Monday, August 20, 2007

The Blowout That I Seem Alone In Expecting

Far be it from me to criticize the two best fighters in a division from meeting up, which is exactly what is happening in late September when Jermain Taylor, the acknowledged middleweight (160 lbs.) king, is scheduled to rumble with Kelly Pavlik, the acknowledged top contender. That this match is happening is a tribute to boxing as it should be; it's a tribute to Taylor for taking on a guy who's very, very dangerous; and it's one of the marquee fights that is making this fall and winter full to the brim of important match-ups.

But I am alone, from what I can tell, in expecting this to be a mismatch.

Pavlik has always looked fearsome to me, but he looked downright nasty in his last fight, a knockout of heavily-hyped power puncher Edison Miranda. In Pavlik's first bout against a fellow major contender, Miranda got demolished. But Pavlik would pose style challenges for nearly anyone. He stalks people down, throwing volleys of hard, pinpoint blows along the way. Once he smothers them into a corner or against the ropes, he unloads every punch in his arsenal, especially those unholy straight rights, and, increasingly, jarring uppercuts. The result is that almost every one of his opponents goes to sleep, sometimes frighteningly. If anyone was going to dent Pavlik's chin and return the favor, it would have been Miranda. Instead, Pavlik proved he could take anything Miranda dished out, particularly because of Pavlik's punch volume. The strategy was to keep Miranda backing up under Pavlik's offensive onslaught, thus dulling his legendary power as he struggled to plant his feet for maximum destructiveness (Miranda's power is not an illusion -- Arthur Abraham's badly-broken jaw being one testament to Edison's mean punches).

So what case can one make for Taylor beating Pavlik? Certainly, his own power does not figure to be a factor. Taylor failed to knock out Cory Spinks in his last fight, quite an unimpressive feat since Spinks has been knocked out or nearly knocked out in two lower divisions (147 lbs. and 154 lbs.). He couldn't knock out Kassim Ouma, either, and Ouma was accustomed to a lower weight as well. Spinks is an evasive, slippery boxer, so maybe the failed knockout there can be written off. But while Ouma's a tough customer, Taylor hit him with a fusillade of punches, none of which seemed to cause the smaller man much trouble, so the combination of what happened versus Spinks and Ouma makes Taylor's power questionable. Can you make a case for Taylor's own boxing skill? Perhaps, but that is more dubious by the day. No upper-caliber fighter around has appeared to regress as much as Taylor has. He gets by on athleticism and heart more than his once piston-like jab, which has evaporated into thin air. For the last two years he has, quizzically, fought while backing up against nearly everyone, a bad recipe against someone like Pavlik, who showed that he can capitalize on that quite well. Taylor bested Pavlik when they were amateurs, but Pavlik's boxing skills have gotten sharper with every fight, and besides, winning in the amateurs wearing headgear and heavy gloves is a wholly different thing than winning in the pros; just ask Mohamad Abdulaev, who conquered Miguel Cotto in the Olympics only to get the stuffing knocked out of him in the pros by a harder-hitting, improved Cotto.

I think there are two indisputable advantages one could put in the Taylor column. First, Taylor is faster than Pavlik. I'm not sure by how much, but it might be enough to allow Taylor to hit-and-run his way to a favorable decision. On the other hand, the best neutralizer for speed is volume. Throwing a lot of punches is key to slowing down a faster opponent, and if nothing else, Pavlik has demonstrated he will throw a lot of punches every single time he steps between the ropes. Second, Taylor has fought far superior competition and has found a way to dig out a victory or draw every time. Pavlik has fought a few decent "gatekeeper" fighters where he proved his mettle, but only his win against Miranda counts as a serious, quality W. Taylor, by contrast, kept his unbeaten record intact against a pair of all-time greats in Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright in fights he could have easily lost but in which he summoned all his willpower to survive. Spinks and Ouma may be smaller and Taylor's performances versus them were unwatchably bad, but they are two very good fighters. And yet, Pavlik has demonstrated his own savvy and guts, putting together a smart game plan against Miranda and proving he would walk through any danger to win.

All of this doesn't even take into account my sense that Taylor has a decent chin, but not a world-class one. He almost hit the canvass a few times versus Hopkins, not as dangerous a puncher at the advanced age at which he fought Taylor as is Pavlik now, a young, power-puncher in his prime.

I want nothing more from Pavlik-Miranda than an action-packed, competitive and definitive showdown between the two top middleweights in the world. But I suspect very strongly that we will instead get the first two -- action-packed, definitive -- in lieu of the last -- competitive.

Kelly Pavlik, at left, no relation to my friend, Jim; Edison Miranda, at right, no relation to one's rights.


dammrod said...

I expect Pavlik to win, but I'm rooting for Taylor. I think Taylor has attracted a lot more hate in his past few bouts then he deserves. Yes, he narrowly won his fights against Hopkins, drew against Wright, and was unimpressive against Ouma and Spinks, but he does what a champion should do: fight consistently good opposition. Some champions would have avoided a dangerous man like Pavlik for as long as they could, but Taylor took that fight right away. I wish him all the best.

Tim -- said...

Another insightful comment from the mysterious dammrod.

Tim -- said...

To the substance: I do agree, and want to root for Taylor for the reasons you mention, plus the fact that he seems to be a helluva good guy. He just fails to entertain me, and that's what I'm looking for when I watch boxing.

BOB said...

I hate Taylor...but it wouldn't surprise me if his STICK & MOVE tactic allows him to win by decision. Pavlik hasn't had to go a full bout since 2004 and that was only 8 rounds.