By Anthony Coleman: The names and faces are the same, but virtually everything else has changed. From the location (Atlantic City’s Boardwalk to Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay), the broadcast format (HBO free cable to PPV) and the weight class everything has a feel of difference for the rematch between Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik. Most shockingly, for an immediate rematch of a previous title fight, Pavlik’s Middleweight crown he won from Taylor last September will not be on the line Saturday Night. Oh no, there are three reasons why this rematch is taking place tomorrow night.:
The first is that Lou Dibella (Taylor’s promoter) put a stipulation in the contract that allowed Taylor the option of forcing an immediate rematch with Pavlik if he were to lose. The second is obviously for money as both Pavlik and Taylor are going to make millions for this confrontation. But most importantly this rematch is taking place because of Taylor’s personal pride.
He came very close to stopping Pavlik in the second round in their first fight, but then couldn’t close the show, allowed his challenger to get back into the fight and then got stopped in the seventh. For a man who had heard persistent criticism from the public about him being an underachiever, overrated, and a fraud (admittedly all comments that I called him in the past), it must have hurt his pride to have given his detractors something to boast about. He goes into this fight with more to prove than Pavlik and because another brutal loss could signal the end of his elite status, there is a good chance that he will come into the fight more focused this time around.
Yet the question is this: can he pull off the upset? We will get a definite answer tomorrow night, but if you wonder who I’m picking in this fight I’ll give you the answer: I like Pavlik again by knockout and once you realize all the advantages he has going for him, I think you’ll understand why.
In terms of athletic ability it is pretty clear to me that Jermain Taylor is obviously the most gifted of the two prize fighters. He has the superior handspeed and excellent reflexes for a man of his size. He also has better foot speed than Pavlik. However, besides athletic ability that is Taylor’s lone asset over Pavlik. Everything other trait is either equal or goes in Pavlik’s favor.
In terms of chin, I think it is about even money. We’ve seen Pavlik take huge shots from Edison Miranda, but then he was nearly KO’d by Taylor in their first fight. It is hard for me to really judge the quality of his chin based on his fights. Maybe he was lulled into a false sense of security going into the Taylor fight. Taylor’s chin never impressed me because it had never been tapped by a real puncher and he was buzzed badly by Hopkins three times in the late rounds in their first fight. When he finally got taken out by Pavlik last year, I’m more inclined to say that his chin isn’t bad seeing that he took quite a few hard shots, but it isn’t Hagler-esque either.
In terms of punching power, Pavlik obviously has the clear unquestioned advantage. He is one of the best puncher’s in the sport and as I mentioned in my year end awards article, Pavlik’s KO percentage is superior to every Middleweight champion in history excluding upper-tier all time great KO artists Gerald McClellan and Stanley Ketchel. However, at 160 pounds I, like many, consider him to be more of a grind them out puncher than a true KO artist. He doesn’t possess the combination of speed and power that Thomas Hearns had and used to set up his decapitations. His power comes from his balance and strength. If I were to compare his power it would be that of Alexis Arguello. Like Arguello, he was able to take out his opponents from time to time with one punch, most of his stoppages were set up by hurting their opponents early with one shot (like Pavlik did to Dorian Beaupierre in ’05), landing more power shots to his opponent that stuns them every time they land (like in the later rounds in last year’s fight with Jose Luis Zertuche) and then putting them away. On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate his punching power a 9 and I rate Taylor’s power as 6 or a 7.
However, what really separates Pavlik from Taylor is their punching technique in which Pavlik blows Taylor out of the water. Pavlik throws very straight and crisp punches, while Taylor’s punches are very wide and looping. For comparison look at both men’s right crosses.
Pavlik has perhaps the best right cross in boxing, and part of its effectiveness comes from how the way he uncorks it. He throws the punch directly from his chin and it lands on his opponent’s chin. It is absolutely straight and it is howitzer-like in its accuracy. On the other hand, Taylor’s right cross leaves a lot to be desired. He corks back his elbow right before it is released and because of that, it loops and he misses his intended target.
Defensively, while both have their flaws, I still think that Pavlik is better at avoiding incoming fire. While he shows lapses in his defensive game, he also has shown that when he is focused he can parry and block punches. As for Jermain, he has two huge defensive liabilities.
The first comes from when he throws a right cross. Before he throws it, he cocks his fist straight back then releases it. It is a signal to his opponent that he is throwing it, and most fighters know that at that moment they should throw their jab. But the biggest defensive flaw comes from the fact that he holds his left arm so low after jabbing and his head is so far in front that he is in line to get hit by a right cross virtually all the time. That is the exact reason why Pavlik was able to land so many right crosses all night long in their first bout. Look for him to do the same tomorrow night.
Finally, in regards to in-ring intelligence, I think this maybe the area in which Pavlik has the biggest advantages. While I don’t consider him the equivalent to Muhammad Ali or Willie Pepe in regards to intelligence, he has shown that he comes into his fights with intense focus and he knows how to study their weaknesses before he heads into the ring. In his fight with Edison Miranda, he came into the ring with the intent of backing him straight back, staying inside of his looping shots and kept pounding away before he brutally stopped him in the seventh round.
As for Taylor, I’ve said this once and I don’t mean to anger his fans but I’ll say it again; he is a boxing idiot. He constantly backs himself onto the ropes even though he can’t fight off of them at all. He can’t do that most basic combination in all of boxing (the jab+ right cross) without the punches being wide. He doesn’t know how to counterpunch effectively, and he doesn’t do a good job of effectively judging the distance with his jab (despite it being very hard and fast). Plus I’ve never seen him fight well inside. In terms of Boxing IQ, Taylor is a Forrest Gump.
I like Pavlik by a fourth or fifth round stoppage. I think that once again that Pavlik is going to dominate the outside by landing and timing his jab followed by his sledgehammer of a right cross. Taylor will make a go into the ring and give it his best, but his inferior skill and boxing intelligence will once again be his downfall. No matter what the outcome is on Saturday night I’m sure of one thing: it’ll be another great fight.