He's never been stopped," Pavlik said in a teleconference call with media, "but what happens when he does get hit flush? It's definitely not out of the question for a late round stoppage or a quick knockout.
Here is what Pavlik is up against: Hopkins has fought 384 rounds and not only has he not been knocked out, but he has only hit canvas in one fight under usual circumstances. In 1994 Hopkins travelled to Ecuador to fight for a vacant middleweight title against an undistinguished boxer named Segundo Mercado. The bout was contested in a bull ring in Ecuador's capital of Quito, which is 9,350 feet above sea level. Mercado lived and trained in Quito. Hopkins only arrived there four days before the fight.
Mercado put Hopkins down for the first time in his career with a right hand in the 5th round. Two rounds later Mercado fired an uppercut that sent Hopkins tumbling through the ropes head first on his way down. The American got up to salvage a draw, and then knocked Mercado out in a rematch in Maryland. The knockdowns were probably more attributable to the thin air, than to Mercado, who had a record of 18-2, and was not particularly powerful, showing just 11 knockouts at the time. If you factor in that after losing the rematch, Mercado got knocked out in seven of his last eight fights before retiring, it seems reasonable to dismiss the first fight as a fluke.
Despite Hopkins' well-deserved reputation for having a granite chin, Pavlik's trainer Jack Lowe feels that if they can melt steel in his boxer's home city of Youngstown, there's no reason why Kelly can't crack granite.
"This will be a good fight for about six or seven rounds," Lowe said. "Then I see it playing out like the Cotto-Margarito fight, where Margarito kept stalking him and eventually Cotto wore out. What is Hopkins going to do when he has a guy who's 6'-2 1/2 and throws 97 to 103 punches a round chasing him? We'll catch him eventually."
Five or 10 years ago nobody was able to catch the wily Hopkins. But that was then and this is now. The always superbly-conditioned Hopkins may be a 30-year-old man in a 43-year-old's body, but there's no question he has slowed down and his reflexes are not what they used to be. After defending his middleweight title 20 straight times -- including knockouts of prime time Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya - Hopkins has lost three of his last fights, two on close decisions to Jermain Taylor, and a split decision in his last bout against the undefeated Joe Calzaghe.
While acknowledging Hopkins chin, Pavlik still thinks he can put him away. "He's never been stopped," Pavlik said in a teleconference call with media, "but what happens when he does get hit flush? It's definitely not out of the question for a late round stoppage or a quick knockout."
Hopkins scoffed at the notion of Pavlik beating him. "Kelly Pavlik is the perfect opponent for me because he comes forward, he comes to fight and he wants to knock Bernard Hopkins out," Hopkins said. "If Kelly Pavlik thinks he's gonna beat Bernard Hopkins because he has a right hand, he's a damn fool."
Lowe feels it is Hopkins who is tailor-made for Pavlik. "Hopkins wants to make it an inside fight, like he did with Calzaghe - jab, jab, jab, get in and clinch and hold," Lowe said. "But Kelly has good power in both hands and Hopkins is going to have to get from point A to point B (clinch) without getting tagged with a right hand or left hook."
While Hopkins often claims he has never been cut or hurt in a fight -- which is a bit hard to believe - there's no getting around the fact that nobody has ever manhandled him. What is also unquestionable is that Hopkins has a huge edge in experience, and has faced fighters every bit as tough as Pavlik, if not more so. Besides Trinidad and De La Hoya, Hopkins took a prime time Roy Jones Jr. the full 12 rounds before dropping a relatively close decision by scores of 112-116 on all three judge's cards.
Trainer Enzo Calzaghe, who has had an on-going, often caustic debate with Lowe in the media over the relative merits of their fighters, thinks Hopkins' experience will turn Pavlik into something less than an irresistible force.
"Bernard Hopkins will beat Kelly Pavlik, I have no doubt about that," Enzo recently told setantasports.com. "Pavlik could beat Jermain Taylor because Taylor only had a plan A. Hopkins has a plan A, B, C and D. Hopkins is in a different class than Pavlik. I'm not sure of the round, but Hopkins will take him to school. Hopkins can nullify Pavlik's punching power with his movement."
Told what Enzo had said, Lowe was quick to counter punch. "Enzo is a jerk. I don't understand why they're talking about Kelly when they should be worrying about Roy Jones (whom Calzaghe fights on Nov. 8)," Lowe said. "If the right Roy Jones shows up, he's going to kick the crap out of Calzaghe."
Also worth noting in this fight is that Pavlik's chin is nowhere as durable as Hopkins. In the second round of his first bout with Taylor, Pavlik was knocked down, and when he got up was nearly put down for good. Pavlik was also knocked down last year by a lesser fighter than Taylor, Jose Luis Zertuche, and has tasted canvas in a couple other fights.
Although Hopkins' 42 victories include 32 knockouts, he has not stopped anyone in four years. One thing is for certain, unlike Taylor, if Hopkins does manage to put down Pavlik, he's better equipped to finish him.
Some have criticized Lowe for taking this fight - which will be at a catch weight of 170 pounds -- saying he should be defending his middleweight title against young bucks. But other than Pavlik, the pickings are slim in a division currently devoid of stars and big fights. "We could have been like (champion) Arthur Abraham and stayed at middleweight and waited for fighters to come to us. But in one or two more fights, Kelly's going to move up to 168, and if there is nothing attractive there, we'll go to 175," Lowe said. With the catch weight being 10 pounds over the middleweight limit, there has been some who've questioned whether the lanky Pavlik might have trouble with a naturally bigger man who campaigns as a light heavyweight.
"I think their people (Hopkins' camp) made a mistake taking this fight at 170," Lowe said. "They thought Kelly would have problems getting up to 170. But Kelly walks around at 172-173, and right now (Oct. 6) he's training at 169-170."
The one thing that is unquestionable is that Hopkins, even at 43, is still a big step up for the young Pavlik, whose best opponent to date has been Taylor, whom he beat twice. Since Taylor beat Hopkins twice, it is tempting to say Pavlik should defeat Hopkins. But that kind of logic rarely works in boxing.
The guess here is that this fight will go to the scorecards, where anything can happen, even an irresistible force moving an unmovable object. And vice versa.