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31 JULY 2014

 




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Kelly Pavlik Attempts To Regroup


Hopkins gets the spoils: HoganPhotos.com
Hopkins gets the spoils: HoganPhotos.com

By Matthew Hurley: The accolades Bernard Hopkins is now receiving for his master class performance against Kelly Pavlik are all warranted. The wily old veteran proved most of us wrong yet again. In retrospect the stylistic match up should have evened up the odds a bit – Hopkins has always excelled against straight ahead bangers – but even we Monday morning quarterbacks are still scratching our heads in bewilderment at what this physical and fistic marvel is capable of inside the ring at forty-three years of age.

He’s a wizard, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gandalf in an executioner’s mask. You think he’s finally dead and buried and then he sneaks back into the mix and disarms the latest young gun on the prairie. He’s a ring genius, an all time great who would fit in comfortably in any era. What more can be said?

And then there is the victim of that insane brilliance. In this most recent case it was a young kid from Youngstown, Ohio who had, and still has, all the makings of one of boxing’s new rising stars. As the aging elite of boxing have entered their twilight years fight fans have been looking for new burgeoning stars to take their place. Kelly Pavlik represents everything a true boxing fan has been searching for – blue collar, hard punching, humble and willing to step in the ring with anyone. The kid had it all in the palm of his hand until he ran into a veteran who could expose all of the faults and fissures in this young lion’s game. And Hopkins himself dubbed Kelly a young lion whom he admired.

Pavlik and his camp, including Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, did not want the Hopkins fight. They knew it could turn into an ugly affair. Pavlik was surging, a cross over star in the making. They didn’t need or want a cagey tactician with a granite jaw and a propensity for making even the best fighters in the game look bad make this middleweight meal ticket stumble through a boring decision victory. They took the bout because Hopkins was a big name and there was no one else out there to fight. They also took it because they never truly believed that Hopkins, who looked so tired at the end of his bout with Joe Calzaghe, could possibly beat the twenty-six year old punching machine.

Very few did, and Hopkins loved it. He didn’t have to sell this fight with his penchant for controversial sound bites. It was all about whether or not the young stud would put the old horse out to pasture. Hopkins was fine with all of that. A more sedate Hopkins in the weeks leading up to the opening bell we have not seen.

And then he schooled the kid.

Despite Pavlik’s recent impressive string of victories it should be noted that he had only gone past nine rounds once and that was in his over-the-middleweight limit rematch with Jermain Taylor. In that fight Taylor employed a more tactical approach and Pavlik was unable to double up on the jab, a weapon he needs in order to cloak the right hand bomb behind it. He proved his grit and determination in the final rounds when he chose to switch his attack to the body. The decision victory and Kelly’s somewhat uninspired performance led some to believe that not only did Taylor create a blueprint for fighting Pavlik but that Kelly was slightly uncomfortable fighting above one hundred and sixty pounds. Hopkins obviously studied that fight very closely and Kelly would admit after the fight that he just couldn’t double up on the jab. It nullified his right hand and there is no fighter out there better at nullifying his opponent’s greatest strength than Bernard Hopkins.

There was also the Trinidad factor. It’s generally accepted that Hopkins reached his peak, or his first of many peaks, against Felix Trinidad in 2001 when, as an underdog, he dominated the Puerto Rican icon, stopping him in the twelfth round. Pavlik is very much like Trinidad in his approach. Where Trinidad had the left hook Pavlik has the right hand but both men are straight ahead fighters who need to set their feet before they unload. Hopkins feasts on fighters with shaky footwork, never allowing them to position themselves to gain optimum leverage. In both the Trinidad and Pavlik fights Hopkins made these two power punchers appear completely lost as they meandered after a target that seemed to be right there in front of them but was nearly unhittable. As frustration mounted both men became sloppy and Hopkins began to unload at will until Tito, seven years ago, and the Ghost this past Saturday were reduced to rubble.

But losing to an all time great fighter like Hopkins should in no way diminish what Pavlik has accomplished and what he still can do in the years ahead. All too often one loss can upend a fighter’s career in the eyes of a very fickle public. It sounds trite but in the end there’s nothing wrong with losing, as long as you don’t allow it to mentally cripple you. Miguel Cotto, another terrific fighter who was being groomed for super stardom is in the same boat with Pavlik right now after his loss to Antonio Margarito and it will be interesting to see how both men react to the first loss in their respective careers.

To his great credit Hopkins embraced Pavlik after the fight and told him that losing was not the end of the world. In fact, it could easily make him a better fighter.

“I was a fan of yours before,” he told the disheartened pugilist, “and I’m a fan now. Don’t let this get you down.”

In the bout’s aftermath Kelly seemed to understand this. He realizes he got schooled and that, as he said, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. With a great support system around him and that blue-collar aesthetic beaten into his soul by his ramshackle hometown he will regroup and be just fine. Some of his fans will jump off the bandwagon but Kelly has been at the other end of the spectrum before. His promoter Bob Arum practically had to beg HBO to put him on their boxing schedule before he won the title. He has tasted success and, despite his low-key nature, he liked it and he’ll want it again. But it will be as a middleweight where he will reestablish himself.

It’s now plainly obvious that, at least at this point in his career, anything above one hundred and sixty pounds does not suit Kelly despite his large, lanky frame. And now, in the wake of the Hopkins defeat, his apparent weaknesses only make potential middleweight title defenses against the likes of Arthur Abraham even more tantalizing. Kelly acknowledged as much after the fight.

“I’m going back down to 160 where I’m more comfortable.”

In the end Hopkins unexpectedly reaffirmed his greatness at the expense of a talented young fighter who, at a mere twenty-six years of age, is still a work in progress. Hopkins will now wait to see who emerges victorious in the November 8th bout between Roy Jones and Joe Calzaghe. He’s more than willing to fight either man, although he would prefer Jones but it will all come down to how much money is thrown on the negotiating table and how all those green backs are divvied up. And if it does turn out to be Jones these two have a long, weary history when it comes to purse parity.

As for Kelly Pavlik how he rebounds from this disappointment will define him as a fighter. If he comes back determined and strong against scheduled opponent Marco Antonio Rubio and then goes on to tally up successive defenses of his middleweight crown (he’s only defended it once so far since winning it in 2007) then the Hopkins fight will be seen for what it truly was, a young incomplete fighter not yet ready for a first ballot hall of famer. It says here Kelly will learn from this setback and come back with a seething intensity. And one thing he won’t have to worry about is ever having to step into the ring with a fighter as brilliant as Bernard Hopkins again.


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