Light heavyweight world titlist Jean Pascal and former titleholder Badou Jack sparred in 2014 and have been friends for years, so much so that before Pascal's fight in August, Jack called him to wish him good luck.
But whatever friendship exists between Pascal and Jack, they put it aside and waged a tremendous action battle that Pascal won by split decision to retain his secondary 175-pound belt in Saturday night's Gervonta Davis-Yuriorkis Gamboa co-feature at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, which had not hosted a world title bout in 21 years.
Both fighters were knocked down in a fight that Pascal pulled off 114-112 on two scorecards, with Jack getting the nod 114-112 on the third card. Pascal dominated the first five rounds and was ahead 50-44 on all three scorecards before Jack took over in the middle of the fight.
"I won this fight," Pascal said. "It was a close fight, but I won it. Badou is a great fighter, but no one can say he was robbed. I won that fight. I'm the champ. I think I was in control the whole fight. I kept the middle of the ring most of the time."
Jack did not agree with two of the judges' scorecards.
"Of course, I feel I won the fight, but it is what it is," Jack said. "He's got a helluva chin, he's a tough warrior, and I want to thank him for the opportunity."
Pascal scored an upset decision over Marcus Browne to win a vacant interim world title in August before being elevated to a secondary titlist in October -- Dmitry Bivol has the main title -- and made his first defense against Jack. It lived up to the hype, as the battle-tested veterans put on a terrific show.
The fight began to heat up in the all-action third round, when Jack stunned Pascal with a right hand.
Then Jack hurt Pascal (35-6-1, 20 KOs), 37, of Montreal, who was making his first title defense, with a right hand early in the fourth round that forced him to hold on. Jack dominated most of the round, but Pascal rebounded in a big way in the final seconds, when he nailed Jack with a hard right hand on the temple that sent him staggering sideways in cartoon-like fashion before he went down.
"I think he caught me up here [on top of head]," Jack said. "I didn't really see the punch. I wasn't that hurt, but it was a good punch."
Former super middleweight and light heavyweight titlist Jack (22-3-3, 13 KOs), 36, a Sweden native fighting out of Las Vegas, recovered well and seemed to get the better of Pascal in most rounds through the second half of the bout, including in the action-packed eighth round, in which Jack landed powerful right hands to the body and head.
In the 12th round, Jack landed a series of right hands to hurt Pascal and eventually dropped him, sending him sprawling through the ropes. But Pascal got up quickly and took more damage during Jack's follow-up attack with more than two minutes left. Jack was pounding him and forcing him to hold, but Pascal battled back in the wild final half-minute of the fight.
"I can finish every round very strong," Pascal said. "I'm a strong, pressure fighter. Badou, thanks for the fight. I know the crowd enjoyed the show."
Jack was fighting for the first time since he lost a unanimous decision to Browne for a vacant interim title in January in a fight in which Jack was hampered by a horrendous vertical cut in the center of his forehead from an accidental head-butt in the seventh round.
Jack said he would like another chance to fight Pascal.
"I thought I was winning, but maybe I'm wrong. I would love a rematch," he said.
Asked if he would give Jack a rematch, Pascal said, "Anytime."
Thompson upsets Uzcategui
Unheralded Lionell Thompson, who had spent his 10-year career fighting as a light heavyweight and was best known for a knockout loss to Sergey Kovalev in 2012, dropped down to super middleweight and notched an upset decision win over former world titlist Jose Uzcategui. Thompson won 96-92, 96-92 and 95-94 on the scorecards to hand Uzcategui his second loss in his past three bouts.
Thompson (22-5, 12 KOs), 34, a Buffalo, New York, native living in Las Vegas, won his third fight. Thompson used his better skills to get the edge against Uzcategui (29-4, 24 KOs), 29, a Venezuela native fighting out of Tijuana, Mexico.
Thompson got off to a strong start when he landed a perfect right hand on Uzcategui's chin to drop him to his rear end in the final seconds of the first round. Uzcategui got up quickly, and the round ended before another punch could be thrown.
With a minute left in the third round, Uzcategui opened a cut over Thompson's right eye, but it never became a factor. In the fourth round, referee George Chip docked one point from Thompson for holding, even though he did not appear to be holding at all.
Thompson was getting the better of the exchanges, prompting urgency in Uzcategui's corner as early as the fifth round.
"Moving down to 168 [pounds], I was a little worried for my first fight, but I felt great," Thompson said. "I still had the power at this weight, and I hurt him a few times. This is my weight class now, and I think I have a real chance at becoming super middleweight champion and putting my city on the map as the first world champion from Buffalo."
According to CompuBox, Thompson landed 124 of 383 punches (32%), and Uzcategui connected with 75 of 385 punches (19%).
Uzcategui had no quarrel with the scoring.
"I thought the decision was fair. I don't want to make any excuses," Uzcategui said. "He came to fight. I was very rusty. I need to get back in the gym, train harder and hopefully get another fight in the next few months."
Uzcategui's 2019 began on a down note when he got knocked down twice and lost his 168-pound world title by unanimous decision to Caleb Plant on Jan. 13 in Los Angeles. After winning a stay-busy fight by first-round knockout on Sept. 21 in Mexico, Uzcategui's year also ended on a down note.
Leo stops Juarez in eliminator
Junior featherweight Angelo Leo scored three knockdowns en route to an 11th-round knockout of Cesar Juarez in a world title elimination bout.
Leo (19-0, 9 KOs), 25, of Las Vegas, knocked down former world title challenger Juarez (25-8, 19 KOs), 28, of Mexico, twice in the sixth round and once with a clean right hand in the 11th round. The bloodied Juarez barely beat the count, but referee Jim Korb had seen enough and waved off the bout at 1 minute, 12 seconds as Leo scored the biggest win of his career and put him in position as one of the mandatory challengers for unified 122-pound world titlist Daniel Roman.