Kelly Pavlik, the blue-collar banger from Youngstown, Ohio defends his WBC and WBO middleweight titles this Saturday night against WBC no3 contender, Californian Miguel Angel Espino (20 – 2, 9 ko´s) at the Beeghly Centre in Pavlik´s hometown of Youngstown. Pavlik (35-1, 31 ko´s) hasn’t fought since his 9 round retirement win of Marco Antonio Rubio back in February.
He developed an infection in his left hand that resulted in him being out of the ring for ten months and twice having to cancel what would have been his big fight of 2009 against the dangerous Paul Williams. Pavlik is currently one of the biggest home grown stars in American boxing. He needs to look good against Espino. Fans still remember all too clearly the boxing lesson he was given by Bernard Hopkins in a super-middleweight bout in 2008. Prior to the Hopkins fight, Pavlik had looked unstoppable. He was, and hopefully still is that rarity in modern American boxing, a white guy who can actually fight!
As a young contender, Pavlik tore through the middleweight division, scoring 29 straight wins, 26 inside the distance. He was then matched in a WBC title eliminator for a shot at Jermain Taylor´s world crown against Colombian Edison ´´El Pantera“( The Panther) Miranda . Miranda all muscle and attitude, was 28 – 1 with 24 ko´s going into the fight with Pavlik. His only setback had been a controversial point’s loss to Arthur Abraham for the IBF middleweight title in 2007. In 2006 Miranda became the only man to kayo Britain’s tough Howard Eastman.
In his biggest test so far, Pavlik bossed Miranda, dominating throughout before putting the Colombian away in the seventh. The result proved beyond any doubt; Kelly Pavlik was the real deal, and to use a well worn cliché, a ´´throwback“ fighter.
Pavlik has a simple but highly effective style. His main weapons are his battering ram left jab, and his pulverizing straight right. He will use those two blows in a one-two combination relentlessly in a fight. He is freakishly tall for a middleweight at just under 6¨3´´. He is super fit, and resolutely tough, in a way that brings to mind memories of Tony Zale. The bottom line is that in an era of trash talking, preening pretty boys, Kelly Pavlik is an old school ´´warrior.“ You will never hear Pavlik talk with anything less than respect for an opponent. Not for him the vomit inducing trash-talk of a Floyd Mayweather or a James Toney.
Going into his title shot against Taylor, Pavlik was slight underdog. Taylor had looked mighty impressive in doing the unthinkable and taking Bernard Hopkin´s undisputed world middleweight from him, becoming the first man to beat Hopkins in twelve years, and then repeating the feat five moths later. But Taylor looked less than impressive in subsequent defenses against Wnky Wright (d12), Kasim Ouma (w12) and Corey Spinks (sd12).
After a cautious opening round, Taylor decided to seize his opportunity, and went on the attack. A barrage of punches floored Pavlik, who jumped back up without taking a count but was obviously hurt. With 90 seconds still on the clock, Taylor tore into him. For a few crucial seconds as Taylor cut loose and had Pavlik reeling around the ring on shaky legs, referee Steve Smoger could have stopped the fight but chose to let it continue. Pavlik survived the round, and slowly took control of the contest. In the seventh a series of Pavlik one-two´s trapped Taylor in a corner. A barrage of blows culminating in one last jackhammer right finished Taylor off, giving the 25 year old Pavlik and the depression hit town of Youngstown the world middleweight title.
Not wanting to rest on his laurels, he beat Taylor a second time five moths later, this time by a unanimous decision. He followed that up with a third round knockout of Welshman Garry Locket, and then came the shock loss to Hopkins.
I could easily write a whole article on that fight, but let’s just say that Hopkins was masterful that night, and he exposed Pavlik´s limitations. The Pavlik brain-trust no doubt thought that Hopkins at 43 and of the back of a loss to Joe Calzaghe was ready to be taken into camp. How wrong they were! Hopkins was a sensation and didn’t lose a round. The good thing for Pavlik is that he is unlikely to ever fight anyone as cagey as Bernard Hopkins again. On a positive note; Pavlik was back in the ring just four months later stopping Mexican veteran Marco Antonio Rubio in nine.
The infection to his left hand resulted in his fight with Paul Williams being cancelled. So now a healthy Pavlik defends against Miguel Angel Espino. Although ranked 3rd by the WBC, Espino is not prominent in any other world rankings, and receives a lowly ranking of 46th by boxrec.com. His highest profile fight was a loss to Peter Manfredo Jr in the 2005 series of the US reality TV show The Contender. He is unlikely to pose Pavlik too much of a threat.
The reason for such a lengthy article on a fighter who might not be too well known to UK fight fans is this: if Kelly Pavlik hits a hot streak and starts to look sensational again, he will be the fighter everyone will want a piece of. All roads will lead to Pavlik. If you think a Paquiao v Pavlik or a Mayweather v Pavlik fight is the stuff of fantasy, think again. Money talks in boxing, and for examples of fighters who have climbed the divisions to challenge for the middleweight title think Henry Armstrong, Roberto Duran and Oscar De La Hoya. Mayweather has already held the WBC junior-middleweight crown. If he gets past Pacquiao, Pavlik will be his only option.
And If you think that a Kelly Pavlik v David Haye is an impossibility, hear this; Pavlik has already stated that he wants to box at heavyweight one day. Height-wise there is only half an inch between them, and Roy Jones proved in recent years that a middleweight can beat a heavyweight. It wont happen tomorrow, but if both Pavlik and Haye keep winning, and Pavlik starts to climb the divisions, it will be a certainty. WBC super-middleweight champion Carl Froch will surely have one eye on the Pavlik result this weekend.
Boxing, and particularly American boxing, needs Kelly Pavlik. He can do himself a power of good by putting on an impressive display on Saturday night. I´m looking for him to do just that; Pavlik to win inside five rounds.
Big Fight odds; Pavlik 1/20, Espino 9/1 bet365