On Watching Jean Pascal Lose

By Daniel Kravetz on February 4, 2016
On Watching Jean Pascal Lose
We saw that the narrative was not in Sergey Kovalev’s smile. (Eric Bolte/USA Today Sports)

Pitiless and machine-like, Kovalev has pounded off Pascal’s cheeky, haphazard brand of joie de vivre, reducing him to a terrible fate: innate capitulation…

If we love boxing, as Joyce Carol Oates does, for its intimacy and profundity, and if we are perversely drawn to its pathos—how “it consumes the very excellence it displays”—then we should tip our hats to the HBO camera crew for their instincts in the conclusive moment of last Saturday’s light heavyweight headliner. They saw that the narrative was not in Sergey Kovalev’s smile, but in Jean Pascal’s eyes.

The fight ends with Pascal in his corner. Trainer Freddie Roach has, to the surprise or objection of no one, retired his charge after seven rounds. Pitiless and machine-like, Kovalev has pounded off Pascal’s cheeky, haphazard brand of joie de vivre, reducing him to a terrible fate: innate capitulation. Roach had already threatened to stop the fight after round six, but Pascal had pled for three more minutes, and Roach had relented—perhaps a longshot bet that the cliff’s edge would infuse life into a proud fighter.

There was no wick left to light. Pascal was scorched earth. Now, after being brutalized and turtle-shelled again in the seventh, he offers Roach no further resistance. The camera frames him on his stool, arms outstretched and slack, jaw jutting out, eyes puffy and downcast. The lens zooms. His arms, the ropes, the post, the hand on his shoulder all fall to the margins, then his hair and mouth and ears.

Only his eyes are in the frame now. They are not closed. If they were closed, he might betray a tempting picture of acceptance, or at least mere disappointment. Open, you could see how very little light is in them. Pascal looks more than beaten. He looks hopelessly abject—addled and lost. The camera lingers.

Among the more than one million witnesses, the knowing ones had all anticipated the same hard and correct outcome to the fight. They had seen Pascal brutalized by Kovalev once before—had seen how the Haitian had then landed a series of full-tilt punches to no effect—and they were aware that he had since been on the decline. They—or we, rather—watched anyway.

Still, even if the outcome was an easy bet, the brief scene of the reckoning—Pascal’s dim-lit windows—was no less jarring. Has there been a sadder sight on the canvas in recent months?

Well, to be sure, there is competition in 47-year-old Roy Jones’ prone, lifeless body keeling-forward after a temple shot from Enzo Maccarinelli in December, the latest fall of too many for the former world’s greatest. At his time of defeat, Jones had no consciousness with which to absorb his own tragedy.

Or, for the most afflicted rubberneckers, there is video of a recent fight in Thailand, in which a hundred or so observers are crowded in by a plastic bubble and multicolored ad boards, looking on as, after eight hard rounds, local 105-pounder Chanachai CP Freshmart spits clumsily and then slides from his stool into total darkness, his thin right arm instinctively holding onto the second rope like a noodle on a fork, his trainers hoisting him and pulling his head upright by his short hair and slapping his face over and over. The young Thai fighter may never be able to fully contemplate his fate.

On balance, Pascal’s consciousness in defeat is preferable. He is soon on solid legs. He can even muster his own postscript while still on the dais: a thank you to his fans, a nod to the winner, a rather poignant promise to be back. But before this, without the fender of lapsed time, his consciousness compels him to confront his compounding losses: bout, pride, youth, mettle, neurons. The physical trauma and ache must play a role in Pascal’s moment of desolation, but so too must the pain of self-awareness. His eyes seem to say it all. Nothing there can be undone.

For our own part, we the viewers have a recourse that may not soothe the competitor. If we were saddened by the eyes of a fighter in a near-inevitable loss of a piece of self, and if we would like to channel the sentiment towards the bittersweet, we can turn to footage of that fighter at his most alive and self-assured. For us, Roy Jones can leap at Montell Griffin ad infinitum.

In Pascal’s case, we can bypass his more well-known fights and first turn the digital page to June 2009, when, at age 26, he challenged Adrian “The Shark” Diaconu for a light heavyweight title in their mutual adopted home of Montreal. A bald-headed seeker-and-destroyer, Diaconu was limited but dangerous, and Pascal was moving up in weight to challenge him. Yet in front of a boisterous crowd of locals, Pascal was fearless in the ring with The Shark, leaving his arms by his waist and continually lunging into harm’s way to unleash long, audacious punches. When he was hit, he boomeranged, only holding his opponent at length after being shaken by a right in an exchange in the fifth.

The fighters’ prolonged trades were matched in intensity by the escalating wonder as to how long Pascal could play with fire and survive. But an undaunted Pascal continued to land rousing punches and escape by his stubble. There was a sense of faith to it all, a dogma that each moment was his own. Even by boxing’s standards, his resolve over the course of twelve rounds was exceptional (though it was, in fact, to be surpassed by his defense in the rematch with Diaconu, in which Pascal dislocated his right shoulder three times and went right on throwing right hands). In a dramatic twelfth, Pascal fought with as little inhibition as he had in the first, winging at Diaconu into the round’s closing seconds.

At the bell, Diaconu was the one to raise his fist. Pascal’s reaction was more visceral: he took three exhausted steps forward, poured to his knees, and put his gloves to his face. By the time he let his eyes be seen again, he had already been enveloped in the thrill of his supporters. When the viewer at last sees Pascal up close and at length, he is back up and reclining into a corner of the ring, kissing his wrapped left fist, putting the hand to his forehead in astonishment at what he has just finished, smiling as though immersed to the neck in hot water. He knows he has won. His borne out faith, it seems, is what gives him everything of this moment.

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Sergey Kovalev vs. Jean Pascal: HBO World Championship Boxing Highlights



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  1. Buster 08:50pm, 02/07/2016

    Much ado about nothing.

  2. rob 05:01am, 02/06/2016

    So in other words, he lost

  3. Don from Prov 07:29am, 02/05/2016

    Good article—

    And yes, the fight = a cold, calculated beatdown.

  4. Koolz 06:03pm, 02/04/2016

    you are not strong you cannot grow if you have not lost something.  See Conflict creates US.  We strive forward no matter the odds.
    (This by the way is the Secrete of Political Correct dooms Days creating weaklings)

    It is older then old and is called the “Initiation of Fire”.  To take up ones arms, to defend yourself, your loved ones, to create peace from conflict, to grow from conflict, to have character from conflict.  With out Conflict you are nothing.  Conflict the Duality of Yin and Yang.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:21pm, 02/04/2016

    “Lunging into harm’s way to unleash long, audacious punches.”  How about jumping in with Tough Guy Contest caliber helicopter punches that are damn near as ugly and crude as Arreola’s bent elbow right hand punches that are “unleashed” in two distinct steps. Pascal is an over achiever if ever there was, who made a ton of money in this “sport” and no one should feel sorry for him, least of all Jean Pascal.

  6. Eric 08:10am, 02/04/2016

    Everyone loses eventually, whether in life or a boxing match. How a person rebounds from a loss or how he handles losing is the true measure of character. I always remember how classy and strong Joe Frazier was after his shocking loss to George Foreman. Frazier was an immensely strong man, inside and out. Losing is part of living, if you haven’t lost, you haven’t lived. Kovalev will experience this same fate if he fights long enough. Face it, undefeated fighters like Marciano & Floyd were somewhat protected, lacked strong competition, or just got out while the getting was good.

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