The explosive first encounter between Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor for Taylor's WBC middleweight title was one of 2007's best. It was a bout that not only thrilled fans but also provided a severe test of both fighters' mettle, and it was "The Ghost" who emerged with a seventh round TKO victory. The man who entered the first match as an 8-to-5 underdog is now an 8-5 favorite to repeat his feat when they meet on February 16 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, this time at a catch-weight of 166 pounds.
Though Pavlik's title is not at risk, the stakes for each man are as high as they can be. For the 25-year-old Pavlik (32-0, 29 KO), a second victory over Taylor would solidify his status as one of the sport's most dynamic and marketable new figures in a sport hungering for a youthful crossover star. For the 29-year-old Taylor (27-1-1, 17 KO), a win would mean redemption as well as a springboard toward big money fights against the best at 168 and perhaps 175. Losses for either man could mean a significant backward step in terms of public perception and availability of big-money contests. In short, this is an all-or-nothing proposition for both combatants, which is fitting considering the uncompromising way they fought one another last September 29 in Atlantic City.
From the very onset Pavlik-Taylor I was waged at a frenetic pace that suited the Ohioan's high-volume, power-punching attack. Pavlik, who averaged 77.5 punches per round in his most recent outings against Jose Luis Zertuche and Edison Miranda, instantly established strategic dominance in the first round by unleashing 89 punches and landed 43 of them for 48 percent accuracy. Taylor, who had averaged just 38 punches per round in his bouts against Kassim Ouma and Cory Spinks (nearly 19 below the middleweight average of 56.5), was forced to dramatically increase his output or else be punched into oblivion. Somewhat surprisingly, Taylor fared rather well as he went 26 of 72 overall (36 percent), landing 12 of his 38 jabs (32 percent) and 14 of 34 power punches (41 percent). While Taylor's hands seemed faster, Pavlik's were more powerful.
The tide turned dramatically a little more than a minute into the second round as several blistering Taylor salvos caused Pavlik to crumble at his feet. Pavlik arose at three but a follow-up assault nearly floored him a second time. Though Pavlik was able to slowly gather himself as the seconds ticked by, the damage was done as Taylor connected on 52 of his 75 blows (69 percent), including a spectacular 42 of 50 power punches (84 percent). Incidentally, Taylor's 52 connects in that single round were three more than the total he amassed in the entire first half of the Spinks fight.
His fortitude tested like never before in his professional career, Pavlik steadied himself and came back strong in the third as he unloaded 99 punches and landed 22 of 53 power shots, all highs for the fight. Taylor, for his part, was the better marksman as he connected on 51 percent of his 41 blows overall in round three and 11 of his 18 power shots for 61 percent accuracy.
The two continued to hammer away in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. Taylor was particularly effective with his jab as he connected on 14 of 29 in the fourth (48 percent) and 17 of 49 (35 percent), a numerical high for the fight. Pavlik's jab effectiveness was unsteady as he wavered from 9 of 35 in the fourth (26 percent) to 18 of 49 (37 percent) in the fifth, his high water mark, only to return to 11 of 40 in the sixth (28 percent). Pavlik's greatest success in that stretch lay in his power numbers as he out-threw Taylor 87-56 and garnered a 42-35 edge on connects. But one look at Taylor's swollen face proved that each of Pavlik's power punches inflicted more damage shot for shot, and the effects of that cumulative punishment manifested themselves in the fateful seventh.
Pavlik drilled Taylor with long-armed jabs and slammed home pile-driver rights through Taylor's guard with sickening regularity. A huge right forced Taylor to retreat to the corner, whereupon a volley capped by two hooks to the skull caused Taylor to fall just as referee Steve Smoger moved in to stop the fight. The numbers bore out Pavlik's dominance as he out-landed Taylor 23-5 overall, including a 15-3 advantage in power shots.
Though the ultimate result was overwhelmingly in Pavlik's favor, the numbers bear out some hope for Taylor going into the rematch. Aside from leading on all scorecards (59-54 & 58-55 2x), Taylor was far more accurate as he landed 182 of 369 punches overall (49 percent) while connecting on an outstanding 65 percent of his power punches (105 of 162). This shows that Pavlik's all-out attack leaves him open to counters, and Taylor has already proven he has the power to hurt the Buckeye Bomber. Additionally, the jab (not normally an effective weapon for an orthodox fighter vs. a southpaw) that was so notably absent against Ouma (56 of 184, 30 percent) and especially Spinks (50 of 191, 26 percent) was more in evidence against Pavlik (77 of 207, 37 percent), enabling Taylor to more effectively set up his power blows. It was a formula that served Taylor well early in his career as he connected on 48 percent of them against Alex Bunema in March 2004 and snapped out a divisional record 677 jabs against Freddie Cuevas in August 2003 while landing 243 (number two all time among middleweights).
Nothing has changed for Taylor in terms of the physical and stylistic puzzle Pavlik presents - a power-punching buzzsaw who has the size at 6-3 and the reach at 75 inches to impose his strategic will. For Taylor to win, he must find a way to slow down Pavlik's punch-rate, which averaged 86 against Miranda over the first six rounds and 83 over the first seven rounds against Zertuche. But as the shorter man he must find a way to get inside Pavlik's long arms, and the antidote is hard, crisp and consistent jabs that will give "The Ghost" something to think about other than enforcing fistic mayhem. Once inside he must utilize his hand speed to hurt Pavlik, and should he do so he must finish him off then and there.
Conversely, all Pavlik needs to do to win is be himself for few fighters in the sport play the numbers game as well as he does. He must push his two-inches shorter opponent backward in order to take away some of Taylor's power while throwing enough heavy leather to force the Arkansan to stay somewhat occupied on defense. Blunt force trauma is the name of Pavlik's game, and as impressive as his activity is, his precision is even more so as he landed 51 percent of his power punches against Zertuche, 46 percent against Miranda and 48 percent against Taylor. Pavlik is a heavier hitter than Taylor punch for punch, and because he will likely pile up bigger numbers the chances that one of his bombs will produce a sudden victory is that much greater.
The 166-pound limit ostensibly was agreed to because Taylor can no longer squeeze himself down to the middleweight championship limit, and while the former champion will benefit from the added weight so will the current champion. Both fighters sport big frames that can easily accommodate the extra poundage, and in fact both will be stronger fighters for it. Because both will be more comfortable, the fans may get an even better fight.
The prediction: Pavlik was the bigger, stronger, consistently harder-hitting man in the first fight and such will be the case in the rematch now that both will have a few extra pounds on their frames. Taylor proved that he has the punch to take Pavlik out at any time, but Pavlik also showed he has the wherewithal to work his way out of difficult situations in big-fight situations. And don't forget, Pavlik ended up finishing Taylor once he had him hurt.
Taylor is in a more precarious point in his professional career, for another defeat to Pavlik may finish him as a top-flight attraction, yet against Pavlik his desperate situation could work against him because sheer aggression plays right into the Ohioan's ever-busy hands. The only way Taylor will prevail is if he hurts Pavlik early and takes him out at the first opportunity. Unfortunately for Taylor, that won't happen. Pavlik by eighth round TKO in another classic slugfest.
HBO PPV - Feb. 16, 2008