By Kieran Mulvaney
There was brief period during Jean Pascal’s most recent outing on HBO when it appeared that he might be able to pull off the biggest victory of his career. Down on points after four rounds against Sergey Kovalev in a contest in which he had been knocked down once, Pascal somehow found the reserves to hurt Kovalev in the fifth and again in the sixth, before his Russian opponent reasserted control and ultimately stopped him in the eighth.
It is a measure of the esteem in which Kovalev was held entering that March contest in Montreal that he was the big favorite against Pascal (29-3-1, 17 KOs), whose only two previous defeats had come against likely future Hall of Famers Carl Froch and Bernard Hopkins. And it is a statement of his ability and strength that he justified the favorable odds by becoming the first and so far only man to beat Pascal inside the distance.
But it says a lot also about Pascal – about his charismatic personality, his exciting fighting style, and his commitment to winning – that his first fight since that defeat is back on HBO, as he takes on Yuniesky Gonzalez (16-0, 12 KOs) in the supporting bout to Kovalev’s title defense against Frenchman Nadjib Mohammedi.
This time, it is Pascal’s turn to be the favorite, and justifiably so: he is a former lineal light-heavyweight champion, who has been in eight world title fights and faced top-caliber opposition, notching wins over the likes of Chad Dawson, Lucian Bute and Adrian Diaconu. His training is aided by one of the greatest boxers of all time, Roy Jones Jr.
Gonzalez, in contrast, is little-known outside his own household. He is a former Cuban amateur standout, it is true; and he is undefeated as a professional. But he has had fewer than half as many professional bouts as Pascal, none of them against remotely top-level opposition. His is a name few if any but the most diehard American fight fans would have heard before the announcement of his fight with Pascal, but a lack of familiarity does not necessary equate to a shortage of ability, and Gonzalez has shown flashes of genuine talent – not least in the form of a devastating left hook that has rendered several opponents borderline comatose. Pascal has a tendency to let himself be drawn into unnecessary brawls and may feel he has something to prove after the Kovalev loss. He may also be carrying the after effects of what, aside from his aborted resurgence, was a one-sided thumping. All these factors could end up playing into Gonzalez's fast and heavy hands.
Should Pascal win – and he probably should – he could conceivably be in line for a rematch with Kovalev. But this is likely a more dangerous test than many assume; if he slips up against Gonzalez, the Haitian-Canadian would fall out of title contention for the foreseeable future, just months after he must have felt he almost had the golden chalice within his grasp.