Pascal gets re-education from Roach ahead of Kovalev rematch
LOS ANGELES (AP) Jean Pascal was a fighter in need of a reboot.
The former light heavyweight champion had been stopped for the first time in his career by Sergey Kovalev in March, and he squeaked out a debatable decision over less-heralded Yunieski Gonzalez four months later.
Pascal secured a rematch with the imposing Kovalev, but knew he needed to reinvent himself to have a chance at revenge against the three-belt champion at 178 pounds.
So Pascal followed the well-worn path to Hollywood's Wild Card Gym and trainer Freddie Roach, who has made a career out of boosting already successful fighters to new heights.
The results of their partnership will be on display Saturday night on HBO from Montreal, and they both believe the boxing world will be surprised.
''Nobody bosses Jean Pascal,'' the Haitian-born Canadian said. ''I am my own boss. I need a partner, and Freddie is the right partner right now. I've been there, done that. I'm a veteran. I went to the Olympics, and I've had all the major fights. I became a world champion, and I'm about to become a two-time world champion. I needed more like a partner to help me to evolve than a boss.''
While Roach's masterwork is his transformation of Manny Pacquiao from a skinny prospect into a transcendent champion, Pascal is the latest in a long line of established veteran fighters who have come through the Wild Card's dingy doors. Roach's successes include Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, James Toney and currently Miguel Cotto, who credits Roach with his lucrative late-career surge.
''He's a coach who likes to listen,'' Pascal said. ''It's not only his way or the highway. He's going to ask me questions. He's going to try to see my point of view, and he's going to explain his point of view. He has a good ear, and in my experience, this is a quality coach.''
Roach has plenty of work, and he initially turned down Pascal's entreaties, believing the veteran fighter wasn't interested in changing. Pascal was persistent, and Roach eventually agreed to an eight-week training camp in Hollywood.
''Every guy is different in a job like this, but making this one better was kind of easy, because he made so many mistakes,'' Roach said. ''It was real easy to do. I did the same things I've done for many fighters along the way, but he just needed to learn the correct way to do it. It was very small adjustments. Now he's using his power in his left hand, and his balance has come along quite a bit. I'm very surprised at how quickly he learns. Usually it would take me three to six months to get someone to the level where I think he's at right now.''
Roach identified imitation as Pascal's biggest mistake in the first fight against Kovalev. Pascal repeatedly dropped his hands and hung out on the ropes, putting himself in miserable positions.
''I told him, `I know you like Roy Jones, but you're not Roy Jones,''' Roach said. ''`You're a good fighter. I'd rather you be you than him.' I think it struck him a little bit, because I wasn't nice about it. I said, `You're a grown man. Why would you emulate someone else? That's for kids.' I've got a Bobby Orr shirt over there. I liked Bobby Orr when I was a kid. I got over it.''
Pascal still runs on raw emotion, and he made bizarre headlines this week when he showed up at the pre-fight news conference in Montreal with a bunch of bananas to underline his belief Kovalev is a racist. The Russian champion's trainer, John David Jackson, who is black, has dismissed Pascal's allegations.
While Kovalev has already discussed fighting Adonis Stevenson and Andre Ward this year in anticipation of a victory over Pascal, Roach remains confident Pascal can harness his emotional energy in a performance strong enough to shock the boxing world.
''(Pascal's) brother said to me, `Freddie, I've never seen him look better,''' Roach said. ''`You've done a great job. But he'll never do that in a fight.' So I've got a bet with his brother.
''I'm not a sports psychologist, but working with him has been a lot of fun. He's come a long way, and I'm really proud of the improvements he's made already. I know we've made him a better fighter.''