MONTREAL -- Jean Pascal got his first look at Aleksy Kuziemski when both were fighting at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Neither brought home a medal, but Pascal (26-2-1) knows the 35-year-old Polish fighter (23-4) he will face in a 10-round bout on Friday night at the Bell Centre is a well-schooled veteran who had an extensive amateur career before turning pro.
That's just the kind of opponent he wants as he tries to shake off the rust of a 19-month layoff and bounce back from the shattering loss of his WBC light heavyweight title to cagey veteran Bernard Hopkins in his last bout in May, 2011.
"He has a great amateur background," Pascal said Wednesday. "He won a bronze medal at the world championships in 2003 and he went to the Olympics in '04.
"That's why it's a great challenge and why I have to be careful. I can't be too wide or too open. I am going to have to stay focused."
In Athens, Kuziemski was beaten by Beibut Shumenov of Kazakhstan, who is now the light heavyweight champion of the WBA. Pascal got what Olympic boxers fear most, drawing a Cuban in the first round, and lost on points to Yordanis Despaigne. Despaigne slipped over to Miami in 2009 and now has a 9-2 record as a pro.
"All my life I wished to fight a Cuban, but maybe not in the first fight at the Olympics," a grinning Pascal said.
The Montreal fighter said he has learned from his back-to-back bouts with Hopkins, the first a draw and the second a 12-round decision in which his then 45-year-old opponent let Pascal burn himself out early and beat him clearly on points.
Pascal hopes to have rebuilt himself mentally, and now just needs a win over Kuziemski to be ready for an already scheduled title fight in March against Chad Dawson.
"This is version 2.0 of Jean Pascal," he said. "It's an updated version.
"Because those 24 rounds with Bernard Hopkins gave me a lot of experience, I'm more mature. I'm a better boxer."
He will be the clear favourite, but so was former IBF super-middleweight champion Lucian Bute of Montreal in his comeback fight last month against Denis Grachev. Bute won on the scorecards, but the gritty Russian made it close.
The light-hitting Kuziemski has lost each time he faced a highly ranked opponent, including WBO champ Nathan Cleverly, and admits he will be the underdog.
"The only thing is to outsmart Pascal," Kuziemski said through and interpreter. "I hope he will be a little bit rusty."
His manager Robert Krzak said his fighter certainly will not get into a brawl with Pascal.
"He's not going to fight like Lennox Lewis against Andrew Golota (in 2004), where the fight lasted 95 seconds." he said. "He's never been a great puncher.
"He's more of a smart fighter."
That's exactly the kind of opponent Pascal's promoter Yvon Michel wanted.
"Because of his amateur background, we knew when we chose Kuziemski we would get a fit, experienced opponent with skill and technique and that's what we wanted," Michel said. "What Jean may have lacked against Hopkins was the discipline to follow his game plan and to keep his technique tight.
"If Jean is wild or doesn't follow his game plan he'll look bad. He's not scared of his opponent, he's scared of looking bad. He wants to look like a world champion."
The weigh-in is on Thursday.
The co-feature has middleweight David Lemieux (27-2) of Montreal against Russian Alberto Ayrapetyan (20-3).