SPORTS

Canada's Pascal focused on Bolonti, but bigger bout with Kovalev looms

12/04/2014 04:27 EST | Updated 02/03/2015 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - Ring legend Roy Jones Jr. has seen it all in boxing, so the strange events that led to his protege Jean Pascal fighting Argentine Roberto Bolonti are nothing new.

Pascal (29-2-1), the former World Boxing Council light heavyweight champion from Laval, Que., will face Bolonti (35-3) in a 10-round bout on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

Both originally had other opponents, but Bolonti's bout fell through when his opponent, former super-middleweight champ Lucian Bute of Montreal, pulled out with a back injury.

That made Pascal's scheduled fight with American Don (Da Bomb) Geroge the main event, but George reportedly held out for more money. Then, only two weeks ago, promoter InterBox dropped George and convinced Bolonti to fight Pascal.

Pascal and Bolonti spent more than two months training for other opponents, only to have to switch gears and fight each other.

"In Jean's case, he was training for a righthander anyway," said Jones, who will be in Pascal's corner along with trainer and cut man Russ Anber. "But the thing with Bolonti is that he was going to fight a lefthander (Bute) and now he's got a righthander.

"He's in shape and anyone who is in shape and can box can make adjustments, so he should be OK. But he has a bigger obstacle to overcome than us."

Jones, the middleweight king of the 1990s who later won titles in other divisions, including heavyweight, said he was put in similar situations often.

"One time I fought a damned impostor," he said. "I forget his name, but after I knocked him out, I found out he was not the guy I was supposed to fight. So I've seen worse."

In normal circumstances, Pascal would be in a routine bout against Geroge to keep himself busy in his first ring action since a 12-round decision over Bute in January.

But the Bolonti fight took on much larger proportions this week when it was announced that he will face new light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev in March, if he beats the Argentine (and if the IBF gives Kovalev an exemption from a mandatory defence against another opponent).

Kovalev dominated 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins on Nov. 8 to take the WBO and IBF titles, as well as something called the WBA Super title. The belt from the other top sanctioning body, the WBC, is held by Adonis Stevenson of Montreal.

Pascal's challenge will be not looking past Bolonti to the bigger, better-paying Kovalev fight, which will be held in either Montreal or Quebec City.

"I'm kind of glad it happened that way because Jean's the sort of guy who performs better with pressure on his back," said Jones. " Before, I'd have been worried about him fighting this guy (Bolonti) because what does he have to win? Nothing. But now he's got more pressure on him and that's what he needs."

Pascal said he has enough experience to not look past Bolonti.

"I have a good team, so I'm well prepared," the 32-year-old said. "I only have Bolonti on my mind."

Pascal will be the favourite against Bolonti, who has never been stopped before the limit but has lost in both of his previous forays outside Argentina — to Tony Bellew in England in 2012 and in his last bout, a 12-round decision in June to regular WBA champion Juergen Braehmer in Germany.

Bolonti, a former prison guard who is on leave from a job as a court bailiff, is said to be a more defensively sound fighter than George, but otherwise has a similar attacking style.

Beating Pascal, one of the most highly regarded light heavyweights, would be a coup for Bolonti, who changed his corner after the Braehmer fight. He hired Raul Paniagua, the uncle and trainer of Argentine former middleweight champ Sergio Martinez, to try to take him to the next step.

"When I fought Braehmer I only had a few weeks to prepare," Bolonti said through a translator. "This time I had 90 days.

"So no matter (if his opponent changed), it's easier to fight a righty than a lefty, so I'm comfortable with it."

The Kovalev-Hopkins bout was a major event and was closely watched in Canada, which has a handful of top fighters and prospects at light heavyweight. It also had its own intrigue that crossed the border.

Stevenson was accused of ducking a scheduled bout with fellow power puncher Kovalev (26-0-1), and both the Kovalev and Hopkins camps took verbal jabs at the Montreal fighter in their pre-fight talk.

Kovalev's manger Kathy Duva sounded pleased to match Kovalev with Pascal and freeze Stevenson out.

Pascal had spent weeks hounding Stevenson for a showdown to no avail before the Bolonti fight was arranged. Then the Kovalev bout fell into his lap.

Stevenson ended up taking a title defence Dec. 19 in Quebec City against Russian Dmitry Sukhotsky, considered a second tier opponent. But if both Pascal and Stevenson win, there is the prospect of an all-Canadian superfight between them later in 2015.

Pascal, who lost the WBC title to Hopkins in 2010, watched the Kovalev bout with interest.

"I don't take anything away from Kovy, but I think Bernard showed his age," said Pascal. "When I fought him, he was 44, but when you're in your 40s, that's a big difference. But Kovy did a great job as well."

Jones agreed.

"I thought Kovalev did smart things, like keep Hopkins busy and make him use his legs more than usual," said Jones. "He made the old man look old.

"But Hopkins did some decent things against Kovalev as well. Those things that Hopkins did, Jean can do better. So this would be great fight for both fighters."

The undercard is thin. The co-feature has light heavyweight Schiller Hyppolite (13-1) of Montreal against Norbert Nemesapati (15-1) of Hungary. But fans can also watch a bout on the scoreboard screen live from New York between middleweight contender David Lemieux (32-2) of Montreal and Gabriel Rosado (21-8).

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