After being sidelined for 19 excruciating months, former lineal light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal made a successful ring return this past Friday in Montreal. Fighting in the Bell Centre’s familiar confines, Pascal outpointed Polish veteran Aleksy Kuziemski over 10 rounds.
Pascal’s performance, however, was a stark reminder of his best and most maddening characteristics. Most notable, of course, is the left shoulder injury Pascal (27-2-1, 16 KO) suffered. Pascal is no stranger to injuries, and physical setbacks forced him to withdraw from a proposed August title fight against IBF champion Tavoris Cloud.
So, is Pascal a physical liability at this point in his career?
With a rematch against lineal and WBC champion Chad Dawson scheduled for March 23 in Quebec (Montreal or Quebec City, specifically), one must also wonder whether Pascal will be fit to fight.
Regardless of whether Pascal-Dawson II happens in March, it is a logical and inevitable bout. That said, given Pascal’s history of injuries, will the former champion be able to repeat his 2010 victory over Dawson (31-2, 17 KO) if he’s forced into another extended layoff? Also, did Pascal show enough against Kuziemski (23-5, 7 KO) to inspire confidence in his ability to best Dawson again?
Before tackling these questions, the extent of Pascal’s shoulder injury remains unclear. According to CTV News (via The Canadian Press), Pascal was due to have an MRI on Sunday to determine whether the injury will require surgery.
Should Pascal’s rehab only involve rest and physical therapy, it is reasonable to suspect that he will be available to fight Dawson on March 23. Given that Pascal has now shaken off some ring rust, he should be able to adequately prepare for Dawson without an eight- or 12-week training camp.
However, some will suggest that Pascal would still require a more thorough camp because of his suspect stamina.
For example, in his first fight against Bernard Hopkins, Pascal was outpunched and out-landed 502 to 350 and 153 to 86, respectively (per BoxNews.com). In the rematch, which Pascal lost, Hopkins again threw 409 punches to Pascal’s 377, connecting with 131 compared to 77 for the Montreal-based fighter (per DogHouseBoxing.com).
And who can forget Hopkins’ between-round push-ups as an exhausted Pascal slouched on his stool until the last possible second?
Pascal, however, encouragingly appeared to reverse this trend against Kuziemski. Now, Kuziemski is a somewhat predictable fighter, but one must not discount the fact that Pascal fought one-handed for the majority of the bout.
While Pascal didn’t start well and allowed Kuziemski to walk him down and land straight punches, this can be attributed to ring rust. What was most encouraging is that Pascal seemed to gather strength as the bout progressed. Ironically, this can partly be attributed to the shoulder injury Pascal claims he suffered as early as Round 2, according to the above-cited CTV News article.
It wasn’t until Round 4 that Pascal started to find an effective and comfortable rhythm. This also coincided with Pascal’s left arm getting caught in the vertical rope support when he tried to throw a left hook. Exacerbating his injury forced Pascal to adapt and—as ESPN.com’s Igor Guryashkin notes—ended up being a turning point in the fight.
Guryashkin argues that despite glaring weaknesses, Pascal possesses heart and athleticism in abundance. One could also argue that Pascal showed tactical acumen against Kuziemski. In switching to southpaw and consistently faking with his injured left hand, Pascal was able to land at will with his powerful right.
Pascal impressively scored knockdowns in Rounds 6 and 10. Naturally, all of his offensive bursts were flurries of clubbing right hands. Still, Pascal showed variety by countering, throwing right hand leads, using movement to befuddle Kuziemski and launching his punches from a deep, crouched position.
Also encouraging is that Pascal scored his two knockdowns in the second half of the fight. With Russ Anber stretching Pascal’s shoulder in between rounds, often using a towel slung under Pascal’s armpit for maximum resistance, a lesser fighter could have easily quit. By opting to continue, Pascal showed exactly why he’s an exciting fighter.
Assuming Pascal isn’t doomed to lose the entirety of his prime to various injuries, his victory over Kuziemski will serve him well against Dawson. Against Kuziemski, Pascal seemed to rediscover a hunger that had been lacking against Hopkins.
Fighting one-handed was the best Pascal has looked since beating Dawson. Pascal was aggressive and built toward his victory, gathering strength and landing with consistency until the final bell.
Even if Pascal has to delay his rematch with Dawson or alter his training schedule to accommodate the proposed March 23 fight date, Pascal-Dawson II should be the next bout for both men. Pascal can also take solace in the fact that Dawson is coming off of a comprehensive defeat to Andre Ward; furthermore, Dawson will have been out of the ring for six months by the time March rolls around.
Thus, as long as Pascal’s injury is a relatively minor one, it shouldn’t prove too costly against Dawson. If anything, Pascal endeared himself to fight fans by defeating a credible opponent in Kuziemski—a former Olympian and fighter who has only lost to current or former world and domestic champions—without the use of his lead hand.
When Jean Pascal fights, it is always interesting. Hopefully, Pascal and Dawson will be able to renew their rivalry in March without major setbacks for either man. If this is the case, all fight fans stand to benefit.