Jean Pascal hasn't scored a meaningful win since his 2010 bout against Chad Dawson, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice.
On Wednesday, 5,000-plus boxing-crazed fans spilled into the rafters at Complexe Desjardins in Montreal, Canada just to sneak a peek at Pascal's workout. Saturday, tens of thousands more will fill the Bell Centre to watch him square off against Lucian Bute.
The HBO-televised fight will mark perhaps the biggest match in Canadian history and represents an opportunity for Pascal to snatch back his spot atop the Canadian throne.
“A win on Saturday night will help me make a good case for another high visibility bout, hopefully on HBO,” Pascal told RingTV.com in an email. “One possible option is Adonis Stevenson, but I would need to confer with (advisor) Greg Leon and my team very quickly after the bout is completed. One thing is for certain, I will be getting my belt back.”
Pascal (28-2-1, 17 knockouts) lost that belt in May 2011 to the ageless Bernard Hopkins. Stevenson, also a Haiti transplant living in Quebec just like Pascal, owns the WBC and RING belts Pascal once wore on his waist. Since then, Pascal has fought just twice, wins over pedestrian boxers.
But he was always on a collision course with Bute. The two biggest fighters in The Great White North for five-plus years, the matchup had been marinating, but the timing just never seemed right.
Pascal, 31, was busy with B-Hop from 2010 to 2011 after wresting THE RING light heavyweight from Chad Dawson. Bute trudged through a disastrous 2012. He was knocked silly by Carl Froch before going life-and-death with Denis Grachev.
With Pascal and Bute both looking more vulnerable than ever, Canadian promotional giants GYM and Interbox finally agreed to work together and the fight was set for May 25, 2013.
However, Bute suffered a hand injury in training and was forced to undergo surgery. Due to limited TV dates, the fight was delayed almost eight months.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Pascal, THE RING's No. 10 light heavyweight. “We were only three weeks away from the fight when Bute called off the bout for a hand injury, that seemed to me as something he and his trainer knew about long term.
"I stayed active these last eight months in order to prepare for the bout, and now I am ready to return to a high profile match," Pascal added. "The last eight months, I have worked closely with Marc Ramsay, Russ Anber, and Roy Jones Jr., developing my ring generalship. I think the months training have been to my benefit.”
Anber believes the delay might have even benefitted Pascal.
“One of the good things was that the delay probably allowed us to pick up where we ended the last camp in terms of progress, refinement of technique, fixing errors,” Anber said. “We fixed a lot of them in the first camp, so were able to pick up right from the end of that. So we probably got off to better start in this than we did the first time around.”
Pascal realizes just how big this fight is in Canada. The crowd figures to be split in half Saturday, and the former world champions aren’t just fighting for relevancy; they’re fighting for homeland bragging rights.
“Bute and I both have our own fans. This bout represents perhaps the highest profile bout within Canada, at least for the last 30 years, but more likely in the country's history,” Pascal stated. “The win will do a lot for me in terms of the next stage of my career, but also in terms of brand recognition. The Canadian media are coming now from outside of Quebec, providing national exposure, beyond the visibility in the U.S. through HBO.”
Now, THE RING’ s 175-pound champion is another Canadian, 2013 Fighter of the Year candidate Adonis Stevenson. The winner of this bout would likely springboard to a marquee match with the light heavyweight kingpin, sure to be another gargantuan box-office smash in Canada. The stakes couldn’t be any higher.
In preparation for Bute, Pascal moved his training camp from its usual location in Las Vegas to the mountains of Big Bear, Calif. Pascal feels the relocation paid dividends for a fighter on the comeback trail.
“Big Bear has a history of developing boxers for very tough fights,” Pascal said. “People like Shane Mosley and presently Triple G train at Big Bear. The reason is that the location is quiet, and the air is clean. The relocation from Vegas to Big Bear allowed me and my team to work in relative privacy, so that we could focus on preparation and then pull together as a team in the hours away from the gym.”
It was never a matter of if, but when. The bout Canada has pined for is finally here, and not a moment too soon.
Mike Coppinger is a contributor to RingTV.com and USA Today's boxing coverage. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger