarez. A stoppage of undefeated Ahmed Elbiali in late 2017 kept his career alive enough to get him a title shot nearly a year later.
Will this be Pascal’s last ride or does the tricky veteran have another surprising effort in him?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBA light heavyweight (2017-18, 3 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 174 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Record: 14-0, 11 KO
Press Rankings: #2 (Ring, ESPN), #3 (TBRB), #4 (Boxing Monthly, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 3-0, 2 KO (6-0, 4 KO including interim title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 114-12-2 (.898)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: None
Previous Titles: WBC light heavyweight (2009-11, 4 Defenses); Lineal/Ring light heavyweight (2010-11, 1 Defense)
Height: 5’10 ½
Weight: 174 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Laval, Quebec, Canada (Born in Haiti)
Record: 33-5-1, 20 KO, 2 KOBY
Press Rankings: #9 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-4-1, 1 KO, 2 KOBY
Last Five Opponents: 88-10-2 (.890)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Carl Froch L12; Adrian Diaconu UD12, UD12; Chad Dawson Tech. Dec. 11; Bernard Hopkins D12, L12; Lucian Bute UD12; Sergey Kovalev TKO by 8, RTD by 7; Eleider Alvarez L12
The Case for Bivol: Bivol can appear at times, so far, like a total package. He’s got a hard left jab, puts combinations together, counters well, has good balance, and can crack. While he’s not unhittable, he’s also not reckless. He’s got quick hands and feet, allowing him to get in and out on opponents while keeping that constantly wary of his firepower. Against Pascal, establishing the jab early will be critical in upsetting Pascal’s hopes of throwing off his rhythm. At his best, Pascal’s awkwardness could make him seem more vulnerable than he was before the Canadian favorite was able to strike with bursts of offense. The older Pascal beat Elbiali by using the younger man’s aggression against him, saving energy and busting him up in close. Bivol can fight his best fight by forcing the action to be at his pace and forcing Pascal to expend energy early and often.
The Case for Pascal: Even in the Elbiali upset, Pascal’s legs looked sometimes unsteady. His best chance to win against Bivol is to suck him into a messy fight. Clinching and working the free hand will provide chances for blind shots. If he elects to fight at range, he’s going to have a difficult time stopping the jab. Pascal’s best hopes are for an ugly fight where he can steal rounds, draw on his experience, and frustrate Bivol. Protracted battle will bring a long career’s many miles to the surface quickly.
The Pick: Pascal made a hell of a career for himself by relying on speed, great reflexes, toughness, and better than average power. As he’s aged, the first two of those have declined and that meant they couldn’t cover for defensive deficiencies anymore. Bivol is the sort of steady, sharp, powerful young fighter Pascal has probably aged past being able to compete with. This might have some entertaining moments early on but it feels like what it probably is: an emergent talent adding more name value than competitive value to his resume. Bivol is degrees better than Elbiali and there will be no upset here. The pick here is Bivol by stoppage.
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Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]