Pick is Pavlik, with caution

February 12, 2008 4:13 AM
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Let the games begin. Finally, here is a fight worth both writing and betting on in 2008. It’s on a pay-per-view card worth buying, too.

There was a time when I would have heartily recommended sending it in on Kelly Pavlik in his nontitle rematch against Jermain Taylor next Saturday at the MGM Grand Arena in Vegas. He had left Taylor in a crumpled heap in the seventh round to take the middleweight championship last year. Guys just don’t recover from those kind of knockouts.

Certainly not in their next appearance and certainly not against the man who left them for dead.
But I must caution against such exuberance. I still believe Pavlik will win, yet there is a nagging caveat. It’s called the second round of their 2007 contest.

The undefeated Taylor had failed to knock out Bernard Hopkins in two meetings in which he was perhaps lucky to get the decisions. He was lucky to get a draw against Winky Wright.

No one knocks those guys out, but Taylor also failed to stop junior middleweights like Kassim Ouma and Cory Spinks (hell, he’s a blownup welterweight). He hasn’t scored a knockout in three years. Yet he had Pavlik down and almost out in that second round.

It makes you wonder about chins.
My recollection is that Taylor landed some big right hands. Pavlik, unwisely, dropped his hands and stuck out his chin to deride the champion’s punching ability. That’s when he got hurt.

And yes, if the referee had stopped the contest in that round, there would not have been a major outcry. But Pavlik showed terrific recuperative powers and though he was behind on all three official cards going into the seventh round, he seemed to me to be taking control of the fight. When he hurt Taylor, it was quickly over, Taylor melting down the ropes in a corner into a puddle.

There were those in Taylor’s camp who advised against getting back on the horse so soon. They wanted to build back his confidence, not take an immediate rematch. Even the seemingly cocky Pavlik said "I don’t know how he’s going to react from that knockout."

It says something about Taylor’s character that he couldn’t wait. His old amateur trainer, Ozell Nelson is for the first time is in charge as a pro, having supplanted first Pat Burns and then Emanuel Steward. Nelson reports that Taylor showed up in the Little Rock gym converted from a gas station "the very next work day."
"It took an ass-kicking to get back on track," said Taylor.

But no one is more blue-collar than Pavlik, the undefeated "Ghost" (his white skin is so pale) from the Ghost town of Youngstown, Ohio. The 6-foot-2½ slugger is 32-0 with 29 knockouts, including nine in a row. The last three came against men who had never been stopped before.

Pavlik could be someone very special if his chin is as good as trainer Jack Loew says it is. If that’s the case, he certainly is worth the play at 2-1 or even less, although I won’t mock anyone who takes the 8-5 buyback odds on Taylor. That is why, in addition to having produced one of the best middleweight fights in years, these two guys are worth the pay-per-view price of $50.

Finally, a stellar undercard

It also helps that there are two terrific betting title fights on the undercard.

Martin Castillo, long a fixture at 115 pounds and now trained by Rudy Perez, Marco Antonio Barrera’s longtime guru, challenges fellow Mexican Fernando Montiel for another junior bantamweight (or super fly) belt. Montiel is -130, but I believe Castillo, at even money, is the play here in what figures to be a very close encounter.

Also, Cristian Mijares, at -325, figures to hold off the talented former U.S. Olympian, Jose Navarro (+250), in an all-southpaw battle for another 115-pound belt.

May the two winners then meet.

And in Nuremberg

Ah, the plethora of action. Also next Saturday, from Nuremberg, Germany, a pair of former heavyweight title-holders meet.

Nikolai Valuev, the 7-foot giant, is -275 against Sergei Lyakhovich (+215). The fight has been blacked out of the USA — something about good taste. If you want to bet blindly, I’d recommend the chalk here.