Saturday night in Las Vegas on HBO, unified light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev made a mandatory defense against the IBF’s idea of a No. 1 contender in Nadjib Mohammedi, knocking the Frenchman out in three rounds. It was a joke of a fight. Mohammedi is a respectable, second-tier contender at 175 pounds who had none nothing to indicate that he belonged anywhere near a dangerous slugger like Kovalev. Ultimatley, the fight played out exactly as any sensible and knowledgeable fan would have expected it to.
The true excitement on the card was provided by former Kovalev-victim Jean Pascal’s 10-round war with previously unbeaten Yunieski Gonzalez. Compared to Mohammedi, Gonzalez is a true hot property at light heavyweight. The Cuban ex-pat fought close to 400 amateur bouts and has been a hard-punching hitman as a professional.
He lost a unanimous decision, 96-94 on all three cards, but in my opinion, this was one of the worst decision so far this year. I think HBO’s Harold Lederman was pretty close to dead accurate with his 97-93 card in favor of Gonzalez.
The punch stats showed that Pascal landed close to as many punches as Gonzalez, but the Cuban was far more active and dictated the pace of the fight. Both men landed very good punches throughout the fight, but Gonzalez had the better of the exchanges with consistency. His power was a threat to Pascal and he initiated the action on terms that favored him.
The HBO broadcast team stated during the broadcast the Gonzalez’s team had gone all-in on this fight, confident their man could beat one of the most dangerous talents in the division to insert himself into the world-title picture.
So the lousy decision meant Gonzalez and his team rolled snake eyes, despite his terrific performance. Gonzalez cried in the ring after the emotional let down of hearing that the judges had given the fight to an opponent that Gonzalez had seemed to handle.
Despite ending up in the wrong column, I have to believe this will be a fight that will help make Gonzalez break through at the top of the sport. The light heavyweight division is as hot as it has been in over 30 years right now, and Gonzalez fits nicely into that picture. I don’t care if he has a notch in his “L” column, I’d still be pretty excited to see him face any of the big guns in the division, whether Kovalev himself, WBC belt holder Adonis Stevenson, or a rematch with Pascal.
I’d tune in with extreme enthusiasm to see him fight former Russian amateur star and Montreal transplant Artur Beterbiev. I’d also love to see Gonzalez matched with young light heavyweight talents like Andrzej Fonfara and Sullivan Barrera.
This is an era in the light heavyweight division that we will look back upon with golden memories, so long as the fights get made.