Opening Bell: All hail the heavyweights!

NEW YORK — If you had surveyed boxing fans before the fight, most of them would likely have agreed that the heavyweight matchup between rising contender Adam Kownacki and veteran three-time world title challenger Chris Arreola would be nothing less than entertaining. At their core, they are straight-ahead brawlers.

Whether it would emerge as a legitimate fight of the year candidate was another story, but it did just that Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The big men poured everything they had into a classic heavyweight slugfest that will not soon be forgotten.

Kownacki, in front of his hometown fans, was the clear winner — 118-110, 117-111 and 117-111 on the judges’ scorecards. He moved a step closer to a shot at a world title, and may have sent Arreola, 38, into retirement in the process. But each round was competitive, even if Kownacki was doing enough to win most of them.

The energy they expended and the heart they showed was awe-inspiring. Around the ninth or 10th round I thought Arreola had taken enough punishment for referee Danny Schiavone or trainer Joe Goossen — Arreola’s head trainer for the first time, who did a marvelous job of having his man prepared as well as he has been in many years — to stop the fight. But then Arreola had what were likely his best rounds of the bout in the 11th and 12th as he closed strong.

While there were no knockdowns or any particular moments where one man appeared on the verge of being dropped or stopped, the relentlessness of both fighters and the non-stop action was breathtaking.

CompuBox, which has tracked punches for thousands of fights during its 34-year history, produces stats that generally paint a good picture of any bout, and it sure did in this one, as Kownacki and Arreola not only beat each other up but also entered the CompuBox heavyweight record book.

Some remarkable CompuBox stats for heavyweights:

  • Kownacki landed 369 of 1,047 punches (35 percent) and Arreola landed 298 of 1,125 (27 percent).

  • Their combined 667 punches landed set the CompuBox record, besting the mark of 650 set in David Tua’s 12th-round knockout of David Izon in 1996.

  • Their 2,172 combined punches thrown shattered the record, besting the mark of 1,730 set in Ike Ibeabuchi’s decision win over Tua in their epic 1997 slugfest.

  • Arreola’s 1,125 punches thrown is the heavyweight record, beating the mark of 1,112 thrown by Dillian Whyte against Dave Allen in a 10-round decision win in 2016. Arreola had never thrown more than 580 punches, which he did against Travis Kauffman in a 2015 fight Arreola won by decision but later was changed to a no decision because he tested positive for marijuana.

  • Kownacki’s 1,047 punches thrown were the fifth-most by a heavyweight.

  • There were no rounds in which either man threw fewer than 75 punches.

  • They combined to land an average of 56 punches per round, nearly double the heavyweight average of 30.

  • Arreola averaged 94 punches thrown per round, which is more than double the heavyweight average, and Kownacki averaged 87 punches thrown per round, almost double the average.

  • They combined to throw 220 punches in the 12th round (124 for Kownacki and 96 for Arreola), a record.

Kownacki, a career-heavy 266.4 pounds, and Arreola, who was 244 pounds, both have “dad bods” to an extent, but to suggest, as one reporter did at the post-fight news conference, that they were not well-conditioned is absurd after the kind of effort and output each displayed.

“I just threw a thousand punches. I came in pretty good shape,” Kownacki said with a laugh to the question about his conditioning and stamina.

Arreola did not come to the news conference because he was wisely sent to the hospital to be examined as a precaution. He said before the fight that he would retire if he lost, but then hedged in his post-fight in-ring interview, saying he would consult with his family and team before making a decision.

The way he fought, he could certainly continue and make a few more bucks, but at what cost? Arreola has been a warrior throughout his 16-year career. He’s been great to watch, great to deal with, and took on every challenge presented to him. But he also lost all of his biggest fights — title fights versus Vitali Klitschko, Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder, not to mention his first fight against Stiverne and Tomasz Adamek, both of which he was favored to win.

Can Arreola (38-6-1, 33 KOs), of Riverside, California, possibly perform better than he did against Kownacki? I tend to doubt it, so, to me, this is the perfect way for Arreola, with his health intact, to bow out. He was elevated despite the loss, the same way former world champion Wladimir Klitschko was in his loss to Anthony Joshua, after which Klitschko retired.

As for Kownacki (20-0, 15 KOs), 30, who was born in Poland and dreams of becoming the first Polish heavyweight titleholder, he’s still probably a couple of fights away from a title opportunity, especially since Wilder (who was part of the Fox ringside broadcast team and watching Kownacki closely) and three-belt titlist Andy Ruiz Jr. are tied up with other obligations for the time being.

A showdown between Kownacki and Wilder would be a huge fight, especially at Barclays Center, where both have fought regularly. It would probably be very exciting, but it would also be hard-pressed to match the blazing action of Saturday night’s scrap.

Pascal’s huge win

How do you not love former light heavyweight world champion Jean Pascal? At 36, he’s not necessarily old by today’s boxing standards, but after years of being viewed by most as a faded fighter, he turned back the clock a bit on Saturday night with a huge win in the Kownacki-Arreola co-feature.

Pascal (34-6-1, 20 KOs) got totally outboxed by Marcus Browne for most of the fight but he scored three knockdowns — one in the fourth and two in the seventh, courtesy of a still-potent right hand — in an eight-round technical decision to claim an interim light heavyweight title.

Browne (23-1, 16 KOs), 28, the crowd favorite from Staten Island, New York, suffered a severe cut from an accidental head butt in the eighth round that forced the fight to go to the scorecards (75-74 on all three for Pascal). It was such a severe cut that ringside medical personnel ushered Browne out of the ring before the decision was even read and he did not know he had lost his belt until a bit later.

For Pascal it was a big win. But win or lose, one of the things I have always respected about him is that he never shied away from top opponents.

Since 2008, when Pascal lost to Carl Froch for a vacant super middleweight title in the first significant fight of his career — and continued to fight, despite a dislocated shoulder suffered in the bout — he has fought everybody: Bernard Hopkins (twice), Sergey Kovalev (twice), Adrian Diaconu (twice), Chad Dawson, Lucian Bute, Eleider “Storm” Alvarez, Dmitry Bivol and Browne. That’s a pretty good list of elite opposition of this era.

After world titlist Bivol dominated Pascal in a one-sided decision win in November, it was hard to see Pascal ever winning another significant fight. He had fallen to 4-4 in his past eight bouts and lost whenever he had stepped up, including twice by knockout to Kovalev in title fights, to Alvarez in an all-Montreal grudge match, and to Bivol in a massively one-sided title fight in November. Pascal’s win over Yunieski Gonzalez during that stretch was also extremely controversial, and Pascal even briefly retired at the end of 2017.

But he was undeterred and deserves to celebrate his achievement against Browne.

The next step: Browne’s cut was severe and he will be out of action for the rest of the year, certainly, but he has a rematch clause. Should he exercise his option, Pascal will be bound to fight Browne again, though it is unclear if Pascal has the right to have an interim bout first.

Conlan coming along

Boxing promoters want two things out of their fighters — talent and marketability. Ideally, the fighter will develop both, although one facet is usually ahead of the other.

Take the case of featherweight Michael Conlan. He’s already plenty marketable, and was from the day he signed with Top Rank after the 2016 Olympics. As a two-time Irish Olympian with a bronze medal to his credit, he is also talented — but his popularity is further along.

He sold out the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden for his pro debut on St. Patrick’s Day in 2017 and is already one of the bigger names in his division. On Saturday he drew some 10,000 fans to Falls Park, an outdoor stadium in his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, for his ESPN+ main event, where he knocked out Argentina’s Diego Alberto Ruiz (21-2, 10 KOs), 25, in the ninth round of a good performance. Conlan dropped Ruiz with a right hand and then beat on him during the follow-up attack until referee Michael Alexander stopped it at 1 minute, 34 seconds.

Conlan (12-0, 7 KOs), 27, ended Ruiz’s 10-fight winning streak in a bout that was a centerpiece to Belfast’s annual Féile an Phobail summer festival and then looked to the future.

“I’m ready for a world title soon,” he said. “This time next year I want to have a world title around my waist.”

The next step: Conlan said before the fight that he wants to challenge England’s Josh Warrington for his belt. A title shot, be it against Warrington or somebody else, is still a few fights away. Conlan is next likely to return to fight in the United States on Dec. 14 on Top Rank’s ESPN card at Madison Square Garden.