It was a nasty fight, but Jean Pascal ended it by putting Italian veteran Silvio Branco on the canvas to keep his WBC light heavyweight title on Friday night at the Bell Centre.

There were sneaky punches, holding and even diving in the ring before the quick-fisted fighter from Laval, Que., knocked his opponent down twice in the 10th round, prompting Branco's corner to throw in the towel.

Pascal (24-1), of Laval, Que., had also knocked down the lanky, 43-year-old Branco (59-10-2) once in seventh and looked to have won every round but the second and perhaps the third.

"It was a relief in the end," said 26-year-old Pascal, who made his first defence of the title he won with a 12-round unanimous decision over Montreal-based Adrian Diaconu (26-1) on June 19. "It was the first time I defended a title and I was nervous in the beginning.

"It wasn't the prettiest fight, but it will help me in my career. He has a difficult style. I tip my hat to Mr. Branco, even if I find that he is a very good actor."

Pascal now faces a rematch with Diaconu on Dec. 11.

Branco's camp was in a rage after the bout over what they felt was repeated holding by Pascal. They also felt the first knockdown in the 10th came from a blow to the back of the head, although it appeared to be from the side.

"I did the job and won the fight," Pascal responded to those charges.

Pascal needed a few round to find his range and timing against a taller opponent.

He cut Branco's right eye in the third round, although Pascal had been caught with a stiff right earlier on.

At the end of the fourth round, Pascal had Branco backed into the ropes and the Italian suddenly lurched forward and fell on his head, claiming he had been pulled down. Referee Gerry Bolen ruled it a slip but made an eight-count because Blanco appeared to be briefly shaken up.

In the seventh, Pascal complained of shots to the back of the head. Then Pascal showed he could play dirty too and was warned for an obvious hold. He ended the round with a knockdown after a flurry of blows that Branco's corner claimed was a push.

"That was a knockdown," Pascal insisted.

In the ninth, the referee called time because Branco had tape hanging from a glove, but he then fell down as if the victim of a low blow, only to get up when he saw it didn't work.

The tenth saw Pascal drop him with a right to the side of the head, then pound him to the canvas again as the towel flew into the ring.

"We're happy it's over," said promoter Yvon Michel. "It wasn't beautiful, but it's the kind of fight Pascal will learn from.

"Branco's an awkward opponent. He was in top shape. It was his last chance for the title, but Jean was too quick, too good."

Branco was WBA champion in 2004 and 2006, but both times lost the belt soon after winning it.

Last year, the Haitian-born Pascal had lost in his first shot at a title in a wild 12-round battle with Carl Froch in England for the vacant WBC super-middleweight belt, but then got one when he moved up to light heavyweight.

Instead of his own name, Pascal had on the back of his trunks the name of former champion Arturo Gatti, who was found hanged to death under mysterious circumstances in Brazil.

In the co-feature, hammer-fisted Adonis Stevenson made an impressive return to the ring as he stopped Commonwealth champion Jermain (Choo Choo) Mackey of the Bahamas in five rounds for the minor WBC International super-middleweight title.

Stevenson (13-0) pounded Mackey (18-4) to the canvas at the end of the fourth, but he was able to get up for the standing eight-count. From the start of the fifth, Stevenson overwhelmed Mackey with a barrage and the referee put a stop to the battle of southpaws.

It was Stevenson's first fight since a first-round knockout of Anthony Bonsante on Aug. 1, 2008. Shortly after that bout, he suffered multiple injuries in a car accident.

Mackey is scheduled to defend his Commonwealth title Oct. 31 against Charles Adamu of Ghana.

Sebastien Demers (29-2) of St. Hyacinthe, Que., dropped late-replacement opponent Jose Spearman (25-16-5) of the U.S. with a left to the body only 1:18 into their scheduled eight-round super-middleweight bout. Demers lost a bid for the IBF middleweight title in 2007 Arthur Abraham.

Carl Handy (24-7-2), a New Orleans native based in Montreal since 2005, pounded the face David Whittom (10-10-1) of St. Quentin, N.B., into a bloody mess over six rounds of their cruiserweight clash to score a unanimous decision victory. Handy had beaten Whitton by majority decision in 2006.

Light welterweight Pier-Olivier Cote (8-0) of Quebec City knocked down Leonardo Rojas (8-9-3) of Montreal three times in one minute 21 seconds, and Kevin Bizier (6-0) of Quebec City won all six rounds of his welterweight bout with Jose Leonardo Corona (8-10) of Mexico.