Too much Taylor, not enough Pavlik a recipe for hedging

May 15, 2007 6:32 AM

The problem is often not knowing enough about two fighters. The opposite is also true. Sometimes we know too much to make an enlightened pick.

Take that interesting middleweight doubleheader from Memphis that HBO will be televising next weekend. In the main event, the world’s 160-pound champion, Jermain Taylor, faces the 154-pound title-holder, Cory Spinks. Size matters, of course. Quality of opposition does, too, and that’s where I get confused about Taylor.

Taylor vs. Spinks

I don’t quite know what to make of his two "victories" over Bernard Hopkins and "draw" with Winky Wright. That was a very impressive three-fight series against two of the best boxers in the world. Even if, as I’m sure some did, you gave all three decisions to Taylor’s opposition.

Just being in a close fight with Hopkins (who subsequently showed there was still something left when he dominated Antonio Tarver) and/or Wright indicates quality.
Then you look at Taylor, who seems just as awkward and off-balance under Emanuel Steward as when Patrick Burns was training him. You see a big (6-foot-1) man with obvious strength, but one with no knockouts since February 2005.

On his way to the top, Taylor had to go the distance with the faded William Joppy and needed to go to the 10th round to put away Raul Marquez. He may be called "Bad Intentions," but his punching power does not seem to live up to the nickname.

Now he is facing a much quicker, flashier — albeit, smaller (5-9) stylist in Spinks. This will be the third straight southpaw Taylor has fought. For all intents and purposes, it might as well be his first.

Winky is Winky, simply one of the best technical fighters around. That he leads with the right jab is about as pertinent as what brand toothpaste he uses. He stands in front of opponents (ex: Sugar Shane Mosley, Felix Trinidad) and frustrates them.

Kassim Ouma, Taylor’s latest foe, is a weirdly unorthodox southpaw who never stands still. He rushes in at all angles, and though smaller, was able to back up the stronger Taylor for most of the bout. But after opposing a scalpel and a buzzsaw, Taylor is now in with a hit-and-run artist, who darts hither and yon, and then yon and hither.

Leon’s son, and Michael’s nephew, has been hurt before. He was stopped by Zab Judah; but his chin is not as bad as some people might think. Spinks was able to navigate around the dangers in Ricardo Mayorga’s attack, managed to outbox Judah in their first meeting and handled Roman Karmazin, the man who upset Ouma, for the junior middle title.

Taylor will not have his usual home-court advantage, though Memphis is virtually the twin city of Little Rock. Spinks expects a boatload of fans to make it down the Mississippi from St. Louis to give the judges something else to hear.

At the odds (-800 or so on Taylor, +500 on Spinks) I must recommend caution. If you have to bet, I’d suggest taking a modest flyer on the little guy with the big heart. And part of that reasoning goes with my being uncomfortable with Taylor. I just haven’t seen the normal progression one would expect from an obviously talented 28-year-old.

Pavlik vs. Miranda

While Taylor leaves me perplexed, Kelly Pavlik, the "Ghost," is an enigma wrapped in a carefully managed and promoted career. The 6-2 power puncher from Youngstown is 30-0 with 27 KOs, but has been carefully fed a series of journeymen. In his second pro fight, he was matched with someone with a 2-32-1 record. The biggest name on his ledger is the faded Bronko McKart. His best victory may have been his last, against Jose Luis Zertuche.

The thing is, just watching him blow away riff and raff leaves one with the impression that this might be someone special. He’s tall, angular and his punches are like lightning bolts. Then I think, well, what does Bruce Trampler, Bob Arum’s matchmaker, know about Pavlik that I don’t, that has made him reticent, until now, to put him in with class?

We should find out Saturday. Edison (Pantera) Miranda is the -175 favorite because his one loss on a 28-1 record, with 24 KOs, is a hell of a lot more impressive than all 30 of Pavlik’s victories. Miranda lost on points in a "title" bout against the undefeated and capable Arthur Abraham, breaking the German’s jaw in the process.

Miranda can punch and he’s a terror in the ring. Yes, he could easily run into something straight from Pavlik, which is why I don’t like him in this match. At the same time, knowing as little as we do about Pavlik makes this one of those great fights to lay off. It might be like trying to beat Street Sense in the Preakness.