It was 14 years ago today when Youngstown hero Kelly Pavlik crushed heavy betting favorite Jermain Taylor to take the world middleweight crown. Pavlik, who overcame a rocky second round, showed heart and sheer determination, to say nothing of ruthless punching power, in coming back to ruin the man known as “Bad Intentions” in the seventh-round. Pavlik seemed set for a long reign as champion.
Tall for the weight at a little over the 6’2″ mark, possessing a long reach, and having both raw power and a good chin, Pavlik, a real blue-collar warrior, had earned his shot at the world title the hard way; seeing off quality operators such as Fulgencio Zuniga, Bronco McKart, Jose Luis Zertuche and Edison Miranda. An impressive 31-0 by the time he challenged the undefeated Taylor, Pavlik had all of Youngstown on his side. “The Ghost” didn’t let his vast army of fans down.
Pavlik had been hurt in a couple of previous fights, knocked down as he had been by Zuniga and McKart, and the valuable experience served Pavlik well in the big fight. With over 6,000 hometown fans roaring him on, Pavlik sensationally stopped Taylor. What we know now is, Pavlik had peaked as a fighter. Just one title retention followed; this a KO win over Gary Lockett. Pavlik also defeated Taylor in a return, up at a catch-weight two pounds under the super-middleweight limit, with Pavlik winning on points.
Then came Pavlik’s date with destiny: his non-title showdown with Bernard Hopkins. Looking back today, this was a fight Pavlik never should have taken; it was certainly a fight he didn’t have to take. The amazing Hopkins schooled Pavlik over the course of 12 painful rounds (painful for Pavlik and his fans), and the phycological damage was done. Simply put, Pavlik was never the same fighter again.
But Pavlik was still the world middleweight king. Pavlik came back in February of 2009, just four months after the loss to Hopkins, but it was clear Pavlik was not the same force he had been. That said, Pavlik showed heart and some passion in taking emerging star Sergio Martinez the distance in April of 2010, losing his belts via pretty close unanimous decision (Martinez going on to crush Paul Williams, who Pavlik had been in negotiations to fight at one point).
The Martinez fight was Pavlik’s last big fight. In fact, Pavlik, though still only 30, retired from the sport after four relatively low-key wins. Pavlik, by then, had, of course, suffered from a battle with alcoholism while he had been suffering from seizures. Pavlik made the tough decision to walk away – and he made his retirement stick.
So how great was Pavlik? For a time, the fast, powerful and exciting warrior from Ohio looked as though he was closing in on greatness. In fact, who knows what might have been, what scales Pavlik might have reached had he not made the bad decision to fight Hopkins? Pavlik, who was beaten just twice and was never stopped, made his mark on the sport, no doubt. But it’s likely most fans look at Pavlik today as a very, very good fighter, not a great.
What do YOU think?