Born in Haiti before being raised in Laval, QC, former WBC light-heavyweight champion Jean Pascal has climbed his way to the top of the boxing world. On the eve of his highly-anticipated fight against Lucian Bute, here’s the magazine interview we conducted with the 31-year-old Habs fan to learn more about his love for the bleu-blanc-rouge.
You arrived in Quebec at a young age; when did you become a Canadiens fan?
JEAN PASCAL: I started playing hockey when I was five years old and like every other kid in Quebec, I wanted to play for the Canadiens. I kept hoping I would grow, but when I was 13, I was cut because I was too small. That’s when I started following in my older brother’s footsteps and I got into boxing.
Who was your favorite player growing up?
JP: Patrick Roy. I loved his attitude and how honest and outspoken he was. He was a winner who hated to lose and he played his best when it mattered most. I really identified with him as an athlete because he was always a warrior out there.
A few Habs players have talked openly about taking offseason boxing lessons. Do you think it will help them? Would you be available as a consultant?
JP: That will help them a lot because boxing is such a complete sport that allows you to really engage and work your entire body, including your brain. Boxing would help them get faster and more powerful on the ice. If they asked me to help out, I’d be really flattered; I could definitely help give them a little more motivation in the ring.
Is there anything cooler than hearing legendary ring announcer Michael Buffer declare you as the winner? Does everything Buffer says just sound awesome?
JP: That was a moment I had dreamed about since the start of my career. But to be honest, I was so pumped after winning that I didn’t even hear it! When I finally got to watch the fight myself, I was like “Oh my God, Michael Buffer actually just announced my name.”
The Canadiens aren’t the only ones who know what it’s like to have a Bell Centre crowd behind them; you’re 8-1 in this building. What’s it like fighting here?
JP: Every time I’ve fought at the Bell Centre, it’s been crazy! I love boxing here and the fans are always behind me 110%.
Be honest, how much of your success do you owe to your time spent playing Nintendo’s Mike Tyson’s Punchout?
JP: (laughs) I’d like to say a big part of my success came from that, but it wasn’t quite that simple! My success has come mostly from countless hours spent in the gym with my older brother. We trained together at home and let’s just say there were more than a few vases broken in the process. Our mom wasn’t really thrilled about that. At least now I can pay them back!
Who was the best Rocky opponent: Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago, or Hulk Hogan?
JP: In terms of athleticism and boxing technique, it’s Apollo Creed by far. You could tell Carl Weathers had some experience in the ring compared to the other guys. If we’re talking about the magnitude of the challenge, seeing Rocky take down Drago in Russia during the Cold War was pretty impressive.
Do you think fighting still has a place in the NHL?
JP: Definitely. Hockey is hockey – NHLers aren’t playing ringette! (laughs) No disrespect to ringette, but hockey has always been a physical game. What I’m against is violent stick work or plays where guys intentionally hurt each other.
You’ve hardly dodged tough fights or hand-picked easier opponents over the years. How important is it to you to face the very best fighters in the world?
JP: If you want to be the best, you have to fight against the best. I’ve always been the type of guy who likes a challenge. Not just to prove to the public that I’m part of the elite group of boxers, but to prove to myself that I belong amongst the biggest names.
What boxers did you look up to as a kid?
JP: No question it was Roy Jones Jr. He’s such a talented boxer, he’s amazing to watch and he’s the closest you’ll find to perfection in the ring. Part of what drew me to boxing in the first place was watching his intelligence and his speed out there.
Who gave the most convincing performance by a former boxer outside of the ring? Mike Tyson in The Hangover or George Foreman as the pitchman for his self-named cooking grill?
JP: I think that would have to be George Foreman with his grilling infomercials. Hey, he managed to convince me; I bought one and it works like a charm!
For some reason a lot of boxers have done well on Dancing with the Stars. How do you explain that? Would you ever don your dancing shoes if they invited you?
JP: Just like dancing, boxing is a sport that requires a lot of coordination. If you’re agile in the ring, you can be agile on the dance floor. If they ever invite me, I’d accept with pleasure. Like I said, I love a good challenge! (laughs)
You’re very involved in relief for your native Haiti, what does that mean to you?
JP: It was really important to me to get involved in the Haiti relief efforts because what happened there was really hard for me and my family. I still have a lot of relatives living there and luckily they’re all safe and doing well. I’m a Quebecer but first and foremost, I’m Haitian. I wanted to show my support and the best way to do that was not just through words, but through action and by supporting various aid organizations. I still haven’t had the chance to go back there since the earthquake, but I plan to do that soon and hopefully I can bring the message of keeping hope and faith to the people there.
You studied to be a police officer, might you one day be the only cop who won’t need a gun?
JP: (laughs) Hey, you never know! People ask me all the time if I still plan on becoming a cop some day. I always joke that it depends how many zeros there are in my bank account when I finally decide to retire!
Keep tabs on Jean’s progress in the squared circle on the champ’s official Web site at www.jeanpascalboxing.com or follow him on Twitter (@jeanpascalchamp).
This article, written by Hugo Fontaine, was published in CANADIENS magazine.