Upset of the Year Nominees:
Andy Ruiz Jr. TKO7 Anthony Joshua
Andrew Cancio KO4 Alberto Machado
Julian Williams W12 Jarrett Hurd
Oscar Escandon KO1 Jhack Tepora
Jean Pascal TD8 Marcus Browne
In March of 2015, Jean Pascal challenged light heavyweight champion and feared Russian power-puncher Sergey Kovalev at the Bell Centre in Montreal. After a torrid slugfest that was as exciting as it was one-sided, a clearly concussed Pascal was rescued by the referee in round eight. The notoriously game challenger with the iron chin absorbed an alarming amount of punishment and many speculated on the consequences for Pascal’s long-term health. After tough battles and big-money fights against Carl Froch, Adrian Diaconu, Chad Dawson, Lucian Bute, and Bernard Hopkins, many wondered if, and some hoped, that Pascal’s gallant stand against “Krusher” Kovalev might mark the conclusion of a successful career.
But Pascal soldiered on and four months later faced undefeated contender Yunieski Gonzalez. The judges scored the ten round bout for Pascal, but the decision was widely ridiculed. So shocked was Gonzalez that he broke down and wept after the scorecards were announced. Again, more than a few pundits hoped Pascal might read the writing on the wall and opt for a well-earned retirement. Instead, six months later he was tossing bananas around and calling Kovalev “a racist” before taking another beating from the relentless Russian. Now the call was becoming louder and from all quarters: “Time to retire, Pascal. Time to move on.” Surely this was the end.
But of course it was not. Instead it was Eleider Alvarez’s turn to fatten his record at the expense of the former champion. After twelve one-sided rounds the undefeated Colombian scored the biggest win of his career to that point, while everyone assumed Pascal had the final big payday he needed to ride off into the sunset. But six months later, there was Pascal again, on PBC, teaching undefeated contender Ahmed Elbiali a harsh lesson in respect as he kept blasting away with wild right hands until the younger man’s corner threw in the towel. And despite Pascal’s own statements at the time that this was his swan song, all the hand-wringers suspected there was likely more wringing to come.
And sure enough, after a perfunctory win over MMA fighter Steve Bossé, Pascal’s phone rang again, the call this time from new light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol who wanted to add a marquee name to his record. Once again Pascal demonstrated his willingness to rumble and his rock-hard chin, but this time he was completely outclassed. At bout’s end both the judges and ringsiders struggled to score more than a single round in his favour. At this point Pascal was 36-years-old and 4-4 in his last eight bouts, but few could remember when he had scored an impressive win against an elite-level boxer, understandable given that you had to go all the way back to 2010 and his hard-fought victory over Chad Dawson.
So this is why Jean Pascal’s victory over undefeated contender Marcus Browne is in fact the obvious choice for 2019’s Upset of the Year. Browne was in his prime, undefeated and coming off a one-sided victory over former super middleweight champion Badou Jack. Not only was absolutely no one giving Pascal a serious chance of winning, but more than a few were castigating the organizers for an obvious mismatch between a young contender primed for the limelight and a has-been whose light had burnt out many months before. Leading up to the bout, the question wasn’t if Browne would win, but who was the sadist at PBC who wanted to see Pascal get his head beat in.
There are upsets, and then there are upsets. Joshua vs Ruiz is unquestionably a huge upset, one that forced everyone to re-evaluate the heavyweight division, but at the same time, more than a few knowledgeable pundits were forecasting that Ruiz had the skills to give Joshua serious trouble. A few brave ones even picked Ruiz to win. But no one, absolutely no one, was giving Jean Pascal, who by this point was effectively unranked, a chance to upset Marcus Browne. The match was an after-thought, a complete ‘gimme,’ Pascal nothing more than a stepping-stone for a young, undefeated contender.
So if you were looking for feel-good moments from boxing in 2019, one of the best came to you courtesy of washed-up underdog Jean Pascal, when the veteran held his ground, let Browne get his shots off, and then countered with a perfectly timed right hand that toppled “Sir Browne” like he’d been tasered. And then Pascal did it again in round seven, with even more authority. And then Browne went down a third time.
In round eight Pascal was surging and a floundering Browne was struggling to regain his equilibrium when the latter sustained a deep cut over his eye. The wound was inspected, the doctor stopped the fight, and lo and behold, the scorecards all had Pascal ahead by one point. And just like that, the fighter everyone — and that is, everyone — just knew was totally finished, suddenly was not only a major force again in the light heavyweight division, but also, with all due respect to Andy Ruiz Jr., the “Cinderella” story of the year. And the Upset of the Year.
— Michael Carbert