(A triumphant Kelly Pavlik after stopping Taylor; photo credit: Ed Mulholland)
It all made sense.
Bernard Hopkins more or less created a new line in middleweight title management by defeating Keith Holmes and unifying two belts, but he waited to order his official “Middleweight Champion” stationary after he’d made Felix Trinidad contemplate his pugilistic existence. And Jermain Taylor ousted that younger version of Old Man Winter in 2005, albeit controversially.
Forget that the four “major” belts, which had never all been held simultaneously, had been splintered and sent off to different homes like the children in some tragic divorce case; Jermain Taylor was THE middleweight champion.
Compared to Jermain Taylor, Kelly Pavlik really wasn’t anyone. Not yet, anyway. While Taylor signed a promotional deal with Lou DiBella and eventually got an HBO contract, perhaps prematurely, Pavlik fought in nine states through his first 11 fights, generally in smaller casinos. Taylor was marrying WNBA players, modeling for Everlast ads and GQ Magazine, and Pavlik was just fighting for Top Rank, occasionally on television of some sort, and playing darts.
When Taylor met Pavlik for the first time in September of 2007, it had been seven years since their first and only fight in the amateurs. And maybe something could be said for the divergent paths they took after meeting in the unpaid ranks, and maybe Pavlik’s more grizzled pro upbringing chiseled him into the figure he’d need to become to win the middleweight title. While Jermain Taylor wasn’t an unlikeable character by any means, his title reign heading into the Pavlik fight at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City was aggravating. His first defense against Winky Wright got him what many believed was a lucky draw, and unimpressive wins against increasingly puzzling opponents had even his supporters growing restless.
A jousting match was how the fight began — two fighters with punishing jabs attempting to crack the outer shell of the other’s defense, and neither man had stellar defense. Taylor’s was better initially, though, and it showed when he smacked Pavlik to the canvas with hooks in round 2 after a right hand opened him up. Taylor had Pavlik teetering about for the remainder of the stanza, but Pavlik somehow returned in the 3rd round to hunt Taylor down, blood streaming from his nose and mouth.
Clearly Kelly Pavlik was willing to digest a punch or two before plowing home his own, and his predatory approach in the next few rounds made sure of it. Taylor, clearly feeling the pressure, was clawing out at the challenger, trying to keep him at bay with muscle, but the occasional big shot from Pavlik would find its way home, which Taylor wasn’t keen on. Jabs never really stopped from either guy, all the while.
The judges saw a relatively dominant fight from Taylor, however. Through six rounds, Pavlik was down four points on one card, and three points on the other two. And in round 7, Taylor fought somewhat comfortably — in hindsight, maybe too much so. In the last half of the round, Pavlik’s right hand began to sneak its way into the fight in a more meaningful way, with the fourth or fifth one affecting Taylor’s legs and prompting him to sway back into a corner. Pavlik summoned a demon, bounced uppercuts and hooks off Taylor’s head, and became the middleweight champion.
Pavlik’s title reign wouldn’t last long, just as Taylor’s didn’t. But Jermain Taylor is still continuing his comeback, while Pavlik finds himself in trouble with the law once more.
After the bout, Kelly Pavlik said, “Now, I’m up there with all the great Ohio champions.”