Light heavyweight titleholder Dmitry Bivol grew up watching videos of famous HBO-televised fights, and he aspired to headline its iconic "World Championship Boxing" series.
He got that opportunity in the final edition of the show and cruised to a one-sided rout of former world champion and heavy underdog Jean Pascal on Saturday night before 3,853 at the Mark G. Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
HBO announced in late September that after 45 years of televising most of the sport's biggest fights it would exit boxing coverage at the end of the year. There is one more edition of the "Boxing After Dark" series set for Dec. 8, but Bivol took less money to headline the "World Championship Boxing" finale than he could have made elsewhere because he wanted to be part of the series' glorious history.
His fight with Pascal won't go down as one of the many classics it has produced. In fact, it was a dud, as Bivol rolled past the long-faded Pascal by scores of 119-109, 119-109 and 117-111 in a fight every bit as one-sided as the scores indicated. ESPN.com scored it a 120-108 shutout for Bivol, who retained his 175-pound world title for the fourth time and has not been seriously challenged in any of those bouts.
"Of course, every time we shoot for the knockout but sometimes you can't [get it]," Bivol said. "I can show my boxing skills. I hope people are glad after my fight. I think [Pascal] put all of his experience and power into this fight."
If he did, all of Pascal's experience did not help a lick, and he did not display much power because he landed so few punches.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Bivol landed 217 of 678 shots (32 percent), while Pascal connected with only 60 of 357 blows (17 percent).
Bivol (15-0, 11 KOs), 27, of Russia, got off to a fast start when late in the first round he blasted Pascal, 36, who is from the Montreal suburb of Laval, with a right hand that sent him into the ropes and looking to cover up. According to CompuBox punch statistics, Bivol outlanded Pascal 17-1 in the first round.
Things never got much better for Pascal (33-6-1, 20 KOs), who barely threw any punches -- and when he did, he barely threw any combinations. For Bivol, it was virtual target practice from the outset against Pascal, who was returning to the light heavyweight division after having had his previous fight at cruiserweight and preparing for another cruiserweight bout until he was offered the shot at Bivol.
Pascal, a 2004 Olympian, came into the fight with a reputation for being a warrior, having faced numerous top opponents -- Bernard Hopkins (twice), Sergey Kovalev (twice), Eleider "Storm" Alvarez, Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Adrian Diaconu (twice) and Lucian Bute during his 13-year career, and he did what he could, but it was nowhere near enough for the man who reigned as light heavyweight champion from 2009 to 2011. Pascal was extremely ineffective and could fight only in brief spurts in a world title opportunity he had not done anything to earn but got only as a second option when the original opponent, contender Joe Smith Jr., instead opted for another fight.
Pascal, who was in his second fight following a brief retirement that lasted from December until July, came out for the eighth round with a burst of energy, going after Bivol with several hard punches, but Bivol stayed calm until the brief storm was over and then continued to do as he pleased.
"Bivol is a great young champion and I take my hat off to him as the top guy at light heavyweight," Pascal said. "I was focused and prepared for this challenge and I gave it my all, but unfortunately it wasn't enough for me tonight. Now I will go back to Montreal with my head held high, enjoy some time with my family and then after I take some time off to see what's next."
Bivol landed many flurries, but he also never looked like he was close to scoring a knockdown as he went the distance for the second fight in a row after going 12 lackluster rounds with gatekeeper Isaac Chilemba in a one-sided decision win Aug. 4.
With his time on HBO over, Bivol will be a much sought-after free agent.
"I believe in my skills. If I take a fight I believe I can win," he said. "I am ready to fight everyone in the light heavyweight division and champions from [the] super middleweight [division]. I can make [the weight]."
So who does he want?
"Doesn't matter to me. I'll fight anybody," he said. "I am ready to fight against Alvarez or Kovalev or Badou Jack. I'm ready. Let's make the fight."
Akhmadaliev shines against Zarate
In the co-feature, junior featherweight prospect Murodjon Akhmadaliev, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist from Uzbekistan who fights out of Brooklyn, New York, applied relentless pressure throughout his fight with fellow southpaw Isaac Zarate before stopping him in the ninth round of a one-sided affair.
In the seventh round, Akhmadaliev hurt Zarate with a sustained body attack that made him wince, followed by punches upstairs that rocked him. Akhmadaliev appeared to have him in trouble again after connecting with a flurry of punches in the final seconds of the eighth round.
Akhmadaliev (5-0, 4 KOs), 24, continued to pound Zarate (16-4-3, 2 KOs), 27, of San Pedro, California, in the ninth round, eventually forcing him toward the ropes with a right hook to the chin and then landing several more punches, including a tremendous overhand left that rocked his head back, which caused referee Eric Dali to step in and stop the fight at 1 minute, 17 seconds.
"It went almost exactly as we thought it would go," Akhmadaliev said. "He is a crafty and durable fighter and has a lot of experience. I knew I wasn't going to go in there and knock him out [quickly]. The game plan was to go to the body and wear him down."
Akhmadaliev led by shutout scores of 80-72 on two scorecards and 79-73 on the third at the time of the stoppage. The CompuBox statistics illustrated just how one-sided the fight was, as Akhmadaliev landed 206 of 469 punches (44 percent) while Zarate connected with 111 of 519 blows (21 percent).