Kelly Pavlik: “Oh Say Can You See?”

kelly pavlik06.02.08 - By “Old Yank” Schneider: He causes the men he faces in the boxing ring to lose consciousness in 10 ˝ minutes. He can make himself rise up from the dead. He can cause an entire mid-west town to follow him around as if he’s the Pied Piper. He has seen only 3 men out of 32 still on their feet at the end of a contest. He has seen no man remain on his feet for an entire contest against him. He’s more powerful than a locomotive. Look! Up in the sky…it’s a bird, it’s a plain spoken gentleman…it’s Kelly Pavlik.

The combined record of the last six fighters Kelly Pavlik has faced is an impressive 157 wins, 13 losses, with 115 knockouts. Pavlik has knocked out his last 9 opponents in a row including the undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, the seemingly indestructible Edison Miranda, the once serious prospect Jose Luis Zertuche and the veteran Bronco McKart. With a record like this, one would expect Pavlik had earned the universal respect of boxing fans around the world. But he has a problem. He has the problem nearly every KO artist faces. He still remains one-dimensional in the eyes of many fans. And these fans are just plain wrong! What is it that they cannot see?

For the fan who has yet to get on the Pavlik bandwagon he’s been criticized as a plodding, slow, heavy handed fighter who has more “lucked” his way to an opening for the KO rather than creating his opportunities with finesse and grace. To these fans I say, if it’s ballet you want, don’t come near the square circle when Pavlik is in town. But if it’s watching fundamental boxing technique applied like few middleweights can that floats your boat, then it’s time you opened your eyes. If the only thing that satisfies your craving for a good boxing contest is being able to watch a fighter get sprinkled with a little Pernel Whitaker fairy dust, then you’ve come to the wrong bout. Pavlik is not interested in wasting energy; he cannot fold himself backwards on a piano hinge and pop up on the opposite of the ring singing a new tune. He also is not plodding, he’s not slow but he certainly is heavy-handed. If you take the time to really see what’s going on with Kelly Pavlik, you will come to appreciate just how special this young man really is.

To the fan who is more interested in ballet than boxing, the definition of “sweet science” has been bastardized to conveniently fit their vision of what boxing should be all about. For them, all boxers who aggressively go after the knockout don’t have a clue what “sweet science” means. They have simplistically and conveniently divided fighters into two categories; real boxers who stylistically practice the sweet science and brawlers. This is the kind of nonsense that Paulie Malignaggi would like you to believe (and probably Pernel Whitaker too). Well just look at the KO ratios for fighters like Malignaggi and Whitaker and you can quickly conclude why they would like you to believe that “power” is not an important quality in judging the quality of a fighter. Malignaggi’s KO ratio is 20% and Whitaker’s was 37%. Just contrast this with the KO ratios of current and past top 20 ranked fighters in their respective divisions. For welterweights the historical KO ratio for top 20 fighters is around two out of three (67%), and for junior welterweights it is slightly less. More than 80% of all top welterweights throughout history have a higher KO ratio than Whitaker and 90% of junior welters have a better KO ratio than Malignaggi. Look, if you showed up in the men’s locker room with a “package” that was only a tiny fraction of that of others, you’d conclude that something was missing. When we look at Whitaker and Malignaggi we can reasonably conclude that something is missing. These brilliant defensive fighters have solved only half the puzzle called the “sweet science”.

Pavlik is a practitioner of the “sweet science”. The roots of “sweet science” are about a man using his wits and his fists to cause another to submit to his will. The “wits” part of this is all about the technique necessary to bringing about the result that you are looking for – causing another man to submit to your will through the use of your fists. “Wits” without “fists” is not boxing. “Fists” without “wits” is not boxing. Pavlik has them both.

Applying the sweet science to the sport is something that begins with the basic fundamentals of technique. “KEEP YOUR HANDS UP!” It sounds basic enough. But when a fighter wants to clown around or when he gets tired, this is more easily said than done. Now look at Pavlik (and don’t look at just the 2nd round of Pavlik/Taylor). His ability to practice this basic technique of keeping his hands up is a thing of beauty. It is extremely rare to see him with his guard dropped. It is difficult if not impossible to name another elite fighter who does this better than Pavlik. Chalk one of the dimensions of “sweet science” up for Pavlik.

Throw a jab long, straight and fast. This is about as basic as it gets. Nearly every all-time great in the history of the sport has had a great jab to work behind. Now look at Kelly Pavlik’s jab. It is thrown from a hands-forward position. It is never telegraphed. It is straight and it is fast. Chalk another of the dimensions of “sweet science” up for Pavlik.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Throwing punches straight enhances speed and power. If you cannot see how straight Pavlik’s punches are, then you are already lost, read no further. Chalk up another mark for Pavlik’s abilities to practice the sweet science.

Throw combinations to establish dominance when you can. Jab, jab, right! Jab, jab, right and finish with a hook! And don’t forget the body shots when throwing combinations. There is absolutely nothing fancy about Kelly Pavlik when he throws in combination. This is pure basic technique executed better than anyone within a division or two of him either way.

Don’t waste energy. Folding yourself backwards as if you had a piano hinge for a waist is a beautiful thing to watch; but man does it take a lot of energy to execute. If a subtle head movement can take 90% off of what’s coming your way then choose the energy retaining movement over the energy burning movement. Yes, defense is a game of “don’t get hit”, but this is boxing. At the championship level, causing a man to submit by using only your wits and your fists is a virtual impossibility to accomplish without getting hit yourself. Defense is as much about “taking something off” the punches coming at you as it is about avoiding getting hit altogether. And make no mistake about it, at middleweight and super middleweight, fighters are supposed to be able to hit and hit hard. How you take a punch at middleweight is probably more important than how you avoid a punch. And Pavlik is much more subtle in his defense and energy preservation movements then most are able to see. Give another chalk mark to Pavlik.

Pavlik’s footwork is as basic as it ever gets. No matter how hard his opponents try to look for the sneaky stuff, Pavlik is not bringing it. His opponents can’t handle the basics. Why do the Ali shuffle? His opponents can’t handle perfectly executed stalking movements (that Pavlik demonstrates in virtually every fight) that are designed to cut off the ring and place an opponent in harms way. Why bounce up and down on your toes of you don’t need to? Why exaggerate side to side movement with your shoulders and head in order to deceive what’s going on with your feet if you don’t need to? If ever there was near perfection in the use of footwork to stalk an opponent and force a fight into the real estate areas beneficial to throwing hard, basic combinations, it’s Kelly Pavlik that exemplifies that perfection. This is actually beginning to look like Pavlik is a poster boy for what the true meaning of “sweet science” really is, isn’t it?

If you have a “money punch”, use it. Do not assume that using it often will devalue its worth. This is basic stuff. This is using your wits. This is bringing the elements of the sweet science together in a way that can help you close the show. And Kelly Pavlik has a right hand that should be called the “widow maker”. Jab, jab, right! Jab, jab, good night! Pavlik’s straight right is one of the best in the business and one of the hardest punches in the business. Using all of your basic technique to position yourself for the straight right when it is a “money punch” for the ages, is sweet science personified. And the chalk marks are nearly complete on the checklist of what you are seeing when this sweet scientist goes to work.

Finish what you started! If fighters like Whitaker and Malignaggi were around during the dreadful era known as the “no decision period”, Whitaker’s record would be 17-4-1 with 24 “no decisions”. Malignaggi’s record would be a remarkably dreadful 5-1 with 18 “no decisions”. In the days of “last man standing” the record of these fighters would have been 17-4 and 5-1 respectively – pitiful to be sure. In fact, in the days of “no decision” and “last man standing” these two ballerinas of the ring would likely have never even been noticed. Don’t get me wrong. The defensive genius of Whitaker is about the best the history of the sport has ever offered up; but it is incomplete without being able to finish what one started. Finishing what he started is the icing on the cake for Pavlik. He is a fighter who would be well known no matter the historical era of the sport. The “no decision” and “last man standing” eras be damned. His trademark is finishing a bout like few have the skills to do.

This special young man named Kelly Pavlik has the rangy skills of Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns and the killer instinct of “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler rolled into one. Can you see what a near total package Pavlik really is? Can you see that no matter the era in boxing, if you were to look for a practitioner of the sweet science, Pavlik would fit in? Can you see that executing fundamental technique better than only opponent is something special? Now stand up and waive the American flag and for this homegrown boxing purist who has stormed the stage. Damn! I feel like breaking out in song, “Oh say can you see…?”

Article posted on 07.02.2008

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