The launch to Kal Yafai’s comeback tour nearly ended in disaster within the first three minutes.

Birmingham’s Yafai was able to overcome an opening round knockdown and a stiff challenge from upset-minded Jerald Paclar to claim a ten-round decision win in his first fight in nearly three years. Scores of 96-93, 96-93 and 95-94 all landed in favor of Yafai in the opening bout of a six-fight DAZN telecast Saturday from Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The opening bell officially ended a career-long 33-month ring absence for Yafai, who hadn’t fought since a February 2020 ninth-round knockout loss to Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez to end his secondary WBA junior bantamweight title reign. His first three minutes back in the ring could have gone any worse. The Philippines’ Paclar floored Yafai with a right hand straight down the middle. Yafai beat the count but spent the rest of the round trying to regain his legs.

Paclar remained upset-minded in round two, riding out Yafai combinations to land his power shots. An overhand right by Paclar briefly froze Yafai, who managed to stay upright but was not able to immediately respond.

Yafai was fortunate to avoid a knockdown call in round three. A wild left hand missed for the former secondary WBA junior bantamweight titlist, with the momentum causing him to lose balance as Paclar also snuck in a left hook. Paclar dialed up the pressure later in the round, driving Yafai to the ropes with straight right hands.

A much-needed momentum arrived for Yafai in round four, working the body as Paclar appeared to slow down. Yafai was effecitive with his left hook to the body and also landing upstairs. His desire to concentrate on the body didn’t always produce positive results. Paclar dropped to his knees after absorbing a vicious low blow early in round five. He needed several minutes to recover before action resumed.

The energy from the first half was all but gone by the time the bout entered round six. Yafai was content to box and keep things at a slow, controlled pace. Paclar was unable to recapture the magic and shock factor that led to his success in the preceding rounds.

Yafai tightened up his defense, disallowing Paclar to get off his punches. Yafai was successful with right hands over the top, followed by digging hooks to the body.

Paclar found himself on the canvas in round nine, though ruled a slip as both boxers struggled with the slippery canvas. Yafai continued to take the lead, landing a left hook to the chin that briefly caused Paclar’s legs to buckle.

Both fighters picked up the pace in the tenth and final round, particularly in the last minute of the fight. Paclar (16-6-3, 9KOs) tried to sneak in one more final game-changing right hand along with a left hook along the ropes, but Yafai (27-1, 15KOs) was prepared for the incoming and was able to pick off the shots.

Also on the show, John Lawrence Ordonio (8-4-1, 4KOs) ended a two-fight skid with an upset win over Dubai-based lightweight Majid Al Naqbi (7-1, 4KOs). Scores were 40-36, 40-36 and 39-37 in favor of Philippines’ Ordonio, who jumped out to a strong start and never let up in their four-round lightweight battle.

Headlining the show, WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol (20-0, 11KOs) defends against mandatory challenger and former WBO super middleweight titlist Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez (44-0, 30KOs). 

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox