Sergey Kovalev's comprehensive, one-sided victory over Bernard Hopkins in Atlantic City, N.J., in November wasn't the finish line for the power-punching Russian. Rather, it was a starting point.
By getting past one of the most well-known and best fighters in the world, Kovalev set himself up for a long and successful run as the light heavyweight champion.
He holds the IBF, WBA and WBO belts and is clearly the best fighter in the weight class.
But that doesn't mean he's without challenges. His opponent on Saturday in Montreal, Jean Pascal, is a significant one, and one he can't afford to take lightly.
Many fighters over the years have made the mistake of getting up for what is perceived to be their biggest bout, only to let down in the subsequent match.
Kovalev has vowed that won't happen, and his trainer, John David Jackson, treated him like a newcomer. Jackson pushed Kovalev hard, out of respect for Pascal's ability as well as to draw the best from Kovalev.
"You can't take Pascal lightly," Jackson said to a reporter. "Sergey prepares for every fighter differently. All the belts are important to Sergey. Pascal is a very good fighter. He has good power. We can't take him lightly. We are looking at Pascal as a good fighter with good skills. Pascal's style is different. He is not one-dimensional. He throws punches from different angles. He doesn't have defense. He is herky-jerky. He is unconventional."
And so Jackson has worked with Kovalev to be patient, to understand he's not going to rush across the ring and get rid of Pascal with a couple of quick right hands.
Oh, Kovalev has the power to take anyone out, but Pascal's record suggests that Kovalev should be prepared for the long haul.
Pascal, a former WBC light heavyweight champion, has fought a who's who of the best fighters at 168 and 175 pounds over the last six years. He's 0-1-1 against Hopkins, and lost to Carl Froch in a super middleweight title fight, but he's got wins over Chad Dawson and Lucian Bute.
Patience will be important for Kovalev because Pascal throws punches from different angles, and if Kovalev gets overly aggressive, he could be caught by something he doesn't see coming. Those are the punches that usually have the most effect.
Kovalev is evolving as a fighter and he showed plenty of patience and boxing skill in his rout of the wily Hopkins. He needs more of the same against Pascal, said Jackson, who praised Kovalev's steady evolution.
"Sergey has to dissect him slowly," Jackson said. "Sergey needs to do what he does best. Sergey isn't a one-punch fighter. He throws combinations and does everything well. 'Rocky' was a movie. This isn't a movie. This is a real life. He has to do it. We can't take him lightly. We are training for the fighter that he is. Sergey is a tremendous fighter. His power is unreal. He has great boxing skills. I don't try to get him to fight the way I fought. I want him to fight his way.
"His defense is great. There are a lot of skills he has that he hasn't had to use yet. No one thought he could go 12 rounds and then he went 12 rounds against Hopkins. I don't try to make them like me. I want them to determine for themselves what they are comfortable with. In order to be a good fighter you have to have a style that works for you. I just let Sergey do his things."
Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva remarked about Pascal's 15 trainers, and Pascal didn't miss an opportunity to respond. Marc Ramsay is his head trainer, but the great Roy Jones Jr. works as his assistant.
Pascal said he needs a staff of assistants because he is meticulous in his preparation. But he used that to take shots at Kovalev, perhaps in an effort to throw the big Russian off his game.
"I have 15 trainers because I am a general and I have an army behind me," Pascal said. "Kovalev doesn't like to talk and he lets his trainer do the talking. John David Jackson doesn't have to get into the ring with me. Sergey does. He needs to man up and talk for himself. I am a general. I am not a follower. I am a wolf, not a sheep.
"In hockey, Russian players do well during the regular season and then not so well in the playoffs. So I think that like those hockey players, Kovalev will not be able to perform the same on Saturday night against me as he has in the past against other fighters. Nobody should take me lightly."
Kovalev insists he's prepared and will bring the same intensity he brought to his bout with Hopkins.
He's already bought into Jackson's plan and said he isn't gunning for a knockout. Rather, all he wants is to win and move on.
"Knockout or decision, it doesn't matter as long as I get the victory," he said. "I am sure I am going to get my victory, but how it will happen, nobody knows. I don't want to speculate. It just so happens that I stop my opponents early, but Jean Pascal is my [biggest] challenge."