Photos: Ed Mulholland
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Dmitry Bivol has achieved a number of benchmarks in his young career, including winning an alphabet title paired with a string of successful defenses and an undefeated record. Though he is still recognized as a rising star, his unanimous decision victory over Jean Pascal at the Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino — like his last win over Isaac Chilemba — fell short of the declarative statement he was looking to make about his place atop the light heavyweight division.
That’s not to say Bivol (15-0, 11 KOs) failed to win handily. There is little argument that he, still 27 years of age, proved himself the superior fighter to the 36-year-old Pascal, a proud former title-winner himself. A quick survey of the stats bear out the margin of his win. According to CompuBox, Bivol landed 127 power punches to Pascal’s 54, to go with a 90-6 edge on landed jabs. Save for Pascal’s spastic and desperate flurry of hooks — including a desperate hurling of both arms in the ninth round that resembled a bear’s attempt at a hug more than former champion practicing the sport of boxing — Bivol was in control throughout. But winning wasn’t the singular goal for the heavy favorite; only domination could continue fueling the hype.
However, over the fight’s later rounds, what stood out was Pascal’s showmanship more so than Bivol’s performance. At times, the Montreal-based fighter trotted in place, smirking at Bivol to rile up the crowd, taunting the eventual victor like he was the one in cruise control, despite the scorecards showing the opposite. Bivol’s reputation as a power puncher might lead his biggest boosters to think a knockout was inevitable, but Pascal, clearly winded, feinted with the same vigor in the final round as he did when the opening bell rang.
As Bivol chatted with color commentator Max Kellerman about his night and his future in the division, one could hear boos pushing through the crowd. Maybe his next fight will provide an opportunity not just to resume ascent, but bring the fans into his corner.
Isaac Zarate, an employee at a brewery in between his prizefighting, had in some ways, a remarkably successful night, working his way to a televised undercard ahead of a fight with significant title and ranking implications. Then, competing for nine rounds with the up-and-coming Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who also made his HBO debut, might be the summit of his fledgling boxing career. But whatever moral victories Zarate accumulated don’t compare to the complete thrashing Akhmadaliev (5-0, 4 KOs) gave him, particularly from the second round onwards.
The referees may have stopped the fight, but it was barely an act of mercy — clamors from observers to stop the fight were made early and often. Towards the end of the truncated battle, Akhmadaliev was able to put his whole weight behind nearly every punch, sometimes losing balance and falling into his opponent. Zarate should be lauded for his impressive chin, one strong enough to conceal the winner of the fight a round (or four) too long.