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Kelly Pavlik's Road To Redemption

When it comes to Kelly Pavlik's middleweight title reign, there's the truth, and then there's the whole truth.

You can use the former to make a case that the reign has been a success so far. The latter suggests otherwise.

Here's what Pavlik's supporters will tell you, and every word of it is true: "The Ghost" has never lost a fight at 160 pounds. Since knocking out Jermain Taylor for the division's lineal championship, he's made three defenses and ended each one in nine rounds or less. Pavlik was the man to beat in the division the moment he left Taylor slumped in the corner on July 29, 2007, and he's still the man to beat in the division now.

As for the whole truth, it contains all of the above, plus the following: Pavlik's three defenses have come against Gary Lockett, Marco Antonio Rubio, and Miguel Espino, as ordinary a trio of fringe contenders as you'll find; he's been champ for 21/2 years, meaning he's not exactly cranking out the defenses at a jackrabbit's pace; in an over-the-weight non-title fight, he lost just about every round against a 43-year-old Bernard Hopkins. He went from fighting regularly on HBO, where some 30 million subscribing households could see him fight, to having four of his last five fights air for limited audiences on pay-per-view, and along the way he's battled injuries, a near-death illness, and two postponements/cancellations of planned fights with Paul Williams.

You can't call Pavlik's reign an all-out disaster; he is still the champ, after all. But you can certainly call it a disappointment. Especially when you consider that there was talk in '07 of Pavlik replacing Oscar De La Hoya as the biggest name in American boxing.

Kelly Pavlik

But here's the good news for Pavlik and his fans: On April 17, he'll have a chance to make all of the setbacks vanish, to silence all the critics, and to show up his greatest antagonist and the man considered by many to be his greatest threat, Williams. With one resounding performance, Pavlik can earn total redemption.

The opponent is Sergio Martinez, a tricky, talented southpaw who gave Williams all he could handle last December en route to a majority decision loss that could just as easily have gone the other way. He represents Pavlik's first dangerous title challenger and an obvious measuring stick in the Ohioan's budding rivalry with Williams.

"It definitely makes a statement if I beat Martinez better than Williams did," Pavlik told HBO.com. "I think just beating Martinez fair and square makes that statement, since I had Martinez beating Williams by two rounds."

So does Pavlik feel that one win is all he needs to silence the critics?

"I hope so. But I doubt it will-you know how it is with some of these critics. It's crazy how quick they'll turn on you. I lost one fight, and I had some time off where I wasn't fighting because of injuries, and all of a sudden they said I couldn't compete with top fighters. All of a sudden they said if I fought anybody with foot movement and decent hand speed I'm in trouble. It just mind-boggles me, because I have one loss in my career, and anybody that's seen me fight knows that wasn't Kelly Pavlik that night. I beat Jermain Taylor twice, who beat Bernard Hopkins twice, and then all of a sudden I can't compete with hand speed? If it ain't one thing, it'll be something else that people latch onto."

Interestingly, just as Pavlik insists we didn't see a reasonable approximation of his A-game the night he lost to Hopkins, the Williams camp says the same thing about "The Punisher" in the Martinez fight. Members of Team Pavlik have stated on record that, with Kelly dealing with flu-like symptoms leading up to the Hopkins fight, if they had it to do over again, they would have pulled out. Team Williams has a similar take on the Martinez scare, even though their fighter did manage to eke out the win. Williams trained for Pavlik, Pavlik pulled out twice with injuries, and they believe the style switch and the mental letdown of not fighting for the world championship was to blame for the problems Williams had with the speedy Spaniard.

"If Kelly Pavlik beats Martinez more convincingly than Paul did, I don't think it proves anything," said Williams' promoter, Dan Goossen. "In hindsight, we put Paul in a bad situation. If Paul Williams had a six- or eight-week training schedule for Martinez, I think it's a four- or five-round fight. But the reality is that none of Paul's past opponents have ever been the same after he got done with them, so if Pavlik wins big, it substantiates my belief that Sergio isn't the same fighter after taking a tremendous amount of punishment against Paul."

If Pavlik defeats Martinez at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City-no easy task, unless you buy into Goossen's spin that Martinez is damaged goods-Pavlik-Williams, the fight that's been on the precipice of happening on multiple occasions, becomes the fight in the middleweight division.

Certainly, Pavlik does have other options. He could move up to super middleweight to take on Lucian Bute (who, not coincidentally, is featured in the other half of HBO's split-site doubleheader) or he could defend the middleweight title against a respected opponent like Felix Sturm.

But Williams is the dream fight for fans if Pavlik gets past Martinez. And, in part because Team Williams has accused Pavlik of cowardice, it's the dream fight for the champ.

"I would love to fight him, believe me," Pavlik said. "There's one way of shutting mouths up, and that's by putting fists down them."

Doing so in a forceful manner against Williams would certainly quiet The Punisher. But first, Pavlik has Martinez' to deal with. If he can do that, most of the critics should be silenced, and the gap between the partial truth and the whole truth regarding Pavlik's title reign would all but disappear.


 

I lost one fight, and I had some time off where I wasn't fighting because of injuries, and all of a sudden they said I couldn't compete with top fighters. All of a sudden they said if I fought anybody with foot movement and decent hand speed I'm in trouble.

Posted 12:00 AM | Apr 1, 2010

Kelly Pavlik vs. Sergio Martinez

HBO WCB - Apr. 17, 2010

Lucian Bute vs. Edison Miranda