Jean Pascal is the new king of the light heavyweight boxing division, but the Montreal pugilist didn't get the title without some controversy.
Pascal (26-1) won a unanimous technical decision victory over previously unbeaten (Bad) Chad Dawson (29-1) after the fight was stopped in the 11th round due to an accidental head butt on Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
The ring doctor ruled that the bout could not continue due to a deep cut above Dawson's right eye. With Pascal leading on points at the time, that allowed the Montreal fighter to retain his World Boxing Council title, and take both Dawson's IBO belt and the prestigious The Ring magazine title.
He knocked off Dawson, who The Ring lists as the world's sixth-best pound-for-pound fighter, in a spectacular fight that several times had the 8,122 fans crammed into a reduced area of the 21,000-seat arena in a frenzy.
"Chad Dawson is a great fighter, but now I know I also belong among the best in the world," said 27-year-old Pascal. "I showed that I'm the best light heavyweight in the world and that I should be on the pound for pound list."
The New Haven, Conn., native and his promoter Gary Shaw were upset with Montreal referee Michael Griffin, who they said allowed Pascal to hold on several occasions, and with Canadian judge Jack Woodburn, who had the fight scored 108-101 for Pascal, while British and American judges had it 106-103.
There was a rematch clause in the fight contract that is surely going to be exercised some time soon, but Shaw said any new fight will not include Griffin and Woodburn.
"The head butt was intentional in my estimation," said Shaw. "I thought the ref should have let Chad fight the last two rounds. He had Pascal in trouble."
Dawson was savaging Pascal with combinations and the local favourite indeed looked in trouble when his head came up and made contact with Dawson's forehead, causing blood to spurt from a deep cut over his right eye.
"I know for sure I'm not a dirty fighter and it wasn't an intentional head butt," said Pascal. "Why would I need to do that? I was leading the fight."
Dawson was also upset with the decision, offering only that his opponent should be happy with his "little victory."
"There were four or five head butts and the ref didn't do anything," he said. "But we have a rematch clause and I will be back and I will bring the title back to the States."
Pascal is also now the linear light heavyweight champion, an honour that dates back to the days when there was only one champion in each weight class.
He earned the decision by sticking to his game plan — staying in the middle of the ring and attacking from the outset.
Dawson was two inches taller and had four more inches of reach, so he likes to control matches with is southpaw jab and take the early lead.
Time and again, Pascal ducked under the jab and responded with quick, sudden bursts that scored with the judges. It helped him take the opening three rounds and force the usually cautious Dawson into some wild exchanges. Much of the seventh was a flat out brawl.
Ringside was packed with a few NHL players and a slew of boxing people from across North America, including IBF super-middleweight king Lucian Bute of Montreal, for the bout shown on HBO. WBC welterweight champ Andre Berto, a Haiti native living in Florida, was also in town.
Pascal won the WBC belt with a 12-round decision over Adrian Diaconu in June, 2009, and defended it twice — a mandatory defence against aging Italian Silvio Branco and a difficult rematch with Diaconu in December, when Pascal dislocated his right shoulder and fought the second half of the bout mostly one-handed.
The 27-year-old suffered his first career loss to Carl Froch in 2008 in the Englishman's home town of Nottingham in a battle for the WBC 168-pound title, but then moved up one weight class to light heavyweight.
Dawson held the WBC in 2007, when he got off the canvas to defeat Tomasz Adamek. The New Haven, Conn., native defended it three times before giving it up rather than face Diaconu in a mandatory defence. Instead, he fought a more lucrative bout against Antonio Tarver for the IBF title. He has since let that belt drop as well and kept only the minor IBO title.
Jean bests Soriano
In the main undercard fight, promising lightweight Dierry Jean came back from elbow surgery and did something four other local fighters failed to do — stop Mexican Antonio Soriano before the limit.
Jean (18-0) used his speed and a sneaky uppercut to perfection over six rounds and a bruised and bloodied Soriano (15-12-2) was unable to answer the bell for the seventh of the scheduled eight-round bout.
"Maybe in my corner, my coach (Mike Moffa) thought I was tired, but that was my plan -- take it easy, let him come to me and counterpunch every time," the 28-year-old said. "He's slow. I'm a lot faster than him."
It was Jean's first bout in nine months since suffering a right elbow injury and he said the limb held up fine. Before Jean, Moncef Askri, Phil Lo Greco, Constantin Florescu and Victor Lupo had beaten Soriano in Montreal, but all those bouts went the distance.
Now Jean hopes to step up his ambition and fight for a North American title, and then go for a world belt.
"This was a tune-up fight," said Moffa. "Now we open up the gate and let him go. I hope the people at (promoter) GYM give us a chance. He's going to be the best."
Lightweight Tony Luis (10-0) of Cornwall, Ont., needed all eight rounds to score a unanimous decision over Adrian Verdugo (12-2-1) of Mexico.
Wayne John (4-1) of Montreal suffered a setback when he was knocked down by an upper cut in the first round and then lost a six-round split decision to Rubin Rivera (3-4) of Puerto Rico in a battle of portly heavyweights.
Super-featherweight Kevin Lavalle (2-0) of Ste-Adele, Que., took down Genaro Garcia (9-9) of Mexico with a head and body shot combination 1:16 into the first round of their scheduled four-rounder.
Arash Usmanee (6-0), a lightweight from Red Deer, Alta., now fighting out of Montreal, knocked down Hugo Pacheco (11-16-1) of Mexico three times before referee Marlon Wright stopped their four-rounder at 1:28 of the second.