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Pascal takes decision in contested action fight

LAS VEGAS -- Former light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal did his part to punch his way into a possible rematch with unified titleholder Sergey Kovalev early next year, but not without controversy.

Pascal won a unanimous decision against Yunieski Gonzalez -- 96-94 on all three scorecards -- in a hard-hitting and action-packed fight on Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center that had the crowd cheering throughout but booing the decision loudly even though it had no particular rooting interest. ESPN.com had it 98-92 for Gonzalez, who was sobbing after the scores were read for the co-feature of Kovalev's defense against Nadjib Mohammedi.

"I am so sad. I was the real fighter," Gonzalez said. "That was taken from me. He did not win. I did. I am the real winner."

Pascal felt he deserved the decision.

"I was controlling he fight," Pascal said. "The fight was following exactly the rhythm I wanted. It was a great fight. Very close. I'm glad to give the fans another candidate for fight of the year."

Pascal, who got knocked out in the eighth round by Kovalev in March in a terrific fight, was involved in another terrific one against Gonzalez, who was facing by far the best opponent of his career.

"I'm going to continue to fight the best opposition and give the best performances because I am the best," Pascal said.

Even though he didn't get the decision, Gonzalez appeared to handle his step up in class very well in a fight in which both fighters landed some heavy-duty blows.

Gonzalez came out fast and got respect from Pascal in the first round by landing a series of powerful overhand rights that left Pascal with a surprised look on his face. Gonzalez had a big round and continued to fire shots in a hellacious second round that featured an extended exchange in which both fighters landed big punches, much to the delight of the crowd. It was a-round-of-the-year candidate for sure.

In the third round, Gonzalez (16-1,12 KOs), 30, a Cuban defector living in Miami, buckled Pascal (30-3-1, 17 KOs), 32, of Montreal, with a clean right hand to the chin and it was surprising that he did not go down. Round 4 was another action-packed frame as they both landed a lot of heavy punches, but once again it was the stronger Gonzalez who got the better of it.

There was even more action in the sixth round as they took turns hurting each other with vicious punches as the crowd cheered, but Pascal finally seemed to break through and hurt Gonzalez. He hurt Gonzalez again with a combination early in the seventh round but Gonzalez fired right back as he chased Pascal across the ring.

Gonzalez and Pascal both looked very tired in the ninth round, which was no surprise considering the extraordinary amount of energy they had spent, but they still had enough left for some ferocious exchanges.

They went at it again in the 10th round as if they believed the fight was on the table. Dead tired, perhaps, but they let their hands go with whatever was left in them -- to the body and to the head. They were both stunned in the round but they finished firing punches as referee Toney Weeks had to separate them.

Barrera knocks out Zoulikha

Cuban light heavyweight Sullivan Barrera (16-0, 10 KOs), of Miami, knocked out late replacement Hakim Zoulikha (21-8, 10 KOs), of France, in an all-action bout. Barrera, who was coming off a fourth-round knockout of the badly faded super middleweight titleholder Jeff Lacy on Jan. 30, was originally scheduled to face Russia's Vasily Lepikhin (17-1, 9 KOs) but Lepikhin suffered an injury during training camp and was replaced by Zoulikha (21-7, 10 KOs) on about one week's notice. Zoulikha nailed Barrera with some hard, clean shots but took punishment. Barrera knocked him down in the second round with a left hook. In the fifth round, Barrera suffered a cut over his left eye. In the eighth round, Barrera rocked Zoulikha, who stumbled around the ring before finally going down. When Barrera was firing punches during the follow-up attack, referee Russell Mora stepped in to stop the bout at 1 minute, 34 seconds.

• Palmdale, California junior welterweight Joel Diaz (19-0, 15 KOs) scored three knockdowns en route to a fourth-round knockout of Alejandro Rodriguez (24-17-1, 14 KOs), of Mexico, in a one-sided fight. Diaz, who usually fights in the 130-pound junior lightweight division, fought as a 140-pounder against Rodriguez and blew him out. He dropped Rodriguez twice in the second round, first to a knee with a left-right combination and then with a left hook with 18 seconds left in the round. When Rodriguez went down again from a right hand to the chin in the fourth round, referee Kenny Bayless waved off the fight 39 seconds into the round.

• Heavyweight Rodney Hernandez (8-2-1, 1 KO), of Modesto, California, claimed a hard-fought split decision against Brice Ritani-Coe (4-3-1, 3 KOs), of San Pedro, California. Two judges scored the fight for Hernandez, 59-55 and 58-56, while one scored the bout 58-56 for Ritani-Coe, who ate some heavy shots in the final round.

• Heavyweight Cassius Chaney (3-0, 2 KO), of New London, Connecticut, pulverized Eduardo Ramirez (1-3, 1 KOs), of Yuma, Arizona, with a left hook to knock him out for the count at 1 minute, 55 seconds in the first round to win his third fight in six months.