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Pavlik Ready For First Title Defense

Pavlik(left) in action against Jermain Taylor(pic Neil Abramson)
Pavlik(left) in action against Jermain Taylor(pic Neil Abramson)

By Matthew Hurley

Following a monumental assault on the middleweight division in 2007 that saw him win the WBC and WBO titles from Jermain Taylor in a classic brawl Kelly Pavlik, 33-0 (29) surveyed the 160 pound landscape and could not have been too excited at what he saw. The Youngstown native fulfilled his contractual obligation to give Taylor a rematch but the fight, which Pavlik won by 12 round decision, was fought at a catch weight of 166 pounds. His first fight as a world champion would not be for the title belts he fought so hard to win. With the Taylor double bill settled Pavlik is now set to make his first defense of the middleweight crown, but the man who will share the ring with him at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City this Saturday night can be viewed only as a letdown.

Thirty-one year old contender Gary Lockett, 30-1 (21) is Pavlik’s mandatory challenger but the British fighter is barely known outside of the gym he trains in and his No.1 WBO ranking is indicative of the overall weakness of the middleweight division and the lunacy of the sanctioning bodies that can elevate any live body into a position to challenge for their belt. One only has to consider that Lockett’s previous opponent, Kai Kauramaki, has a record of 13-15. Lockett, who is not even ranked in the top 10 by the IBF or the WBA and registers at No.15 in the WBC.

That aside, if any current champion deserves a breather it is Pavlik whose two back-to-back battles with Taylor came after dismantling the fearsome puncher Edison Miranda and the rugged Jose Luis Zertuche. But don’t try to tell Pavlik that his challenger represents a soft touch.

“I will never take a challenger lightly,” the champion said at a recent press conference. “I am only focused on Lockett and no one else. I will work hard, even harder than I have before, for this title defense.”

It is the idea of defending his beloved title that motivates Pavlik and who he fights, in his mind, doesn’t really matter because any challenger is trying to take from him what he has worked so hard to achieve. Furthermore, if any division defines in this era what a “throw back” fighter is it would be the middleweight division. There has always been a blue collar ethic that fighters at 160 pounds embrace and live by. Its inhabitants have, for the most part, been tough guys whose skills often took second billing to their tenacity.

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who represents Pavlik, certainly jumped the gun after Kelly won the title by comparing him to Marvelous Marvin Hagler and his vaunted punching power to the concussive right hand bombs of Thomas Hearns, two legendary champions he promoted, but his true point may have been that Pavlik embodies much of the blood and guts excitement those two fighters brought to the ring. Pavlik’s title winning effort was universally embraced as a breath of fresh air in a division that had grown stale during Taylor’s reign. Indeed it took Pavlik’s gunslinger approach in that bout to bring out in Taylor his championship heart. It may have lost him the title but it brought him cheers and fan approval that had long since waned.

Arum had hoped to match Pavlik with Irish contender John Duddy. That fight, although seen by most for what it was – a probable mismatch, would have been a huge ticket seller in New York where Duddy has developed a strong following. Pavlik had already proved that his loyal fan base would follow him to Atlantic City where as the challenger for the title he was the crowd favorite against Taylor. But Duddy, whose face shreds like paper, not only looked ordinary in what was supposed to be a tune-up bout against Walid Smichet, he was also alarmingly easy to hit with right hands – Pavlik’s Sunday punch. Duddy escaped with a majority decision, several cuts, one over his left eye that required over twenty stitches and an eventual falling out with his trainer Don Turner. As the Irishman heals up and refocuses under the tutelage of new trainer Pat Burns, the man who guided Taylor to the crown, Pavlik had to look elsewhere. A mandatory defense against Lockett became his only recourse.

There’s little doubt that Pavlik would have preferred a Duddy match but the champion sees every opponent with the eyes of the hunted. He may be the top dog but he has what everyone around him wants – the title.

“It wasn’t that long ago that I was the number one contender,” he remarked with a knowing nod of the head. “I know the hunger Lockett has for my title.”

Pavlik may not be looking past Lockett but Bob Arum certainly is. The seventy-six year old promoter is already entertaining the idea of pitting the middleweight champion against current super middleweight and light heavyweight champ Joe Calzaghe. According to a recent article by Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports, preliminary discussions are under way for a possible November match up. The bout would be held at 168 pounds. However, Pavlik has maintained that not only does he want to be an active champion, fighting at least three times a year, but he also wants to establish a respectable middleweight title reign. It all begins with Gary Lockett, a 10 to 1 underdog on Saturday night (June 8).

June 3, 2008

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