Kelly Pavlik had to go the distance this time, but the middleweight champion was aptly rewarded Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Proving that he intends to be a force for awhile, Pavlik won a hard-fought 12-round unanimous decision victory to remain unbeaten and thwart former champion Jermain Taylor's bid for revenge.
Pavlik, the pride of Youngstown, Ohio, was fighting for the first time since dethroning Taylor with a seventh-round KO in September. Although the lanky slugger wasn't able to add to his two-year, nine-bout streak of victories by knockout, Pavlik (33-0, 29 knockouts) used a stiff left jab and persistent aggression to finish ahead on all three judges' scorecards.
Giving Pavlik credit for finishing stronger, Dave Moretti scored the fight in the champion's favor 117-111 while Glenn Trowbridge 116-112 and Patricia Jarman 115-113 also scored it for Pavlik.
Unlike the first fight, in which Pavlik came back from a second-round knockdown to leave Taylor slumped on the canvas, neither fighter was knocked down in the rematch. Taylor corrected what had become a detrimental habit of backing up to the ropes and was able to land the better power shots with quicker hands. But Pavlik's pinpoint jab and combinations allowed him to dictate the fight.
"This fight was different because Jermain is a smart fighter,'' Pavlik said. "He stood there and knew what he had to do. Every time his back got close to the ropes, he danced off. I put the pressure on him but he put the pressure back on me and countered. A couple of times, I got stupid leaning in and he caught me. But I thought I fought a good fight."
Taylor, who was unbeaten until Pavlik upset him five months ago, made better use of his jab but visibly tired in the latter rounds, retreating to the ropes in the 12th round for the only time in the fight. Still, the former champion from Little Rock thought he'd done enough to gain revenge.
"I was listening to my corner and I thought I was doing pretty good,'' Taylor (27-2-1, 17 KOs) said. "I thought I did enough in the earlier rounds to win the fight. In the last couple of rounds he came on strong and caught me with a body shot when I was on the ropes. He's a strong fighter. I give him all the glory."
Taylor, who called the rematch against Pavlik a "make or break" fight in his career, said he hasn't decided what his future holds.
"It's up to God,'' Taylor said, fighting back tears. "I trained my ass off for this fight. I worked hard everyday."
Going the distance wasn't anything new to Taylor. Six of his last seven fights have gone 12 rounds, including a loss, two wins and a draw in four fights under the guidance of Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward.
Ozell Nelson, Taylor's surrogate father who trained him as an amateur, was in charge of the former champion's corner Saturday night for the first time since Taylor turned pro. Nelson assumed the chief-second role after Taylor's loss to Pavlik and appeared to bring about a more disciplined and relaxed performance.
In the end though,led by his long-time trainer Jack Loew, PAvlik fought much the same as he did in the first fight and his methodical aggression was the difference.
"As the fight went on, I started seeing my punches land more, the jabs and everything,'' Pavlik said, admitting that the rematch decision wasn't as satisfying as his KO was to win the title. Saturday's rematch was fought at a catch weight of 166 pounds, which meant that Pavlik's title wasn't on the line.
"Nothing is as satisfying as the first one because that was for the world title,'' Pavlik said. "But to beat a world champion like Jermain Taylor twice is quite an achievement."
Pavlik expects the victory to lead to bigger and better bouts as his career appears ready to soar.
"Whoever (my promoter) Top Rank throws at me, that's who I'll fight,'' Pavlik said. "I'll fight anybody. That's one thing I have to give Jermain. He wanted the rematch immediately and that's how I felt, too. I'll fight anybody. That's what makes the sport better."
HBO PPV - Feb. 16, 2008