MONTREAL - One only hopes that Jean Pascal was kidding about what he plans to cook up in the ring when he defends his World Boxing Council light heavyweight title against Italian veteran Silvio Branco.
"I'll win the fight and if you're hungry, that's good because I'm going to cook some Italian pasta with a lot of blood sauce," Pascal (23-1, 15 knockouts) said Monday, with only a trace of a smile.
The 27-year-old from Laval, Que., is to face 43-year-old Branco (59-9-2, 36 KOs) on Friday night at the Bell Centre in a mandatory defence of the title he won June 19 in a 12-round unanimous decision over Adrian Diaconu of Montreal.
If he wins, Pascal will face Diaconu in a rematch on Dec. 11.
There is always plenty of flash and bluster with Pascal, but it carries more weight now that he has a title to back it up.
He will need to put his exceptional speed and athleticism to work to hold off the lanky Branco, a pro since 1988 who is much-travelled and won't be put off fighting in his opponent's hometown.
Branco won the WBA title in 2003 and lost it the next year by majority decision to Frenchman Fabrice Tiozzo in France. He won the WBA belt again in 2006 and promptly lost it to American Drew Snipes in Germany. He has since battled his way back to become the No. 1-ranked contender in the WBC, which made him the mandatory challenger for Pascal's title.
Promoter Yvon Michel said people who look at the 16-year age gap and assume it will be an easy night for Pascal are off-base.
"Branco doesn't fight like he's 43," said Michel. "He's very good.
"Speed is usually the first thing to leave a fighter, but he's still very fast. He's a road warrior as well. Most of his world championship bouts were outside Italy. He uses his reach well. He holds inside. He does everything to make you look bad and to try to steal it from you. A guy like him would never be the choice for an optional defence."
Pascal's trainer Marc Ramsay said care was taken in his fighter's psychological preparation to avoid "traps."
"They are his age and the Vegas odds, which are around 11-to-1. But we know exactly who Mr. Branco is and we know we will beat him."
Branco said Diaconu ducked out of fighting him and thanked Pascal for agreeing to face him. He also appealed to local Italians to support him, saying he shares roots with many of them from Calabria in the south of Italy.
"I'm sorry Mr. Branco, but they're Canadians now and they'll be supporting me," Pascal shot back.
"He's got good skills," Pascal added. "He's a tall boxer, but the thing is I'm younger, faster and smarter, so I've got every tool on my side to kick his butt. I'm going for the early knockout, so don't be late."
His opponent's brother, 39-year-old Gianluca Branco, scoffed at that remark.
"After the fight, Pascal should become an actor," said the younger Branco (43-2-1), the European light welterweight champ.
Diaconu was twice scheduled to fight Branco, but promotions in Romania and Italy fell through. The WBC then agreed to let Diaconu fight an optional defence against Pascal, with disastrous results for the Romania native.
Pascal was coming off his first loss, a hard-fought decision against tough Briton Carl Froch in England for the WBC super-middleweight title.
"That was not a wake-up call, it was a sign that I was almost there," said Pascal. "I just had to stay focused, work a little harder, have a little more discipline and I'd be there.
"That's what I did against Diaconu. But Froch was my first fight with real adversity, so it brought me a lot of experience. It was good for me."