Andrew Fruman previews the June 19th showdown between Montreal's Adrian Diaconu and Jean Pascal
Check out the Boxing Bulletin's Post-Fight Story by Michael Nelson: Jean Pascal Introduces Himself With Style
The upcoming light-heavyweight clash between Montreal fighters Adrian Diaconu (pictured right) and Jean Pascal could very well be the most entertaining of this summer’s big fights. Slated for June 19th on Versus, the match-up looks like a terrific mesh of styles, with Pascal’s speed and all around offensive talents pitted against the steady pressure of the powerful Diaconu.
For both men the fight represents a big opportunity to take their career to the next level, as whoever comes out on top will arguably be the most viable candidate for a future date on HBO with the winner of the rematch between Chad Dawson and Glen Johnson.
While the winner of Dawson/Johnson is an enticing (although far from guaranteed) prize, local bragging rights are paramount in what is expected to be one of the biggest drawing fights in the city's history. The event also marks the first time Montreal's two big promoters - Interbox and GYM have worked together on a show.
Representing the Interbox side of the equation is the compactly built, heavy handed Diaconu, who claimed the title last July without throwing a punch after previous belt holder Chad Dawson was stripped of his crown.
Diaconu signed with the promotional company back in 2001, after narrowly missing out on a medal for his native Romania at the Sydney Olympics, and began his career on the under-cards of shows featuring the likes of Eric Lucas, Otis Grant and fellow transplanted Romanian, Leonard Dorin.
With the retirement of the old guard, Diaconu continued his role as a supporting player on shows headlined by Interbox's newest star, Lucian Bute, all the while receiving relatively little fanfare and barely a mention in the press despite a steady stream of victories.
That was until his light heavyweight eliminator against Rico Hoye in May of 2007.
Headlining a local show for the first time, and fighting in front of US television audience watching on ESPN2, Diaconu put forth an explosive performance.
If there’s a knock against Diaconu, it can be a tendency to get a little reckless looking for one big punch, and there was a moment early when he did get over-excited against Hoye, but overall, he was disciplined in his aggression. Coming forward behind a high guard, he leveled booming overhand rights over Hoye’s jab, while following up with hard left hooks. The lanky Detroit boxer was never in the fight, and after tasting the canvas 3 times, the contest was halted early in the 3rd round.
The win dramatically raised Diaconu’s profile and pushed him into the mandatory challenger’s spot for Chad Dawson’s WBC title and a fight between the two was quickly signed for late September of that year. Unfortunately, a little over a week before the fight, Diaconu was forced to pull out with a hand injury.
Following the cancellation, Dawson was granted a voluntary defense against Glen Johnson – with Diaconu heading back to Romania to take on Chris Henry for the interim title. While Diaconu was not under contract with Interbox (he's now back with them, having signed a 2 year deal in April) at this time, they still helped him in preperation for the fight.
He narrowly managed to get by Henry, but it was an uneven performance that raised serious questions about his stamina. He looked very sharp early – applying pressure behind a probing left jab, and stinging Henry with power shots on a number of occasions. However, the big Texan hung tough and as the fight wore on, Diaconu faded badly, and looked like he struggling to stay upright over the final few rounds.
Since then, Diaconu’s been in action only once with an 8 round stay busy fight on April 4 at the Bell Centre against journeyman Quebec fighter David Wittom on the under-card of Timothy Bradley’s victory over Kendall Holt.
While he pounded out a one sided decision, it was uninspiring outing, although somewhat understandable considering the bout was put together at the last minute after Diaconu’s scheduled title defense against Silvio Branco fell through.
Earlier that same day, across town at the Montreal Casino, GYM’s Jean Pascal was in action against Argentinean Pablo Nieves. In his first outing since losing his title challenge to Carl Froch last December, Pascal fared better than Diaconu, taking care of matters with a spectacular 5th round knock-out. With his back to the ropes, Pascal unloaded with a huge counter left hand that landed flush, causing the Argentinean to do a stutter step before going down hard.
The fight with Nieves was made after Pascal (pictured left, Photo © Justin McKie) had turned down a bout with Jermain Taylor, having decided he needed more work before stepping in with another top level opponent. Some might question refusing the opportunity, but taking a step back and recognizing that he wasn't ready to immediately jump back in with an elite opponent was probably a smart move.
Having turned pro at age 22 a little over four years ago, the Hatian born Pascal’s ascent from prospect to title contender has been relatively quick, although not always smooth. Despite plenty of hype surrounding some impressive early performances, not everyone was a fan of the talented youngster.
His cocky demeanor and Roy Jones style hot dogging rubbed some the wrong way, and the negative sentiments reached a head in June of 2006 when Pascal took on journeyman Darnell Boone
As the naturally bigger man, with a significant edge in speed, Pascal had all the advantages over his outgunned but determined opponent, yet struggled to overwhelm Boone. The Ohio fighter, who had given Andre Ward a scare the previous year, used his crafty skills to make Pascal look ordinary at times, only for the cocky youngster to amp up the showboating theatrics.
By the late rounds, the crowd was firmly on the out of town man’s side and let Pascal have it with a chorus of boos.
It was a learning experience for Pascal, who has acknowledged that the reaction of the spectators was upsetting, but also made him a better person. He’s left the over the top displays of showmanship in the past, and has been all business in the ring since that night.
After rolling off a string of impressive performances after the Boone fight, successive bouts against unheralded opponents Brian Norman & Omar Pittman, raised questions regarding Pascal's focus and durability.
Overall the performance against Norman was far from convincing, with Pascal failing to ever really impose his will on the strong but slower American. Pascal’s lack of defensive acumen to keep even a limited pressure fighter like Norman at a comfortable range was evident, and late in the 6th round, he was caught and seemingly stunned with an overhand right. Luckily, only seconds remained in the round, and Pascal weathered Norman’s follow-up assault.
A month later, while having things almost all his own way against Pittman, Pascal was caught by a left hook late in the 7th round. The punch sent him stumbling backwards, and onto the defensive for the remaining minute of the frame. While anyone can get caught in the right spot, it was a carless mistake that lead to the hook landing – with Pascal pulling straight back with his hands down after throwing his own shots.
Not surprisingly after those two outings, Pascal entered his title contest against Carl Froch (pictured left, Photo © Justin McKie) as a sizable underdog – only to produce his grittiest effort to date, albeit in a losing effort. He willingly stood in with the big punching Englishman and took his lumps in order to land his own bombs.
While there were many positives to take away from the defeat, Pascal’s defensive shortcomings were again on display. Despite his big edge in speed, he was far from an elusive target and seemed out of answers for a few rounds when Froch made a concerted effort to forgo the heavy exchanges that highlighted the first half of the fight in favour of scoring points with his jab.
That's something Pascal won’t have to worry about against Diaconu. While Diaconu makes use of his jab, it’s more to set up his power shots with and not something he can fall back on to score points and control range. If Diaconu chooses to switch gears it will be to back off and go into counter-punching mode.
What Pascal will have to worry about is keeping his hands up after he throws his own shots and not getting too reckless with his counters. Diaconu will be edging forward from the opening bell, throwing his jab and looking for Pascal to open up – and then punch with him, hoping to get the better of the exchanges.
It’s tempting to say that since Pascal is moving up a division, Diaconu should be much the stronger man in these exchanges. While he definitely appears to be the sturdier of the two fighters, at the same time, it’s unlikely he’ll bring any kind of size advantage into the ring. Both men were amateur middleweights, and the younger Pascal, who has been struggling to make the 168 limit should be more than comfortable at 175 pounds.
Can Pascal use his speed to beat Diaconu to the punch without getting tagged in return?
Will Diaconu be able to effectively keep the pressure on without fading down the stretch?
Is Pascal able to take a strong light-heavyweight's best shot?
Can Diaconu focus on putting his punches together while resisting the urge to try and land that one big bomb?
Plenty of questions to be answered on June 19th. One thing is for certain - with as many as 22,000 fans expected in attendance, the atmosphere inside Montreal's Bell Centre will be electric.
All the ingredients are there for a truly memorable encounter. Make sure you don't miss this one.
e-mail Andrew Fruman
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Andrew Fruman previews the June 19th showdown between Montreal's Adrian Diaconu and Jean Pascal