What a difference a year makes.
In that time, Kelly Pavlik has gone from a relatively obscure, much-avoided prospect to the toast of the boxing world. The undefeated middleweight champion already has fans and experts alike buzzing with the idea that he could be the next dominant middleweight, reigning over fellow 160-pounders the way Marvin Hagler and Bernard Hopkins did.
With the Pavlik bandwagon approaching its carrying capacity, the question should be raised as to whether such lofty projections are premature. It should be remembered that Pavlik, (33-0, 29 KO), is still largely inexperienced against world-class competition. While it remains pure speculation if Pavlik's reign will be stellar, or something less than that; so I thought it might prove helpful to assess where Pavlik stands at the moment to put into perspective his hopes for being an all-time great.
An examination of physical skills (power, speed, etc.) as well as intangible traits (heart, upside, etc.), just might prove helpful in determining whether Pavlik is an overrated upstart, or if we are watching a burgeoning great develop before our very eyes.
With that, Kelly Pavlik will be the recipient of the very first TSS Report Card.
It seems appropriate to begin Pavlik's evaluation with his most prominent asset. With a knockout percentage of 88% after thirty-three fights, Pavlik's numbers appear to speak for themselves. When Pavlik fights, his punches land with a thudding concusiveness rarely seen. His punches don't land with the quick snappiness some punchers possess. Instead of landing like a cracking whip, Pavlik's punches are bludgeoning, sledgehammer shots. As demonstrated in his title-winning effort against Jermain Taylor, Pavlik drives his shots over and through his opponents' guard like an eighteen-wheeler going through a brick wall.
I think the kid can crack a little.
Power Grade: A
At over 6'2”, Pavlik is a huge middleweight. His big frame presents the picture of a light-heavyweight, which is why fights with the likes of Joe Calzaghe are well within the realm of possibility.
That imposing frame, however, doesn't do The Ghost any favors when it comes to the speed department. Foot speed and movement has never been a go-to asset for Pavlik, who opts to shuffle forward and walk his man down rather than offer any impersonations of Apollo Creed.
Pavlik's hand speed would also fall into the category of pedestrian. Against the much quicker Taylor, Pavlik was frequently beaten to the punch. Even in moments against Edison Miranda, the Colombian banger was able to find openings between Pavlik's punches to land his own. Pavlik isn't the type of guy who is going to stand back, counter, and potshot. He knows he just doesn't have the quickness for that. He gets the job done with steady, grinding, consistent pressure, even if his slower hands leave the occasional hole for an opponent to exploit.
Speed Grade: B-
This is one of the categories where, to an extent, the jury is still out. In his most recent fights, Pavlik's chin has proven to be pretty sturdy. Against Jose Luis Zertuche, Pavlik ate some big shots early which bothered him, but was never in any real trouble. Facing dangerous bomber Edison Miranda, Pavlik was buzzed early by a couple of heavy shots, but fared well (though some argue Miranda's struggles with weight diminished his usually potent power).
However, in his first meeting with Taylor, Pavlik's perilous brush with defeat in the second round aroused suspicions about the durability of his beard. Taylor, who showed almost no pop in his previous five fights (two of which were against natural junior middleweights) was able to drop and nearly stop Pavlik. He survived, but this incident still serves as ammunition for Pavlik's detractors that the youngster is far from invincible.
We'll give him the benefit of the doubt. But make no mistake, there is some doubt here.
Chin Grade: B+
If the aforementioned close call against Taylor exploited a flaw in Pavlik's chin, it also highlighted one of his strengths: his heart.
Old boxing wisdom says that you never know what a fighter has inside until hardship forces them to do some soul searching. When Pavlik fell face-first onto the canvas against Taylor, he was faced with two options: get blown away, or bite down, hold on, and survive.
As harshly as fans and experts will criticize fighters for lacking heart, the fact is that most of us have no idea what it is like to be in a situation such as the one Pavlik experienced. In reality, if faced with said situation, all of us critics would've been blown away. Pavlik, though, chose the latter option. He dusted himself off, got up, and refused to be conquered. Five rounds later, Pavlik proved who the better man was.
The guy's got moxie. You have to give him that.
Heart Grade: A
Pavlik's title reign is not too far removed from that of Bernard Hopkins, who was (and frankly still is) one of the most intelligent, cerebral fighters of this era. So far in his career, Pavlik has yet to exhibit even a fraction of what Hopkins houses in his bag of tricks, but the 26-year old still has time to add to his arsenal.
Pavlik's ability to adapt showed itself in his last fight, the rematch with Jermain Taylor. With Pavlik seeing the championship rounds for the first time in his career, many at ringside wondered how he would react to uncharted waters, as well as whether his impressive work rate would prove to be his undoing.
Rather than unraveling under the unfamiliar circumstances, Pavlik picked up the pace and worked in punishing blows to Taylor's midsection, a tactic Pavlik rarely used in previous fights. In the midst of a telling moment in his career, Pavlik showed the maturity and intelligence to try something new when necessity dictated. That's always a good sign, especially from a young champion.
Ring Intelligence Grade: B+
Here's the ultimate intangible: how much potential does Pavlik have for improvement? Are his best days ahead, or has the golden age of Kelly Pavlik already begun?
Physically, it seems that Pavlik is probably reaching the farthest limits of his potential. He's not likely to get much stronger or faster. Should he choose to jump a weight division or two, it's not likely to provide him with any huge benefit or improvement. From a purely physiological perspective, Pavlik is probably in his prime or fast approaching it.
How he can improve, though, is in learning through experience. As mentioned earlier, Pavlik's experience against world-class opposition is limited, more or less, to Taylor and Miranda. The privilege of being called champion, as well as the caliber of opponents that title will bring could very well give Pavlik the seasoning it takes to be a dominant champion.
Upside Grade: B+
It seems apparent that the pride of Youngstown is still something of a work in progress. It remains to be seen if Pavlik's career will be immortalized in Canestota or just on YouTube. Should his upcoming title defense against unheralded Gary Lockett end the way most experts anticipate it will, the question of Pavlik's destiny will still be up in the air.
As is usually the case in boxing, time will tell.