Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Yuniesky Gonzalez suffered the first loss of his professional career on Saturday night, but the great majority of those in attendance felt that he, not Jean Pascal, should have been crowned victor of a terrific ten-round light heavyweight contest. Certainly, Gonzalez (16-1, 12 KOs) will have done his future career prospects no harm at all with a tough and resolute performance against a man who just a few months ago was in a donnybrook with division kingpin Sergey Kovalev.
Gonzalez seemed to take Pascal by surprise with a strong start to the ten-round bout, backing the Haitian-Canadian to the ropes and unleashing thudding flurries, marked by sharp left hooks and wide, almost slapping right hands that frequently threatened to – and, according to Pascal, often did – land on the back of his opponent’s head.
Pascal sought to return fire between Gonzalez’s attacks, but for the first few rounds, his output was seemingly too low to be scoring effectively; by the fourth, however, the pace had slowed and Pascal (30-3-1, 17 KOs) began to look more comfortable. A couple of hard right hands from the former champion likely won him that round, but by the sixth, he looked absolutely spent and barely able to stand; incredibly, however, it was at this point that Pascal sprang to life, landing some huge right hands that appeared to hurt his Cuban foe. Instead of pressing his advantage, over the next couple of rounds Pascal sought to find the perfect opportunity to land the perfect punch, and although a fatigued Gonzalez was rarely landing cleanly down the stretch, he was at least throwing.
But Pascal saved the best for last, landing a big left hand and then another in the tenth and final round. A jab to the body staggered Gonzalez and some brutal lefts and rights exploded off his head, as Gonzalez responded and the crowd roared. At fight’s end, Gonzalez appeared to have done enough to win, but all three judges saw the fight 96-94 for Pascal.
“I was controlling the fight,” insisted Pascal afterward. “The fight was following the exact rhythm that I wanted. It was a great fight, very close. I’m glad to give the fans another candidate for fight of the year, because that’s what I think it was. I’m going to continue to fight the best opposition, and give a great performance, because that’s what I do.”
Gonzalez was more succinct in his appraisal:
“I am so sad. I was the real fighter. That fight was taken from me. He did not win, I did. I was the real winner.”