When you tune into the Jermain Taylor vs. Kelly Pavlik middleweight title bout on Saturday night, Bert Randolph Sugar will be the gentleman with a fedora and a cigar sitting ringside. Perhaps that description is of little assistance in a town that invites over-the-top flair nearly as well as it accommodates a spectrum of degenerates of all sorts: Atlantic City. But Bert Sugar will simply be in his uniform. Not his Saturday night in AC “uniform.” You be the judge.
This week, he was kind of enough to give TSS a piece of his mind (in the good way). Sugar eschews predictions for fights he is working for HBO, but he gladly broke down a fight that he, along with all of us at TSS, is genuinely excited about.
This has the makings of a special fight. Two middleweights with a lot to prove who even have a past with each other. Taylor, a well-pedigreed amateur defeated a young, inexperienced Pavlik at the 2000 Olympic Trials.
Experience remains on Taylor’s side heading into this scrap. It is hard to imagine a fighter getting better training than 36 rounds against the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright. I’ll leave it to the readers to say whether Taylor’s 2-0-1 record in those fights is legit. But win, lose, or draw, he spent 36 rounds in the ring with 2 of the most difficult fighters of this, or any other, era.
But then again, Taylor turned in a couple of stinkers against Kassim Ouma and Cory Spinks as well.
But Kelly Pavlik is a righty who will come right at him. No dancing. In this match-up, Taylor is considered the better pure boxer, which hasn’t been common for him in recent match-ups. Perhaps he will show us what he has learned and keep the raging young bull at bay. Or perhaps his recent uninspired efforts reflect what some others think: That Taylor is a paper-champ who was, through controversial decisions, built up as a young star to carry the torch for a sport critics claim is floundering.
And certainly, Bert Sugar hears the same rumblings and has the same questions. Which is why he feels this is an especially crucial night for Bad Intentions. “Taylor is the variable. He is the one that will make this fight,” says the guru. “Pavlik is one-gear straight forward,” he adds. So it is up to Taylor to match his energy.
“He looks like he’s regressed,” Sugar adds on Taylor. “How long is he a prodigy? How long is a prospect a prospect?” Indeed. If Taylor cannot show us all a little something on Saturday against a less experienced, orthodox fighter who will be a relatively easy target, is he then a bust? For a champion who has twice beaten a surefire boxing Hall of Famer and an assortment of one-time title-holders and contenders, he has never had the marquee performance in the spotlight. Here is his chance. And against a fighter who will give him opportunities to show us what he’s got.
But Sugar also offers this word of warning to JT: “If he goes for a knockout with Pavlik, he might be in trouble.” So perhaps he’s best off showing us all the lessons he’s learned in the sweetest science over the past 2+ years. He needs to keep this fight in the middle of the ring and allow his superior skills to win him the fight. Adds Sugar, “He cannot afford to go to the ropes vs. Pavlik like he did vs. Ouma. He’s now facing a 160-pounder with a 190-pound punch. He has to outwork him. He can’t stand there. He has to let his hands go. He has to go out there and fight, particularly with his right hand. In his last few fights, he looks like he’s thinking too much.”
Pavlik is less of a question mark. We more or less know his game plan. “Pavlik stands up very tall and walks straight in. He’s very confident with his whiskers,” says Sugar, noting the resilient chin he displayed vs. Edison Miranda’s onslaught. “Against Miranda he went right back in and started swinging.” Pavlik will not go in there and dance. It’s not his game, but what will be crucial for him will be moving his head. He can come forward effectively if he is able to neutralize JT’s strong jab. But he cannot leave his head stationary or Taylor may just disconnect it from his neck.
If Taylor can effectively work his jab and keep Pavlik at bay, you have to like JT to win this bout. But judging from his past performances, it is difficult to put too much faith into him. On our crew prediction page, I selected Pavlik, simply because he has routinely displayed more of a pulse. But I feel this match is essentially a toss-up. And in boxing, that’s a beautiful thing. Enjoy the fight and be sure to check back on TSS after the fight. Next week we’ll be all over the Pacquiao/Barrera fight as well.
For more insight from Bert Sugar, please visit HBOppv.com. And please keep your eyes open for his newest book (with Angelo Dundee) “My View from the Corner” which will hit bookstores in 3 weeks.
As always, please hit us with your predictions below. We appreciate all of your feedback.