Kelly Pavlik – Boxing’s Next Superstar

pavlikMatthew Hurley: With big accomplishments come big responsibilities. Just ask Kelly Pavlik. Since his breakout year in 2007 the Youngstown boxer has suddenly had to deal with the notoriety that comes with being the middleweight champion of the world. In his small hometown the blue collar hero has become a figure of inspiration and pride while on the grand stage he has been anointed one of boxing’s pivotal players – a potential superstar because of his style and good guy image.

“It’s been tough,” he told the Tribune Chronicle in regards to being thrust into the spotlight. “It wears on you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining but you do get tired.”

Pavlik’s ascent to the boxing hierarchy was a steady climb, a process mapped out by his trainer and confidant Jack Lowe.. After a steady diet of middleweight journeymen Pavlik stepped up in January of 2007 and knocked out Jose Luis Zertuche in the eighth round. His confidence level rising, he walked in as underdog against murderous punching Edison Miranda in May and proceeded to walk right over him to a title shot against undefeated Jermain Taylor in a September bout that christened a new middleweight champion, a hometown hero and boxing’s newest attraction.

However, any fighter with the proper marketing scheme backing him up can be manufactured into a star – an accusation that was thrown at then champion Jermain Taylor after a series of middling title defenses. Taylor, who was once hyped up by HBO as boxing’s prodigal son, never came close to realizing that potential. He became a champion but his regression as a fighter after winning the title soured the boxing community on the Arkansas native. Even his once loyal fan base began to turn their back on him after successive questionable decision victories. So it was with a heavy heart but fierce determination that he signed to take on Kelly Pavlik. He entered that bout knowing that he needed an impressive performance to win back all that he had lost since capturing the crown. And he did just that, flooring his game challenger in the second round and nearly stopping him in a breathtaking pier six brawl.

Only Kelly Pavlik proved that his rise to title contention was justified as the ‘Ghost’ climbed off the canvas, battled his way back into the fight and walked the champion down before brutally stopping him in the seventh round. Taylor had produced one of his more courageous ring performances that night but it was not enough to save his title from a hungry challenger who refused to quit. It was because of the manner in which he won that Kelly Pavlik suddenly found himself blinded by the glare of the spotlight. Boxing fans love a winner, but they love a fighter who wins in exciting fashion even more. And they respect a loser who goes down in defeat with the intention of exiting on his shield. Both fighters gave fans what they wanted and desperately needed - a tremendous battle in one of boxing’s glamour divisions.

And now they are preparing to do it all over again. On February 26th Pavlik and Taylor will collide for a second time, although the middleweight title will not be on the line. Taylor is fine with the fact that a win won’t secure the belts he lost. He seeks redemption and feels that the agreed upon 166 pound weight limit will allow him to perform at his maximum level. He will however have to face an even bigger and stronger opponent who knocked him senseless only five months ago. Pavlik views Taylor’s warrior spirit with admiration but also as hubris.

“I know Taylor wants redemption, he’s a competitor,” he told the Miami Herald, “but that may be his downfall. I can tell he is more intent on beating me than on winning the fight and believe me, there is a difference in those philosophies.”

By that the middleweight champion sees Taylor’s focus as far too wide. It has become a mantra in the Taylor camp that he do to Pavlik what had been done to him. Going for a knockout may play right into the 6 foot 2 ½ inch Pavlik’s hands.

“I made a mistake in the second round,” he says. “I put my chin out there and got cocky. It was a stupid mistake and one I won’t make again.”

Jack Loew sees his fighter as an even more dangerous proposition for Taylor than the first go round. “He’s always been a hard worker in the gym, but since he’s won the world title he’s become a different fighter. He’s more focused.”

Should Pavlik defeat Taylor in the rematch he is already loosely scheduled to take on popular but relatively untested middleweight contender John Duddy in June at Madison Square Garden. Should all go according to plan he would then finish off the year with a unification bout against IBF champion Arthur Abraham.

In the end it remains Pavlik’s exciting style that has so many so hopeful about his future.

“He just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” his manager Cameron Dunkin proclaimed at a recent press conference. “If he can get through this year (without a defeat) he’ll be able to pick and choose his fights. He’ll be like (Floyd) Mayweather and Oscar (De La Hoya).”

Boxing fans who have grown to love Pavlik would certainly hope that does not become the case. The picking and choosing of opponents by ‘money’ fighters drives fights fans nuts, but Dunkin’s remark is understandable. Pavlik could very well become the go-to guy in boxing should he march through 2008 in spectacular fashion. And Pavlik understands and appreciates his current position and what could lay ahead for him as long as he continues to fight in a style befitting a middleweight champion.

“Winning the title has added extra motivation to me,” he says. “It has spurred me to raise my performance to another level, a level I have never experienced before.”

The Pavlik – Taylor II February 16th pay-per-view broadcast, beginning at 9 pm ET/6 pm PT will be produced and distributed by HBO Pay-Per-View. The fight will take place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at the MGM Grand Arena Box Office or though Ticketmaster.

Article posted on 06.02.2008

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