By Cliff Rold

With Joe Calzaghe retired, Bernard Hopkins possibly out of action through 2009, and the ultra-talented Chad Dawson in search of an audience, Light Heavyweight needed a spark.  It got one Friday night in front of a feverish, packed crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  

Twelve rounds of vicious battle ended with both men elevated as Adrian Diaconu (26-1, 15 KO) came off the floor to survive a rough fifth round only to see his WBC belt wind up around the waist of a gutsy, commanding Jean Pascal (23-1, 15 KO) who refused to let his second title opportunity get away.  In the end, the 26-year old Pascal left with a unanimous decision win but it was never easy.

Both men came in under the 175 lb. limit, Pascal at 174 ¼ and Diaconu, 31, at 173 ¼.

The fight had the flavor of a backyard brawl as both, Pascal from Haiti and Diaconu from Romania, had made their bones in Montreal.  The fans that have followed their careers were well rewarded.

Pascal moved at the opening bell, flinging his left jab and bouncing on his toes.  Diaconu applied a hard left jab and right hand to send Pascal bouncing off balance before a minute had passed but the rattling shot didn’t discourage the Haitian.  A pair of hard right leads slammed home for Pascal and he continued to move in and out with the shot.  A right to the body echoed off of Diaconu’s ribs but the titlist remained patient and was able to wing in a short right at close quarters.  Another right got a pop from the crowd and Pascal’s low held hands rose from his waist.  

Still patiently stalking, Diaconu walked forward at the bell for the second eyeing Pascal and waiting for a countering opportunity.  Pascal whipped the right top the ribs and Diaconu just missed on a left upstairs.  A combination of hooks also missed, Pascal quickly tying him up at the waist and then landing another right of his own over the top.  Keeping his distance, Pascal remained able to pull his defenses into place whenever Diaconu lunged.  Pascal closed the frame with a series of jabs and a right hand, all missing but stating intent for the crowd and judges.

Fancy footwork couldn’t keep Diaconu away forever and halfway through the third some hard hooks again had Pascal off center.  At the minute mark, a hard right hand landed flush for Diaconu near the ropes but Pascal took it well and returned to moving in and out.  In the closing seconds, the slick Pascal made Diaconu miss the first two and blocked the last of a badly intended combination, still a step ahead at the bell but with Diaconu getting closer.

The Romanian continued to close the gap in the fourth, Pascal fighting more flat footed.  A right hand behind the head from Pascal drew a warning from referee Marlon Wright but the round was the least action packed of the bout until the final minute.  A Pascal uppercut was muffled but a straight right was not nor was another to the chest followed by a shot to the back of the head as Diaconu backed away.  Briefly stunned, Diaconu shook it off and stepped back into the fray only for the bell to sound before he could seek to even the terms.

Round five began deliberately, spotty exchanges played out against a contest for geography Pascal was not losing.  Looking for a way into the fight, Diaconu took the risk of leaping in with his offense and paid the price.  A jab and right missed before Diaconu left the ground with a left hook.  Slipping it easily, Pascal countered from his back foot with a missing right and a flush left which sent Diaconu stumbling from mid-ring, towards the ropes, and onto the seat of his trunks.  He rose to a knee and calmly took Wright’s mandatory eight count, wiping his nose before stomping back into battle.  

Pascal met him at ring center with a pawing jab before two more right hands landed to Diaconu’s head.  A third wrapped around Diaconu’s head as he fell forward onto hands and knees and Wright ruled no knockdown.  Pascal jumped in again, rights to the body and head followed by a right uppercut and all with still a minute to go.  

In that final minute, Diaconu had his legs back, punching with all his might, missing over and over again until he didn’t.  A right to the temple wobbled the knees of Pascal and with fifteen seconds to go Diaconu sought an evening knockdown.  Wisely wrapping up, Pascal pushed Diaconu towards the corner and managed to stay on his feet until the bell in a sensational round.

Pascal was back to circling in the sixth, not eager to provide opportunity to Diaconu after the hazardous ending to the previous round.  Thirty seconds in, one was made anyways, Diaconu ripping a right to head and left to the body, adding another harsh combination in the middle of the ring seconds later.  They traded hard rights to the body and Diaconu supplied two more glancing hooks to the head before Pascal could get back to his preferred range.  Near the minute mark, both men landed bombs in a wild exchange.  What passed for a lull in the action in the final minute set up a furious final ten seconds as both men winged wide, dangerous hooks with knockout hopes behind them.

Round seven provided a slowing of the action as each man still managed to launch hard shots while also catching their breath.  A trickle of blood appeared beneath the left eye of Diaconu and Pascal closed with a ripping uppercut near the ropes.  Pascal was in full control and stayed there through the eighth and ninth, boxing, moving and landing at will when he stepped in to engage.  Lead left hooks and right hands rattled Diaconu and the crowd, largely pro-Diaconu, quieted.

Until the final thirty seconds of the tenth, one could wonder if the intensity of earlier rounds had passed but Diaconu showed he was nowhere near done.  A hook to the body allowed for another upstairs and Diaconu let both hands go only for Pascal to rip in multiple to the body as a thundering exchange brought out the best from both men.

By all logic, only six minutes stood between Pascal and the title.  Cautious, alert body language from the challenger said as much as did clinching whenever Diaconu got close.  Diaconu continued to punch though, a right to the head landing near the ropes and a hard forearm to the jaw thrown in for good measure.  Pascal was rocked with a right and the fans roared but Pascal would not fall.  Both men were throwing but it was the titlist who was making up ground quickly, a hard left hook doing the most damage as Pascal headed to his corner exhausted and dazed.

The crowd rose to its feet as the men wearily touched gloves to start the final round.  Pascal immediately backed away on shaky stems, proceeding to move left and right with his hands below his waist.  Frustrated, Diaconu stood up from his crouched position, shaking his own arms out and daring Pascal to engage with his eyes.  

Almost a minute passed before both men would land a meaningful blow but Pascal would find the sort of shots needed to seize his moment.  Pascal ended an exchange with a left hook to rock Diaconu inside the second minute and stifled the offense of Diaconu until another surge in the final minute.  

A right, left, right and final left hook forced Diaconu backwards only for Diaconu to respond with two rights.  A left from Pascal crashed across Diaconu’s face but Diaconu had three more hooks.  He was still pursuing as Pascal slipped shots backing into the ropes, the bell sounding to end a fantastic battle.

Both men had colored themselves with honor but only one could leave the victor and Pascal had done more than enough, favored in the final scores at 115-112, 116-112 and 116-111.   

Diaconu, in defeat, should have no problems remaining a factor at Light Heavyweight but spoils are the feasts of victors and Pascal has impressive options.  

After enduring his second memorable war in less than a year, the other being a WBC Super Middleweight title loss to Carl Froch in December 2008, Pascal can only see his fan base grow.  A rematch with Diaconu would certainly be welcome, as would a rematch with Froch (25-0, 20 KO).  

There is also the tantalizing possibility of a showdown with another Romanian-based Montreal draw, IBF Super Middleweight titlist Lucien Bute (24-0, 19 KO).

Perhaps the most intriguing option for Pascal is the one which must simmer for now.  

In the fall, 26-year old IBF Light Heavyweight titlist Chad Dawson (28-0, 17 KO) is headed towards a tough rematch with spry 40-year old former Light Heavyweight kingpin Glen Johnson (49-12-2, 33 KO).  Pascal versus the winner of that one could do more than add spark at Light Heavyweight.  

Given his penchant for wars, it could be the sort of fight which ignites a full blown fire.

In the televised co-feature, 33-year old Contender Season Four winner Troy Ross (22-1, 15 KO), 193 ¾, of Toronto by way of Guyana, made his first start since winning the reality series and left with a unanimous decision over 34-year old trial horse Michael Simms (20-11-1, 13 KO), 199 ¾, of Sacramento, California.  It was Simms eighth loss in his last eleven starts.

Ross, a southpaw, controlled the action early on with hard overhand lead rights and snaking lefts before settling in for a grinding night.  Simms came alive in the fifth, backing Ross up with a big right and keeping the bout honest.  By the end, he’d also swelled the right eye of Ross but could never outhustle him, dropping by unanimous scores of 98-91 and 99-90 twice.

While not as impressive as his fellow Canadian import Pascal, Ross advanced his cause in the wide open 200 lb. class.  Given his television exposure through The Contender and aggressive style, a showdown with World Cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek (37-1, 25 KO), boffo box office in New Jersey, could yet emerge as the best gate draw in the division in years.

The card was televised in the U.S. on basic cable outlet Versus, promoted by Interbox.

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at