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Jean Pascal shows off his muscles in Quebec City in this December 17, 2010 photo. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Jean Pascal shows off his muscles in Quebec City in this December 17, 2010 photo. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada’s Pascal still a star despite 19-month layoff from the ring Add to ...

Promoter Yvon Michel says Jean Pascal’s talent and personality is what boxing’s light-heavyweight division needs.

That’s why the gifted Montreal fighter has a title fight lined up even before he shakes off the rust of a 19-month layoff to face Aleksy Kuziemski in a 10-round non-title bout on Friday night at the Bell Centre.

“In light heavyweight, you have several champions but no stars — Jean is the biggest star,” Michel said Monday as Pascal trained at the Groupe Yvon Michel gym. “And if he gets a title, he’ll be much bigger.”

Pascal (26-2-1) will be the heavy favourite against Kuziemski (23-4), a 2004 Polish Olympian who has lost each time he faced a top opponent and who will be fighting in Pascal’s home town.

So confident are the boxing powers that 30-year-old Pascal will win that they have already pencilled in for a March 23 bout with WBC champion Chad Dawson, an excellent boxer but not the most charismatic individual in the sport. That’s conditional on beating Kuziemski, of course.

“I thinking about Kuziemski, I’m not thinking about Chad Dawson or anyone else,” said Pascal, who beat Dawson in an 11th round technical decision in 2010. “After my win, then we’ll talk about the future.”

The other champions in the alphabet world of boxing are the largely unproven Tavoris Cloud of the IBF and Beibut Shumenov of the WBA, and the promising Briton Nathan Cleverly.

The Haitian-born Pascal, who moved to Montreal as a young child, brings flash and dash in and out of the ring, with crowd-pleasing hand speed and an attacking style.

Michel said the U.S. specialty channel HBO was ready to set up bouts for Pascal even after he lost the WBC title to then-45-year-old Bernard Hopkins by unanimous decision on May 21, 2011.

That was Pascal’s last fight, as he took time off to deal with a loss that more psychological than physical and then had two fights cancelled due to shoulder and hand injuries.

Michel said the time off did him good.

“He was drained mentally,” said Michel. “When he fought Hopkins, he never wanted to admit that mentally, Hopkins was able to play with him.

“It was only in retrospect he realized that Hopkins drew him into a place he didn’t want to be. He fought with emotion and not with technique and strategy. That was Hopkins’ goal.”

Hopkins lost the title back to Dawson in April, but the now-47-year-old hasn’t quit. He has a bout scheduled for March in New York against an opponent yet to be determined, so a Pascal-Hopkins III is not out of the question. The two fought to a draw in Quebec City in their first meeting in 2010.

“Now everything’s healed and Jean’s the best I’ve seen him in sparring for a long time,” added Michel. “He was flattered to realize that even though he’s now 30, because of his notoriety the champion of the WBC (Dawson) is willing to come here and HBO is willing to televise it even though he’s been away from the ring a long time.

“He knows he’s still considered one of the stars of the division.”

After taking break, Pascal was to fight Zsolt Erdei in the spring, but injured his right shoulder in that most Canadian way — falling on the ice during a recreational hockey game. He has since quit hockey.

Then he was down to fight Cloud, but injured his right hand while sparring.

“Of course I will be rusty, I won’t lie to you,” said Pascal. “But I’ll try to be as not-rusty as possible.

“And of course I’ll be nervous. It’s been 19 months. But going 24 rounds (in two fights) with Bernard Hopkins, I gained a lot of experience and I’m going to use that to win.

“I had time to think about everything — myself, my family, my future — and now I’m more mature. I learned that I never fought with 100 per cent of my talent. I know I have a lot to improve and I can be one of the best in the world if I train hard and exploit my talent 100 per cent.”

The undercard has rising light heavyweight Eleider Alvarez (10-0) of Montreal against Danny McIntosh for the minor NABO belt, and Logan McGuinness (18-0-1) of Orangeville, Ont., facing Carlos Manuel Reyes (23-1-1) of the Dominican Republic for the minor NABA super-featherweight title.

Middleweight David Lemieux (27-2) of Montreal needs to beat Albert Ayrapetyan (20-3) to earn an NABF title shot in February.

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