Meng Fanlong performed Friday night like a hungry contender intent on proving himself against an established ex-champion.

It wasn’t enough in the eyes of the judges for the Chinese southpaw to fend off former WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal. The Haitian-born, Quebec-based Pascal ended a 28-month layoff by producing a debatable 12-round, unanimous-decision victory over Fanlong in a main event at ProBox Events Center in Plant City, Florida. Judges James O’Connor (115-112), Michael Ross (114-113) and Brian Garry (116-111) all scored the fight for Pascal, who showed a lot of heart in overcoming a shaky start to record a questionable knockdown late in the ninth round and bombarded Fanlong with power punches late in the 12th round.

The 34-year-old Fanlong (17-1, 10 KOs) entered their fight as the number one contender in the IBF’s 175-pound rankings and had hoped to enhance his standing against the proven Pascal. He was more than a 2-1 favorite over the aged Pascal, according to most sportsbooks.

Before Friday night, the 39-year-old Pascal (36-6-1, 20 KOs, 1 NC) hadn’t boxed since he beat Badou Jack by split decision in their 12-round fight for the WBA light heavyweight title in December 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

Pascal was removed from their rematch, scheduled for last June 6 in Miami Gardens, Florida, because he tested positive for four banned substances in tests taken by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association last May.

Pascal has lost just once in six fights since his majority-decision defeat to then-undefeated Eleider Alvarez in June 2017. Unbeaten WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs) is the only boxer to top Pascal during that stretch.

Despite his long layoff, Pascal proved to be dangerous right up until the final bell.

Fanlong landed a left to Pascal’s body early in the 12th round. Referee Christopher Young called for another break with 2:21 left in their bout for the tape on one of Fanlong’s gloves to be fixed.

Fanlong slipped to the canvas with just over 1:10 remaining in the final round. Pascal rallied toward the end of the 12th round, when he cracked Fanlong with several flush punches as Fanlong made it to the final bell.

Fanlong landed several hard shots as soon as the 11th round began, but Pascal took those punches well and unloaded power punches of his own. Fanlong boxed well thereafter until Pascal lured Fanlong into a corner late in the 11th round and landed a right to his head.

There was a long break with 1:43 to go in the 10th round, as Fanlong’s trainer, Shaun George, fixed the tape on Fanlong’s left glove. Pascal attacked Fanlong as soon as they were brought back together, but he couldn’t hurt his taller, rangier opponent.

Fanlong landed the cleaner punches during the final minute of the 10th round.

Fanlong’s straight left landed 1:10 into the ninth round. A right hand by Pascal caught Fanlong with about 1:15 to go in the ninth round.

Pascal scored a knockdown very late in the ninth round, when Pascal connected with a right hand to Fanlong's glove and then Fanlong's right foot slipped out from under him. Fanlong complained to Young about how he wound up on the canvas and he didn’t seem to be hurt when he reached his feet.

Fanlong caught Pascal with a left as Pascal came forward with just under a minute on the clock in the eighth round. Pascal landed a right hand around Fanlong’s guard late in the eighth round, but Fanlong knocked Pascal off balance with a right hook soon thereafter.

Pascal unloaded hard shots, including a right hand that connected, within the first 25 seconds of the seventh round. Fanlong clipped Pascal with a right hook barely a minute into the seventh round, which Pascal made physical for all three minutes.

Fanlong and Pascal connected with flush punches that snapped his opponent’s head back within the first 10 seconds of the sixth round. Fanlong landed a right hook and then a straight left hand with about a minute to go in the sixth round.

A left hand by Fanlong made Pascal hold him with 20 seconds to go in the sixth round.

Pascal connected with a hard right to the body just before the midway mark of the fifth round. A left uppercut by Fanlong staggered Pascal with just over a minute remaining in the fifth round, but he couldn’t capitalize on hurting him.

Fanlong landed a counter left hand, but Pascal responded by shoving Fanlong to the canvas with 1:55 to go in the fourth round. They exchanged hard shots once the action resumed.

Fanlong drilled Pascal with another left hand that connected with just under a minute to go in the fourth round.

Young warned both boxers for questionable tactics just after the midway mark of the third round, once Fanlong flung Pascal to the canvas. As soon as the action resumed, Fanlong continued to land left hands as Pascal pressed forward.

Pascal caught Fanlong with a right hand, however, with just over 20 seconds on the clock in the third round.

Fanlong landed a right hook 15 seconds into the second round. A straight left by Fanlong connected flush barely a minute into the second round.

Fanlong drilled Pascal with another straight left hand that caused Pascal to hold with just over 40 seconds to go in the second round. With just under 15 seconds remaining in the second round, Fanlong wobbled Pascal with a left hand.

Fanlong drilled Pascal with another straight left before the second round ended.

Pascal landed a straight right hand as Fanlong moved straight backward a minute into the opening round. Pascal’s right hand just before the first round ended was the best punch landed during the opening three minutes.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.