Kelly Pavlik hasn't had what you'd call an enchanted year. His status as on-the-cusp-of-being transcendent pugilist was blown up by the wily ringmaster, Bernard Hopkins, as B-Hop gave an ugly tutorial on the meaningfulness of the adage “styles make fights” in Atlantic City last October.
Let's turn back the clock. Over at ESPN, the network and the magazine both churned out pre-Hopkins profiles on Pavlik, and if he hammered Hopkins, and sent him to the promotional part of the sport full-time, he would've been the first non Hispanic light-skinned American media star in the sport since Tommy Morrison in 1992. Of course, we like to think we live in a color blind world, and of course we have made immense strides in the race department in the last 50 years, but that doesn't mean marketers don't still target consumers based on certain ethnic markers. Statistically, whites in the US have more income to fritter away than non-whites, and if middle America could find a hitter they identify with visually/emotionally, there would be piles of cash to collect for Pavlik and his backers. When Hopkins treated him like an in-over-his-head intern, it wasn't the end of the line by any stretch.
No, that loss could have been spun a certain way, and Pavlik's momentum could've been maintained, instead of being reverse engineered, in a backwards direction. His trainer Jack Loew tried to help matters, by leaking that Pavlik had bronchitis going in to the Hopkins bout, and also was battling a bad elbow. The “explanations” came off as excuses, though, as they so often do; the wiser course of action, in hind view, would probably have been to let the 43-year-old Hopkins soak up a full measure of glory. Pavlik had a 17-year-age edge, and in trying to over-explain his ineffectiveness against the grandpa, he showed a lack of PR acumen. It didn't get better after that. No clear and definite opponent emerged at 160, and instead of coming back and calling out a logical name at middleweight, and slaying that person, to help restore his good name, Pavlik played it safe and knocked around journeyman Marco Antonio Rubio four months after the Hopkins debacle. Considering that he'd taken the easier road, and the easy payday in the tussle before Hopkins, against sub-journeyman Gary Lockett, fight fans latched on to a new storyline regarding the pride of Youngstown: he was seen as a blue collar battler who in fact owned a less than stellar work ethic and pool of desire. Was it true? Or had others priced themselves out of scraps? Didn't matter–perception trumped reality. Why wasn't he seeking out Arthur Abraham, or Felix Sturm, or a catch-weight fight with Joe Calzaghe or Mikkel Kessler, Pavlik ship-jumpers wondered? And when Sergio Mora emerged as the man, the super middleweight man, who'd get a crack at Pavlik's belt, the whispers grew to full-throated declarations. That fight got put off—because of a staph infection, or was it a contract or purse dispute?–and it became clear that the lack of direction in the Kelly camp hadn't cleared. Throw in a steady stream of accounts, some sourced, some off the record, that the 27-year-old Pavlik likes his sauce more than he likes training, waaaay more….well, suffice to say there was a cleanup job to do on the Pavlik image.
Now, after all that sordid rehash, some good news. THe WBC/WBO titleholder Pavlik (35-1, 31 KOs) can dispel all that negativity, all the whispering and the backbiting and the calls to enter Betty Ford…if he takes care of business on December 5, against 28-year-old Paul Williams (37-1, 27 KOs).
Tall order. Long Tall Paul, the former 147 and 154 pound champ, is the most avoided man in the sport, because of his freakish physical package, and his obsessive work rate. Pavlik will by no means enter this title defense, to be held at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, as a betting favorite. His rep is in the weeds, while Williams is seen as a short-list aspirant to the top five P4P list.
The fighters came together in East Rutherford, NJ, at Giants Stadium, to hype the scrap, which will be shown on HBO, and which will excite true fans of the sweet science more than the last two big-scale events in recent days, Mayweather-Marquez, and Vitali-Arreola.
If anyone was expecting Pavlik to show up looking fat as Federline, or reeking of a Blood Mary lunch, they were disappointed. The body language expert we sometimes consult, the one that works for the National Enquirer, saw a focused Ohioan, not one in the midst of a year-long lost weekend, ready to cash out his chips, and go play the role of small town big fish for the rest of his life.
But more importantly to us is what you members of TSS Universe think. Will Williams' work rate overwhelm Pavlik in AC? Or will Kelly be able to shrug off Williams' power shots, and put into effect his power edge? Weigh in, faithful followers, with your take on the Pavlik situation, where you see him in the game, and how you see this fight playing out.