What if…Hopkins vs. Pavlik?

kelly pavlik01.10.07 - By Geoffrey Ciani: There’s something magical about watching a fighter rise from the canvas to comeback and knockout his opponent. This is especially true in championship bouts. When Kelly Pavlik survived the second round onslaught from middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, it was a testament to his championship character. When he then proceeded to stop Taylor five rounds later via brutal knockout, it capped off one of the most exciting middleweight fights in the past twenty years.

The newly-crowned 25 year old middleweight boxing champion has a bright future. Having decisively beaten Jermain Taylor, he has clearly solidified his position as the division’s top dog.

In 32 contests, Kelly Pavlik now has an unblemished record with 29 of his victories coming by way of knockout. Boxing fans love a knockout artist, making young Pavlik’s marketability one of unlimited potential.

So where does Pavlik go from here? Obviously, prospects of a rematch with Taylor are bound to generate some interest. So, too, is the rumor of a potential showdown against fellow undefeated middleweight, “Ireland’s” John Duddy. These are both match-ups I would favor Pavlik to win. There is, however, one potential bout where the conclusion is in doubt, and that would be against former middleweight King, Bernard Hopkins.

I’m not sure whether this bout makes much sense to either fighter right now. After all, Pavlik just won his championship and has a number of routes to choose from—taking on Hopkins in his next fight would certainly be the most difficult of all paths to travel. Also, Hopkins hasn’t fought as a middleweight since losing back-to-back controversial decisions against Jermain Taylor. Plus, it appears Hopkins may be setting his sights on the winner of the November clash between undefeated super middleweights, Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler.

But what if Pavlik and Hopkins came to terms?

The first thing that jumps out in a contest between the reigning and former middleweight champions is the age difference. At 25 years old, Kelly Pavlik is young enough to be the 42 year old Hopkins’s son. Despite the vast difference in age, Hopkins is one of the best conditioned athletes in all of sports, and in his most recent performance, his stamina still proved impeccable. On the flipside, Hopkins is a crafty vet, and there’s no doubt he has a trick or two up his sleeve that the young champion has never encountered. So even though I believe a great deal would be made of the age difference going into such a bout, I’m unconvinced that that in itself would have any profound impact on the outcome.

If a bout between the two did happen, Pavlik has several tools that would give the aging vet some problems. For starters, contrary to the hype entering his bout with Taylor, Pavlik has an exceptional jab. It’s not the snappiest of jabs, nor is it the flashiest, but it’s effective and it helps set up his power shots. The tremendous knockout power is obviously another facet of Pavlik’s game that would give Hopkins problems. Even though Hopkins has one of the sturdiest chins in the sport today, it is by no means infallible; if anyone has the power to crack Hopkins’s chin, no doubt that fighter is Kelly Pavlik. Another thing Pavlik has going for him is his relentless punch output; the sheer volume of punches Pavlik is capable of throwing is bound to cause trouble for any would-be opponent, Hopkins included.

On the other hand, Hopkins is a seasoned vet who knows how to handle himself in the ring like few others. Hopkins is one of the most versatile fighters in the past twenty years and he has an uncanny ability to force his opponents to fight his fight. That Pavlik has a predictable style, one where he comes straight at his opponent with mean intentions, is something that might well play into Hopkins’ favor.

Knocking out Bernard Hopkins is no easy endeavor. Unlike Jermain Taylor, Hopkins is not in the habit of eating flush right hands on a regular basis. On the contrary, Hopkins is one of the best in the game when it comes to rolling with punches, or avoiding them altogether. Whereas Taylor was often forced into backing away from Pavlik, I imagine Hopkins would be more apt to circle away, never allowing Pavlik to establish his forward-moving rhythm, all the while avoiding being hit with flush shots and carefully choosing his counter-punching opportunities. And whenever he isn’t utilizing his superior ring generalship, there’s a strong likelihood that Hopkins will close the gap, smothering Pavlik’s power-punching range.

If this bout became a reality, I imagine that Pavlik would dictate the terms in the early going. I envision him going straight for the kill, and attempting to test the old warrior’s chin early and often. Around the halfway point, things would be fairly even, where Pavlik would most likely have a slight edge on the scorecards. This is where things would get dangerous for the young champion, for this is when Hopkins always seems to excel—in the latter half of the fight.

Although conventional wisdom should suggest otherwise, Hopkins invariably has better stamina than his younger opponents. In many ways, he would be better suited for the days when championship fights lasted fifteen rounds. If Pavlik was unable to inflict any serious damage upon Hopkins by the midway point, no doubt he would be in for a rude awakening. The question becomes, how would Pavlik deal with uncharted territory when he suddenly finds himself fighting Hopkins’s fight?

Frankly, I’m not sure he’d bode to well in that predicament. In fact, I reckon the crafty vet would teach the youngster a valuable lesson like nobody’s business. Whether it be a lesson in the art of bending the rules in his favor, a lesson in the art of counter-punching, a lesson in the art of rough-house tactics, or a lesson in the art of tactical genius, I’ve no doubt that Pavlik would learn from the man who once held the crown he now holds.

I’m not sure whether this bout will ever come to fruition, but I am sure of two things: (1) If a Hopkins-Pavlik bout does become a reality, it will be one of the least crowd-pleasing affairs of any potential match-up on Pavlik’s horizon, and (2) If Pavlik desires to be great, which I happen to believe he does, there’s no fight out there that can do more for his legacy. Indeed, Hopkins represents the best available challenge for the newly-crowned middleweight champion. But will the fans ever get to see it?

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Article posted on 02.10.2007

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