Kelly Pavlik - This White Guy Can Fight
By Steve Kim (May 22, 2007)
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Kelly Pavlik was a bit tired when he got back home to Youngstown, Ohio on Sunday afternoon.
"Yeah, I'm a little banged up today," he would admit. "I think I got into a fight or something."
He ain't kidding. The night before, at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN, he would engage in an entertaining slugfest with fellow middleweight contender Edison Miranda that preceded the night’s walk-out bout between Jermain Taylor and Cory Spinks.
As promised, 'The Ghost' would come right out and bully the bully, stepping right into the hard-punching Colombian and over-powering him with his vast array of punches and out-classing him with his superior technique. The fight started quickly, with both men hurling leather, and rounds one, three and five were among the best in 2007. With the expected snoozer to follow, the crowd enjoyed every bit of the action they witnessed.
It was the storm before the coma.
"During the fight, mainly I just wanted to stick to the gameplan. All the training, as you throw all those punches, you say, 'I hope I don't get tired'. But we didn't. Yeah, you hear the crowd and everybody getting into it but you gotta stay in your own little world in that ring and stick to your gameplan," Pavlik would say of the heated affair.
At the end of round six he would floor Miranda twice with an onslaught of sharp punches that left 'Pantera' battered and bruised. Spitting out his mouthpiece only delayed the inevitable - and perhaps led to an even worse fate - as he was avalanched by a swarming Pavlik. As he hit the deck for a third time in the seventh, referee Steve Smoger had no choice but to wave off the fight.
The win would move his mark to 31-0 with 28 KOs, and firmly entrenched him as the world’s top middleweight contender. But coming into the contest, many wondered why Pavlik was thrown in against the hot Miranda.
"A lot of people didn't believe that Kelly could deal with it, but we did," said his manager Cameron Dunkin, who has deftly moved his professional career from the onset in 2000. "And we took the fight, we believed and it turned out good."
Dunkin believes that Pavlik, who took some solid shots, made the fight more difficult than need be.
"It could've been an easier fight if he would've fought smarter at times," he would say. "We were expecting a tough, grueling, fight, but as I look at the fight, I'm sitting there watching it, Kelly could've made it so easy and I was shocked how good he really is. I've always believed in him and I always told people he was going to be special. But I was surprised at how good he really is."
Many wondered why the 6'3 Pavlik, with the wingspan of a 747, would hang in the pocket with the heavy-handed Miranda. But for Pavlik, it was all part of his blueprint.
"Me and my dad sat there, actually, we watched the fight and soon as I got in and there were some things," he admitted of his errors. "But the game plan we had worked perfectly. We wanted to keep him going backwards, which we did. We didn't want to be on the outside and get caught with one of them wild, looping right hands. But then again, sometime, in the middle rounds when you start getting a little tired, instead of staying in there with my head, I think we could've gotten a little more bounce on my feet and jabbed a little bit more and countered a little bit more.
"But that's something we gotta go back and work on and go over the film and study it."
For Pavlik and Co. this win was more than just about securing a title shot at Taylor - who would decision Spinks later that evening - it was about changing a stereotype/skepticism that exists with white fighters from the Midwest.
This white guy showed he can fight (a lot).
"I think I had to prove it," said the 25-year old native of Youngstown. "And I think that is behind us now. I think the world knows I'm legit." Pavlik would then point out that other world champions that have his complexion, like Wladimir Klitschko, Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler. But what makes Pavlik unusual is that he hails from the United States. Which in the 21st century is a rarity.
And those who have handled his career have had to fight the perception that this wasn't just another built-up 'white hope' or a boxer to be used as cannon fodder.
"Well, forget Ohio, if you say you have a white fighter, they immediately say, 'He can't fight'. Doesn't matter if he's from New York City or Philadelphia, wouldn't matter. So you're always going to live with that. But y'know what? A lot of that's true and I'm not going to sit here and argue that it's not- because it is" says Dunkin (who, by the way, is
Caucasian himself), laughing at the subject. But Dunkin, who is one of the best bird-dogs in the industry, knew he signed a blue-chip prospect coming out of the amateurs. "BUT, BUT, a kid like this, he's special and you can see it. We saw it back at 'The Orleans' against Eric Olds (whom he brutally knocked out in 2002). So we knew years ago that the kid had something special."
This win was particular vindication for his promoter Bob Arum, who a few years ago, when he suggested that Pavlik would be an ideal prospect to feature underneath Bernard Hopkins, was basically scoffed at by the HBO brass.
"The topic was what we can do to improve and get people more interested in boxing, a plan," Arum would recall of that meeting at the network’s offices. "I kept hitting on Kelly Pavlik, I said, 'This is the kind of kid that the whole country can get behind' and they were laughing. But I wouldn't say I was laughed out of the office; it was greeted with general hysteria."
Arum adds: "Let's be honest about it, white kids from the Midwest are not received as being really serious class-A fighters. They come in very often as road kill, to build up records and nobody takes them seriously. What I was saying is this kid is different and I couldn't convince anybody because he was white and from the Midwest."
But this snub was actually beneficial in the long-term development of Pavlik as a fledgling prospect. It gave Top Rank and Dunkin the free reign to pick and chose their bouts and to keep him as active as possible. Only chronic hand ailments have slowed his progress in the past.
"Are you kidding!?!? Are you kidding!?!?," said a nearly incredulous Arum, "that was the greatest blessing because we were able to put Kelly in fights which we felt there was a reason for. Either to build up his confidence or to build his ability to face certain fighters. Or to do it the Bruce Trampler (Top Rank's respected matchmaker) way and we didn't have to listen to programmers who said, 'No, put him with this guy, not that guy,' when there was no real reason. I mean, maybe it was better for a rating but certainly not to build a fighter. You have to have complete freedom to build a fighter.
"You saw how, I believe Kelly Pavlik right now is a more complete fighter than Jermain Taylor."
Before coming into this weekend, Pavlik was thought to have been too green and untested to face a fighter of Miranda's ilk. But while he didn't have any real eye-opening victories, he was allowed to sharpen his tools with the likes of Ross Thompson, Dorian Beaupierre, Fulgencio Zuniga, Bronco McKart, Lenord Pierre and Jose Luis Zertuche. Not 'Murderers Row', but an appropriate progression.
"They always said he hadn't fought anybody or anything, but those were all developmental fights that I think make him a better fighter in the long run," said his manager, who's guided a host of world champions. "And I've done that with Diego Corrales, I did it with Danny Romero, I did it with all my guys. And I believe in those fights. And when you're on HBO and you're making $30,000 for a fight, it's hard to tell a kid, 'Look, you're going to take this fight for $3,500, but it's a good learning experience and it keeps you busy and you need to fight eight, ten times a year. Instead of two. You can be better one day.'
"And it's really hard to develop a guy with that kind of money and then wanting to fight on HBO. I think it did help Kelly. And I think it'll help all fighters to be developed the right way."
And now, they have a fighter that is among the most popular in the sport with his two-fisted, all-action style. It’s a style that resonates with every demographic.
"Now hopefully people get past the fact of the white part of it and just see that I'm a great fighter, overall," Pavlik would state. And it seems that he is getting a new found respect from the public. "Actually, last night at the hotel we went on the internet and pulled up some things and there were a lot of comments and it's a shame that it took this fight. I've been out there trying to explain when people would interview me that the guys I fought were rugged fighters - just not Miranda. But Zertuche, Zuniga, these are rugged fighters that are tough."
With this recent conquest, he now puts himself in line for Taylor's WBC title. He's made it clear he wants him next. But the real question is, will he be accommodated by the other side?
"That's a great question," said Pavlik, chuckling. "I guess if the money is right, like he keeps saying. I don't know how much he's going to get but I know I want a good amount. But no, I would love to fight him. He is the world champion, he has the name and that's who I want to fight. But if not, then at least I can sit there and say I made the world champion run up a weight class or he didn't want to take the chance to fight me. So there's always good and bad with that.
"But I think if the money is right and they're offering the right amount of money - which I think is the only way they're going to take it."
Arum was on the phone with the WBC on Monday afternoon.
"Jose Sulaiman stood up like a man. He said, 'Jermain Taylor must fight Kelly Pavlik in his next fight or give up the title.' No ifs, no ands and no buts. He must fight him," stated Arum.
But there seems to be a power struggle going on between Taylor's promoter of record, Lou DiBella, and his advisor, Al Haymon, who many believe really calls the shots. It'll be interesting to see if all the parties involved with Taylor will pull in the same direction. Or engage in a tug-of-war over him.
Arum believes though that the promoter is willing to make the fight.
"Will Lou DiBella? Yeah. I mean, absolutely, that's the fight Lou DiBella wants," said Arum, believing that Taylor's approval rating currently is perhaps lower than the President’s. "Because after that performance by Jermain Taylor, Jermain Taylor needs Kelly Pavlik more than Kelly Pavlik needs Jermain Taylor. Because who's going to take Jermain Taylor seriously against anybody else, other than Kelly Pavlik? Particularly since they've opted not to go to Wales to fight Calzaghe at 168. So what are they going to do? Fight some other jerk?"
Well, they've run out of junior middleweights.
"So the answer is they can't do it if they got a viable fighter."
Arum says that at DiBella's request he has put a hold on the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas for September 22nd. Now, if this fight can be consummated, will it be on HBO or pay-per-view?
"My feeling is that I would not hesitate to do it on pay-per-view because I really believe that Pavlik is really hot," answered Arum. "But, if they came up with the appropriate amount, HBO, even though I can make more doing it on pay-per-view, I would opt to go on HBO. And why? Well, because I'm still a minority partner in this promotion because the other guy is the champion and it's to my benefit to get this fight seen by the most possible people. Because I believe my guy is going to win and therefore I'll more than make up for it in his future fights."
If he would beat Taylor, he could have another marquee attraction from Youngstown, following in the glorious footsteps of Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini, who Arum represented in the '80's.
"I think it's bigger than 'Boom Boom'. I think Ray was still just a lightweight and the middleweight division, you get a great middleweight, a middleweight that is putting people away, a middleweight who fights like the old middleweights did and you got yourself a real commodity," said Arum, who once promoted the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler. "What's messed up the middleweight division are guys who come in and pose, defensive fighters and that type of thing and you don't see the raw brutality that you used to in the middleweight division when you had Marvin, Tommy Hearns, and before that Bennie Briscoe and Rodrigo Valdez and Carlos Monzon. I mean, the middleweights were like killers.
"Kelly Pavlik brings back those old days."
Also the Buckeye state could also be a box-office bonanza for Pavlik and Top Rank.
"I think he's going to want to fight at home," Dunkin would say of his charge. "I don't know if it's the next fight but I think it's just going to be crazy there. And I'm not blowing smoke when I say 15,000. But that's probably what's in store."
"The problem with Youngstown," explained Arum, "is that it has a relatively small arena- and I would be prepared - I want to go to Ohio, to go to Cleveland, Columbus, places like that. Because I believe that in order to build a guy and to build boxing you do as few fights in a casino setting as possible."
And to keep him active.
"Absolutely, positively," crowed Arum, enthusiastically. "Look, I'm an old dog and I'm going with what worked for me in the past. Kelly Pavlik is going to fight at least four times a year and he's the kind of kid that you can pay him multi-millions for one fight and a lot less for another fight just to keep busy. And that's what he's going to do.
"I really believe that if we fight Jermain Taylor, beat Jermain Taylor, we're on our way. Kelly Pavlik will be the number one attraction in boxing."
But for now, Pavlik will get some rest from his eventful weekend before getting back to the gym.
"Depending on when they get the fight scheduled, maybe in a month, if it's quicker than expected, maybe three weeks," he would tell Maxboxing. "But as of now, I'll sit with my daughter, play with her, work around the house, golf. Things like that. Break my golf clubs because I stink."
Wow, this white guy can't golf. How 'bout that?
HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY
Did anyone notice the big blood stain left on Arum's blazer as he hugged Pavlik after his win on Saturday night?
"The maid’s going to take it out," said Arum, who didn't seem to mind the blemish. "Maybe I'll keep it for a souvenir."
He looked almost as joyful as he did when Michael Carbajal dramatically stopped Humberto 'Chiquita' Gonzalez in their 1993 classic. But Arum says, "The last fight I was this happy was when George Foreman beat Moorer."
I thought Larry Merchant was a bit unfair to referee Steve Smoger in his handling of the Miranda knockdowns and the subsequent delays after he spit out the mouthpiece.
I agree with Merchant, it's a terrible rule, there should be no timeouts in boxing and it gives an unfair advantage to the fighter who does this. However, that is way the rule is currently implemented and Smoger's job is to play by the rules, not make up his own as he goes along.
But they do need to change the rule, in my opinion, so that when this happens, a fighter must go the rest of the round without his gumshield and the point is taken away after the round.
But Merchant's post-fight interview with Taylor is exactly why he shouldn't be going anywhere but to his next fight for HBO.
I'm sure by now everyone read the press release where Miranda would talk of his problems getting down to 160 and how he will be moving up to super middleweight. I think those reasons are very valid and 'Pantera' should still be a fan-favorite because of his fun style and willingness to take on all-comers.
However, it has to be mentioned that making the middleweight limit is no picnic for Pavlik, who went through the usual gamut in cutting weight during the final days in Memphis prior to the weigh-in. I think one of the reasons he doesn't use his legs to box from the outside is that making 160 takes out some of the vitality and stoutness in his legs. So he simply stays inside a bit more and bangs it out.
I think his best days are at super middleweight, when he can really fill out his tall frame and get his legs back fully. Pavlik, in my opinion, will be a fighter that will carry his punching power up in the future.