The star of the show is light heavyweight world titleholder Dmitry Bivol, who has not even entered his prime but already is one of the best in the division. But former champion Jean Pascal, written off long ago by most as a shot fighter, is aiming for one last stand when he challenges for the belt.
Most expect Bivol to plow through heavy underdog Pascal when they meet on Saturday (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) at the Mark G. Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the main event of the final edition of the HBO flagship series “World Championship Boxing.”
“I want to take a moment for the last time and thank HBO,” said Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, whose company has promoted fights on HBO for decades, including many of the network’s 83 boxing cards from Atlantic City. “This is going to be a very difficult event for us in a lot of ways. I hope Jean and Dmitry can somehow jolt them into reconsidering.”
That is unlikely to happen, but Pascal is hoping to throw jolt into the division and reinvigorate a 13-year career in which he has never avoided a tough challenge. He has faced opponents such as Bernard Hopkins (twice), Sergey Kovalev (twice), Eleider “Storm” Alvarez, Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Adrian Diaconu (twice) and Lucian Bute, and always given a top effort in many crowd-pleasing fights.
“This is the story of my life, to be the underdog,” Pascal said. “I was the underdog when I faced Chad Dawson. At the time he was considered as (one of) the best pound for pound in the world. I was the underdog, and I won the fight. To me, maybe it’s a motivation. I know what to do. I know what I’m capable to do. I have a lot of experience, been there done that. I’m going to do my best to win this fight.”
“He’s strong. He’s a really tough guy. He is a good fighter and I respect him, but when I go to the ring, he will be my enemy.”
Dmitry Bivol on opponent Jean Pascal
After Pascal lost a decision to Alvarez in June 2017, he returned in December for what he said would be his final fight. He knocked out then-undefeated prospect Ahmed Elbiali in the sixth round and retired.
But the lure of the ring was too much for him to withstand. Pascal, 36, who is from the Montreal suburb of Laval, returned in July and moved up to cruiserweight for a novelty fight against Quebec rival and former MMA fighter and minor league hockey player Steve Bosse. Pascal knocked him out in the eighth round of Bosse’s second boxing match.
Pascal was planning for another lower-level cruiserweight fight on Nov. 9 when he was offered the unexpected opportunity to challenge Bivol, who needed an opponent after contender Joe Smith Jr., with whom he had agreed to terms, opted instead for another fight.
Pascal (33-5-1, 20 KOs) agreed to return to light heavyweight and accepted the deal to fight Bivol (14-0, 11 KOs), 27, of Russia, who will be making his fourth title defense.
“Jean Pascal is always ready. He never turns down an opportunity. He is a warrior,” Duva said. “He’d like to take Dmitry’s title back home to Canada and confirm his status as a Hall of Fame fighter when his career is finished. It would make a pretty nice Christmas present for him.
“Jean Pascal has won titles and lost titles. But he has never lost anyone’s respect. He has faced every dangerous name in the division for a decade. Jean’s farewell tour is making a stop in Atlantic City. He doesn’t want it to be his last stop.”
Pascal comes into the fight with the confidence of having scored back-to-back knockout wins, even if they did not come against elite opponents. But he hadn’t had consecutive KO victories since 2006, when he was still boxing as a super middleweight and well before he was an established contender.
“Right now, I don’t know if I’m stronger than before, but I feel very strong,” he said. “Of course, I got two knockouts in my last [two] fights. But I know they weren’t elite fighters like Dmitry Bivol. So I know I’m going to have to pick up my game, but I’m ready for that. Been there, done that. It’s his first ([‘World Championship Boxing’] main event. Like I said, for me, been there, done that. I know what I have to do. I’m ready for this fight. I’m looking for this fight to be a great fight.
“The fight is going to be in Atlantic City. Remember, we have a Canadian story in Atlantic City. [The late] Arturo Gatti is from my hometown, and he used to fight over there. He became a legend. At the same time, I’m going to try to honor his spirit and win one more title.”
If Pascal defeats Bivol, all four major 175-pound world titles will be held by Quebec-based fighters — Pascal, Artur Beterbiev, Alvarez and Adonis Stevenson, who defends against Oleksandr Gvozdyk on Dec. 1.
“I’m going to be there to fight. I like to fight. I’m the underdog. I know Bivol likes to fight as well. He’s young, hungry. He cannot exactly remember me when I was champion. I was a pretty boy, lot of stamina, young, sexy, with a lot of power.”
Bivol is coming off a near-shutout decision — but in a lackluster performance — against gatekeeper Isaac Chilemba on Aug. 4, also at the Hard Rock. But Pascal wasn’t critical of the performance.
“Honestly, I think [Bivol] did good. Chilemba used to be my sparring partner. It’s hard to look good against a guy like him,” Pascal said. “He’s very awkward. In this situation, I think Bivol showed his skill, and he did pretty good against an elite fighter.”
Bivol hopes for a better showing against Pascal, whom he said he respects and is not looking past despite the long odds.
“I saw his many fights when I was an amateur,” Bivol said. “His fight against Bernard Hopkins, fight against many other people. I know he has a good counterattack. He’s strong. He’s a really tough guy. He is a good fighter, and I respect him, but when I go to the ring, he will be my enemy.
“I respect Pascal because he took this fight. I hope we will show a good fight and action in the ring. I will do my best to make a good fight.”
Bivol is not only excited about facing an opponent with the name recognition of Pascal but also to be featured on HBO’s final “WCB” card.
“All my life I have wanted to headline HBO ‘World Championship Boxing,’ and now I am only days away from making a dream of mine come true,” he said. “The historical significance of this event is not lost on me. It is an honor to be in the main event of the final show of such a great series.”
Pascal, of course, is hoping to ruin the moment and win another title in an upset.
“I’m going to be there to fight. I like to fight. I’m the underdog. I know Bivol likes to fight as well,” Pascal said. “He’s young, hungry. He cannot exactly remember me when I was champion. I was a pretty boy, lot of stamina, young, sexy, with a lot of power. In any losses that I had, I always did good, except my second fight with Kovalev. I know I’m a tough challenge. I know I’m a good man to be on the resume. That’s why they picked me.
“I have a lot of respect for Dmitry Bivol. He’s a young lion. He thinks that has all the talent in the world like I thought when I was his age. Something he cannot have, he cannot buy — it’s experience. I have way more experience than him, even though he has a lot of amateur fights. I went to the Olympics in 2004 in Greece. I was a world-class amateur fighter also. But I have way more experience than him as a professional boxer. That will lead to a great fight.”
In the opening televised fight, 24-year-old southpaw junior featherweight prospect Murodjon Akhmadaliev (4-0, 3 KOs), a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist from Uzbekistan who fights out of Brooklyn, will make his American television debut in a scheduled 10-round fight against Isaac Zarate (16-3-3, 2 KOs), 27, of San Pedro, California.