The saying goes that sequels never live up to the originals.  Hopefully, there will be an exception to this rule on February 16 when Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor prepare to lock horns once again.  This time the bout will be a non-title affair, taking place at a catch weight of 166 pounds.  In their first meeting, Pavlik wrested the middleweight title from Taylor via seventh round kayo in a fight that saw both men eat canvas, making it one of the best fights of 2007.  Hoping for a resounding rematch, boxing fans wait in eager anticipation for a sequel more along the lines of The Godfather:  Part II and less like Oceans Twelve.

Strategy:

Of the two, Taylor, (27-1-1, 17 KO), has more to prove and more to repair in terms of strategy.  Almost immediately after his loss to Pavlik, Taylor began making changes in preparation for the rematch.  For the second fight, Ozell Nelson will assume the role of head trainer, replacing Emanuel Steward, with whom Taylor severed professional ties following a less than stellar four-fight partnership.  Taylor is hoping a return to his roots with his longtime trainer will bring the type of success that has evaded him since winning the middleweight title.

For Taylor, it would be to his benefit to make the rematch a fast-paced fight.  Against both Taylor and Jose Luis Zertuche, Pavlik has shown himself to be most vulnerable when aggressively trading with his opponents.  It is then when Pavlik’s pedestrian handspeed reveals itself, which is a weakness the quick-handed Taylor needs to exploit.

Along with an up-tempo fight, Taylor’s road to victory will be paved largely by his overhand right.  He will need to sling the right hand fast, hard, and often, much like the one that knocked Pavlik stupid in the second round of their previous meeting, nearly ending matters before they began.  Taylor has proven that he can hurt Pavlik, and that may supply him with all the confidence he needs going into the rematch.  If Taylor can time Pavlik’s slow, methodical left jab, he could very well have his hand raised when the proceedings are finished.

On the other side, Pavlik’s options could not be clearer.  He can fight the type of long-range fight that allowed him to light Taylor up in the seventh round, or he can engage in the type of wild fight that left him weeble-wobbling all over the ring in the second round, desperately hanging on to Taylor.  One would guess that Pavlik, (32-0, 29 KO), would like to avoid a repeat performance of the drunken stumble from last fall, thus making the former option more appealing.

Pavlik’s success relies on avoiding the over-anxiousness in the early rounds that nearly cost him the fight in their first meeting.  After learning the dire consequences of being beaten to the punch, Pavlik took command by using his jab to slow down the tempo and dictate the happenings of the bout.  Pavlik must control the fight’s pace and geography with his jab.  If he can keep Taylor on the end of his punches and drop his sledgehammer right hand over Taylor’s habitually low left, it could be an easy night’s work for the pride of Youngstown.

The Outcome:

The question of this fight ultimately comes down to the more likely scenario:  either Pavlik duplicating the winning game plan of last September, or Taylor implementing the changes needed to win.  An honest look at Taylor’s career has shown very little capacity for change or growth.  The current version of Jermain Taylor looks an awful lot like Taylor circa 2003.  He has the same strengths and vulnerabilities apparent during his prospect phase.  As his level of competition has risen, Taylor’s game has not.

That Emanuel Steward could not improve Taylor’s fundamentals speaks volumes more than the Taylor camp is willing to let on.  It is important to remember that Steward is the same man who rebuilt the careers of both Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko from ruins.  The fact that Taylor’s career plateau continued even with Steward’s tutelage would seem to say more about Taylor’s coachability and receptiveness than the legendary Steward’s aptitude as a trainer.

Taylor’s success in the rematch depends on his ability to seize the initiative and impose his will upon Pavlik.  This will be extremely difficult for Taylor, given his tendency to back up and fight reactively rather than proactively.  He fought going backwards against Hopkins, Ouma, Spinks, and much of the fight against Winky Wright.  It is difficult to envision an emboldened Taylor charging into the fists of the man who knocked him out just months earlier.

In the rematch, expect a smarter Pavlik, now with more to lose even in a non-title bout, to be less willing to engage with Taylor toe-to-toe.  It would not be a shock to see Pavlik willing to go all twelve rounds in a somewhat cautious affair.  While Taylor may have moments of success, it will not be consistent enough for him to control the fight.  Taylor will likely be fading in the late rounds, as he is wont to do, making him a sitting duck for Pavlik’s bludgeoning right hands.  There could be a few scary moments along the way for the Youngstown faithful, but the feeling here is that “The Ghost” will have the last word.

Pavlik KO 10 Taylor