By Corey Erdman
The recipients of opportunities to take part in big fights aren’t always the ones with the most merit. The reasons fighters are given a chance to fight for a world title can range from pure placement in the world rankings to sheer name recognition.
But if anyone in the light heavyweight division has earned a legacy position, it’s Jean Pascal.
Though he’s less than a year removed from a supposed retirement fight, and more than seven years removed from holding the light heavyweight title, Pascal is days away from another crack at the crown. There are very few fighters in the light heavyweight division over the past era—or any division, for that matter—who consistently put themselves in tough the way Pascal continues to do to this day, as he prepares to face Dmitry Bivol for the WBA light heavyweight title on Saturday night in Atlantic City.
Bivol is the most recent in a murderer’s row of opponents for Pascal over the years, which includes Carl Froch, a prime Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Sergey Kovalev, Eleider Alvarez.
“He cannot exactly remember me when I was champion. I was a pretty boy, lot of stamina, young, sexy, with a lot of power. I know that it is entertaining for him right now. I have something on my side, experience. That's something you can't buy, you cannot buy,” said Pascal on a recent media conference call.
Pascal’s run as light heavyweight champion, and career overall, is incredibly significant in terms of the international fight scene. Even more so than his contemporary Lucian Bute, Pascal brought visibility to the Canadian boxing scene. Prior to his bout with Dawson, HBO had never staged an event with a Canadian fighter in the Great White North. The province of Quebec, and in particular the city of Montreal, had been a ravenous fight hub for decades, but mostly existed within its own world. Save for a handful of Davey Hilton and Eric Lucas appearances on ESPN Friday Night Fights, the global boxing world never bothered to pay attention. And in a classic chicken and the egg scenario, without media attention or exposure, the viability of becoming a big-name professional boxer in Canada was minimal.
It is fair to say that Pascal is the most important Canadian boxer of the past ten years, and perhaps even more, based on his influence and impact on his country’s boxing market. Pascal’s bouts against Hopkins and Bute were the two biggest boxing events in Canada in the last 40 years, with the latter being far and away the biggest all-Canadian event ever—big enough to bring the HBO cameras to it once again. In opening up this world in which Canadian boxing was publicized internationally and paid for by television outlets, Pascal’s influence on the market helped buoy the careers of the next generation of stars in Quebec, and serve as inspiration for other parts of the country to try to become the next Belle Province as well.
The past three years have seen the phenomenal growth of boxing in Ontario, with trailblazers like Samuel Vargas and Lee Baxter Promotions helping to bring notable boxing to the province, and its fighters to international stages. In additional, blossoming fight scenes in Alberta and Nova Scotia have emerged over the past few years on a local level.
Perhaps none of it would have happened without Pascal.
“My relationship with my fans back home in Canada is very, very great. I feel very, very lucky to have that kind of relationship with my fans because they support me a lot. There are not a lot of boxers in the United States who have a big fan base like I do. I'm very very fortunate. This is why I always take time to please my fans, to talk to them, to talk pictures with them. I'm here because of them as well,” said Pascal.
The 36-year old at one point reveled in playing the role of the bombastic antagonist—relive his “take the test” rants during the Hopkins press tour for reference. But much like Hopkins, he has now settled into a role as the calm, sage elder statesman of both Canadian boxing, and the light heavyweight division at large.
“The roles are reversed right now. I am Bernard Hopkins and Bivol is Jean Pascal: Young and dashing. I wanted to use Hopkins' notoriety to reach the other level, but I learned the hard way that experience is something you cannot buy. It comes with fighting,” Pascal told Le Journal de Montreal last week.
Fighting is an urge Pascal has never been able to kick. He recently engaged on what could be categorized as a Mayweather-esque retirement tour, facing MMA fighter Steve Bosse, and then scheduling an ill-fated bout against journeyman Gary Kopas. But those weren’t the kinds of challenges Pascal seems to thrive upon. While he’s reached a level of content with himself as a person and with his place as a veteran in the sport, complacency as a competitor is not something he’s ready to turn off just yet.
“I was the first Canadian boxer who fought in Canada on HBO, and I'm going to be the last Canadian to fight on HBO. So I'm making history once again,” said Pascal. “I'm very, very happy.”