Pavlik, Taylor Set For Battle

jermain taylorMatthew Hurley: As boxing fans and insiders continue to debate on who will win the upcoming rematch between Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor two trains of thought seem to be the most prevalent. Either Taylor is a spent bullet and the naturally bigger Pavlik will make shorter work of him this time around or that the fires that once burned so fiercely in Taylor’s gut, which led him to the middleweight title, have been reignited by his first loss and he will gain revenge on his one time conqueror.

It appears the majority of the press is banking heavily on a Pavlik victory and the Vegas odds have instilled him at – 200 to Taylor’s + 160. But don’t mention any of that to Taylor promoter Lou DiBella.

“They’re very confident,” he says of the Pavlik camp. “I understand their confidence, but it seems a little bit to me like they’re bordering on cockiness and maybe a little bit of insulting, sort of undertone. They’re entitled to do that, but I think maybe if they look back on that last fight, they’ll remember a second round where the fight could easily have ended, and we’d be talking very differently.”

DiBella and camp Taylor have been harping on that second round, in which Pavlik hit the canvas and was buzzed badly, but the fact remains that Jermain let his opportunity slip away and Kelly regrouped quickly and then proceeded to walk his man down. Taylor continued to put up a tremendous effort, in fact his performance reminded people just how exciting a fighter he can be, but after that brief moment of violent success he was never in command of the bout again. Although the scorecards had Taylor ahead at the time of the stoppage even Taylor admits he was gassed after desperately trying to stop his opponent.

At every press conference Taylor offers a quick preamble that he is not a fighter to make excuses. Then he goes on to do just that, but any fighter worth his salt who experiences defeat for the first time looks to place blame somewhere. If there was nothing to blame then, in the fighter’s mind, there is nothing to fix. Jermain has convinced himself that problems in his training camp for the first fight led to his downfall. From not sparing enough to miscommunication with then trainer Emanuel Steward to taking Pavlik lightly, the former champ is convinced that he can adjust and become a more complete package.

The issue of the 166 pound weight limit has also been called into question. Why would Taylor insist, in the original contract, for a weight stipulation that would seem to favor the naturally bigger Pavlik? Taylor claims that had he beaten Pavlik the first time around he would have moved up anyway because 160 pounds was much too difficult to hit and remain strong. Former trainer Steward politely disagrees that Taylor had trouble making the weight or that he was not properly focused for the first fight. Now that Taylor has instilled mentor Ozell Nelson as his head trainer Steward, who will work the pay-per-view telecast, can be more analytical about the fight than certainly DiBella can. In an interview with writer Steve Kim, Steward talked of the weight situation, which he, like most people, believes favors Pavlik, taking an immediate rematch when most felt a tune-up would be the smarter course of action and Taylor’s chances at revenge.

“There could be a slight problem with (Taylor’s) chin,” he said. “But the thing Jermain’s got going for him is, maybe it’s a little soon, but I think Jermain is desperate and determined and a desperate and determined man is really dangerous. Don’t underestimate that because he’s fighting for his whole region (Arkansas). I never saw a guy with so much popularity in his hometown turn against him.”

Indeed the situation with his fan base shocked the sensitive fighter, but the turnabout didn’t result from the Pavlik defeat. It came on the heels of his draw with Winky Wright and his lackluster showing against junior middleweight Cory Spinks. If anything the Pavlik loss garnered fan approval from his once loyal contingent because not only was he exciting again but he went out on his shield as befitting a noble warrior.

It should be viewed upon by boxing fans that Taylor’s decision to take an immediate rematch against a guy who left him semi-conscious on the mat is one which defines his championship mettle. Taylor wasn’t interested in a tune-up fight because, as he said at the press conferences leading up to Saturday’s showdown, he showed in that second round that Pavlik is beatable – at least in his mind.

“I had him gone,” he laments. “I had the boy out on his feet but he came back. I think about that all the time. I ran out of gas. If I had trained harder, had better sparing… But it is what it is. It’s all about revenge now.”

After the first fight many also felt that Taylor’s confidence was shot. Taylor’s icy demeanor before fights masks a genuinely sensitive person and oftentimes when an athlete’s cloak of invincibility is stripped away he will either level off in terms of performance or will remain damaged goods for the remainder of his career. A shaky mindset will nearly always prove disastrous in the ring but Taylor insists that is not the case with him.

“A lot of people have said to me, ‘why don’t you take a tune-up (fight)’ and get your confidence back. I don’t need a tune-up to get my confidence back, I never lost my confidence. I can beat Kelly Pavlik.”

Jermain also acknowledges that the affection his fans have shown him in the wake of the loss cushioned the emotional blow. It was their communal embrace that relieved any lingering doubts he may have had immediately following the loss of his middleweight belts.

“I choose to do this rematch because I want to beat the guy who beat me. That’s what the fans want to see.”

The guy that beat him has remained stoic and unimpressed with all the luxuries that becoming a champion has afforded him. Pavlik’s demeanor hasn’t changed one iota since winning the middleweight championship. He remains very much the hometown kid who did good and because of the economic plight of his hometown of Youngstown he understands and appreciates his new found fame and relative importance despite the fact that it sometimes makes the humble fighter uncomfortable.

“Jermain deserves this rematch,” he said at a press conference earlier this week. “I was surprised he wanted it at first but then you look at the guys he fought, longtime champ Bernard Hopkins, Winky Wright who was still pound-for-pound one of the best, so of course he took the fight. I know he is going to be in the best possible shape so I can’t take anything for granted. It took me seven long years to get here; I’m not giving anything up after all that. You’re going to see a continuation of the seventh round and I’m coming out with a ‘W’. Knockout or decision, I’m coming out with a ‘W’.”

Pavlik’s quiet reserve is a refreshing antidote to all the egocentric athletes who can only speak of themselves in the third person, as if they’re standing back and admiring their own presence. Boxing has many such characters and many of them never live up to their pre-fight boasts. But Pavlik’s quiet dignity reminds one of the old proverb of ‘walk softly but carry a big stick.’” And his devastating right hand is one helluva stick.

Whatever happens on Saturday night both fighters should be commended for providing fans with what should be an exciting night of boxing. As Bob Arum mentioned at the final press conference, “What a great sport boxing is. We’ve got past generations like Harry Arroyo, Ray Mancini and Tommy Hearns (who were in attendance) and now great athletes like Jermain and Kelly so boxing has a continuity to it that rivals any other sport. We should be proud. We’re a great sport populated by great people.”

Article posted on 15.02.2008

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