Photos by Sumio Yamada
ADRIAN DIACONU vs JEAN PASCAL
Canadian boxing history will be made in Montreal on Friday night when Adrian Diaconu defends his WBC light-heavyweight title against Jean Pascal. This is the first all-Quebec world title fight, the atmosphere will be crackling with tension and American fans will be able to see the big event on the Versus network.
Diaconu is the clear favourite, an undefeated champion and the natural light-heavy against a challenger moving up from 168 pounds. Pascal, though, looks the faster, more athletic and perhaps more gifted of the two boxers. It is a fascinating fight.
Pascal was well beaten on points by Carl Froch in their 168-pound title bout in Britain but his camp feels that this was a learning experience that has made him a better fighter.
Diaconu faded in the late rounds in his title-winning bout against Chris Henry in his native Romania, which is a concern, but his people say that he has trained with great diligence for Fridays fight and this certainly seems to be so as he was a few pounds lighter than Pascal at a WBC-stipulated test weigh-in a week ago.
Pascal, 26, was a high-level amateur, winning a Commonwealth Games gold medal and boxing for Canada in the Olympics.
However, Diaconu, 31, was an outstanding amateur, a Romanian Olympic representative in Sydney and a world championships silver medallist in Houston, TX, in 1999, where he defeated Cubas two-time Olympic gold medallist Ariel Hernandez. Diaconu also holds a won over Froch in the amateurs, in England, too.
In his only previous appearance on U.S. TV, Diaconu was devastating when he ran right over Rico Hoye in three rounds. That fight, televised on ESPNs now-discontinued Wednesday Night Fights series, showed Diaconu at his absolute best. He was all over Hoye, knocking him down three times and cutting him over both eyes.
One thing that particularly impressed me about Diaconu in that fight was his speed. Although Pascal is the faster fighter, Diaconu may not be all that far behind him if the Hoye fight is anything to go by. Hoye didnt have a chance to get into the fight because Diaconu was on top of him so fiercely and rapidly. In that brutally one-sided affair, Diaconus Shark nickname looked apt.
Diaconu has not always looked this good, though. In other fights he has been more of a methodical boxer who wears his opponents down. His sensational opening surge against Hoye was not typical of Diaconu, but it showed what he is capable of doing. I think that Diaconus camp took note of how Hoye had wilted against Clinton Woods in his only previous defeat and decided that the best strategy was to jump on him before the Detroit boxer could get settled, and the tactics worked perfectly.
It wouldnt surprise me to see Diaconu try a similar early offensive against Pascal, whose ability to handle pressure is questioned by Diaconus camp. Former champ Eric Lucas, now a promoter with InterBox, has told the Quebec media that Pascals boastful exterior masks self-doubt. It shows how a guy might not be strong mentally, Lucas said.
Lucas is right in that Pascal does have a lot to say, and my old Las Vegas oddsmaker pal Herbie Lambeck used to tell me: Talkers dont win. Pascal showed character, though, when he fought it out for 12 tough rounds with the more experienced Froch. There were heavy shots landed on both sides, and Pascal seemed to have been hurt several times, but he kept firing back in a thrilling fight. It was an honour to have been there to witness it, editor Glyn Leach wrote in Boxing Monthly.
I have expressed reservations concerning Pascals chin, but he stood up to some big hits from Froch. It seemed to me that Pascal tried too hard to knock Froch out, and it was the British fighter who was stronger and technically more solid in the later rounds. Did Pascal reach his level that night, or has he grown as a fighter after the gruelling experience in Britain? The answer to this might decide what happens in the ring on Friday.
Jean didnt know too much about Froch and he thought, fighting in Nottingham, England, that he should go in and try to knock him out, Pascals promoter, Yvon Michel, said from Montreal. Jean knows Diaconu; they have sparred together. It was always Jeans plan to move up to light-heavyweight eventually, but when we were offered this opportunity he decided to make the move sooner. He knows what he did wrong against Froch. When they sparred together later [when Pascal helped Froch prepare for the fight with Jermain Taylor] he used his boxing ability and things went much better for him. I think that Jean has so much ability and he will show it in this fight, and I think he can stop Diaconu late in the fight but for the first three or four rounds it will be so intense, it will be the Quebec version of Hagler-Hearns.
I have no doubt that Diaconu, the shorter, stockier, stronger man, is going to be doing his best to bully Pascal out of the fight, and of course he might succeed. Pascal was getting caught cleanly by Froch, and now he has to contend with the punching power of a full light-heavyweight and if gets hit too many times he might not be able to hold himself together.
Yet, after going back and forth on this one, I am leaning towards Pascal to spring the upset. I think that he has the speed, moves and reflexes that can successfully get him through this very tough night.
If Pascal fights the same way he did against Froch gambling on getting in the bigger shots, hit or be hit he will probably lose. I do think, though, that he will use more of a moving, counter punching style, seeking to stay away, darting in and out with his punches and not giving Diaconu a stationary target.
The early rounds will be especially perilous for Pascal but I think he will be quick enough and alert enough not to get caught by a decisive blow, and I believe his hooks, right hands and combinations can get Diaconus respect and gradually turn the fight Pascals way. I know I am taking a bit of a leap of faith where Pascal is concerned but I think he will lift himself to the plateau that will be required of him to win this potentially classic encounter.