Pavlik Remains Perfect After Hard Decision


Thanks to a questionable display of difficult judging, undisputed middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik remained undefeated despite being outboxed and, for the most part, outfought by former champion Jermain Taylor over twelve tense yet captivating rounds in Las Vegas.

The rematch dubbed “The Epic Battle Continues” proved many of boxing’s more uncomfortable myths about judging to be true, namely that judges favor the “aggressor,” even when the “aggressor” hits nothing but gloves for most of the fight, and that the final two rounds, the so-called “championship rounds,” appear to be worth more than the previous ten rounds combined. More important, however, the decision that partially tainted a hearty showdown proved that the only way to guarantee a victory is to win by knockout because when the final bell rang Saturday night, Taylor had done enough to take Pavlik’s title. Unfortunately, he left what may have been the greatest performance of his still young career empty-handed. Even more unfortunate is that few boxing experts and fans will care in the long run.

Fight fans across the combat landscape share a love of knockouts and for good reason. Knockouts are violently entertaining and decisive. When Pavlik left Taylor slumped in the corner back in September, no one could deny that he was the middleweight champion of the world and that he had earned that title. Apparently, judges love knockouts as well but for a very different reason. The appointed observers for the rematch between Pavlik and Taylor must have been banking on a knockout like the one that ended the first fight to bail them out of the admittedly difficult duty of having to pick a winner after every round. In what came as a surprise to many, the knockout didn’t come, and the judges were exposed for their lack of professionalism after turning in somewhat unjustifiable scorecards. Pavlik won four, maybe five rounds if given the benefit of the doubt in many instances but was credited with as many as seven, eight, and nine on the official tallies.

For most of the fight and certainly six of the twelve rounds, Taylor made Pavlik look just about amateurish. After a hotly contested first round in which Jermain effectively used his jab to outwork Pavlik until Kelly landed one emphatic right hand, Taylor went after the middleweight champion in round two, unleashing some vicious one-two’s with “bad intentions” on them before landing several thudding rights. Jermain finished the round by going to Pavlik’s body with a combination and landing another hard right just before the bell that authoritatively closed the stanza in the challenger’s favor. While Taylor continued working behind his prominent jab to land stiff power shots, Pavlik rarely hit anything but gloves and resorted to fighting like a brawler out of ideas as early as the third round. On the few occasions when Pavlik did land cleanly, the effects were painfully obvious for Taylor, whose left eye began swelling, something on which the judges may have put far too much emphasis when deciding who was winning rounds. Meanwhile, Taylor closed a conclusive third round with a body shot to Pavlik in the final seconds.

Hypocritically, the bloody nose Pavlik sported for more than half of the fight did not have the same influence on the judges as did Taylor’s swelling eyes. If Jermain erred in any way, it was that all too often he went into a shell, perhaps too cautious about punching himself out as he had done in the first fight, arguably the sole reason he entered the rematch as challenger instead of champion or that a rematch was even happening. Though his plan to refrain from over committing appeared to pay off as the rounds progressed, Jermain was gambling in leaving the door open for Kelly to steal some rounds by throwing, not landing, punches in bunches and giving the impression that he was imposing his will on the challenger. Taylor passed rounds four and five in this fashion, his offense too absent to prevent Pavlik from landing a respectable amount of punches, although he continued to hit the champion with the harder shots, especially when trading with Kelly at the end of the fifth. Stepping back on the gas midway through the sixth, Jermain beat on Pavlik with the better blows, both to the body and head, to win a more clear cut round, during which Pavlik caught the forearm from Taylor on the end of a right that busted his nose open. Jermain stung the bloodied Kelly at will with his jab throughout round seven and mixed in some body work while the champion’s shots hit leather. When Pavlik tried to step up and steal the uneventful round in the final seconds, Taylor fired back with more body shots and a left hook to negate the effort, securing what should have been a palpable lead. There was no doubt the champion had been throwing and landing more shots but not so many more that he was overcoming the well placed shots of Taylor.

Rounds eight, nine, and ten most likely decided the fight as they were each close enough to give to Pavlik, especially if a judge happened to have the champion significantly down on the cards and didn’t want to run the risk of appearing “too far off” from the other scores, although Taylor appeared to edge all three of these tactically fought rounds, knocking Pavlik’s head up with a sticking jab in the eighth that set up a punishing right-left combination. Another such combination landed flush to Pavlik before the bell to seal a significant round for Taylor, despite Compubox outrageously attributing Jermain with only seven landed punches. Jermain continued banging away at Kelly in the ninth, though he waited until the middle of the round to unleash a hard right and start the attack. Undeterred, the champion continued to come forward, throwing jabs and rights into Taylor’s gloves, but Jermain picked his spots to hammer into Kelly with combinations. As he demonstrated when ripping Pavlik with right-left assaults in round ten, the challenger was simply the better fighter and continuously proved his craft in the center of the ring. Taylor’s decision to sit back and counter punch kept him from taking any serious damage all the while administering Kelly a healthy serving of leather, but the sight of the champion going on the offensive must have made a bigger impression on the judges’ minds than did the blows raining on Pavlik’s cranium. Jermain didn’t help his cause any by employing some tactical holding whenever Kelly’s shots to the gloves drew too close for the challenger’s liking.

Pavlik fought the championship rounds in desperate fashion, a man fully aware he needed a knockout or at least some knockdowns in order to pull out a victory and preserve his undefeated record. While struggling to land anything big on Taylor, who was putting in some fierce body work, the champion managed to rally in the waning moments, catching the challenger with a good jab and a body shot that put Jermain against the ropes for the first time all night even while missing the biggest punch of the series, the straight right. Still, Taylor reacted as though he was hurt, forcibly holding onto Pavlik and giving Kelly more incentive to go for the kill in the final round. Just as he had done when warding off Bernard Hopkins’ late round comeback attempts years ago, Taylor fought back in impressive manner, even initiating the impending brawl when he drilled Pavlik with a hard right, but Pavlik needed the round more and outfought Taylor until the final bell. The judges may well have decided the winner based on the lasting image of the bout’s final act: Taylor holding onto Pavlik, who had spent the round landing straight rights and pounding the challenger’s body.

Scores of 115-113, 116-112, and 117-111 sounded respectable, but the evening went a tad sour when Pavlik was announced the benefactor of the cards. More than one observer probably had to assume Michael Buffer had declared the cards correctly but mistaken the winner; however, no error was announced and Pavlik ultimately remained undefeated even after being bested in as many as eight or nine rounds of the fight albeit not clearly enough for the judges. Just as Hopkins had done in 2005, Pavlik probably did more damage to Taylor overall, but virtually all of the damage was dealt in the final two rounds whereas Jermain spread out his attack over the course of the fight, winning as many as five rounds clearly and keeping the rest, aside from the last two, very close if he did indeed lose them at all.

While no one is foolish enough to endorse a bad decision, the rematch between Taylor and Pavlik wasn’t nearly as big a deal as many were making it out to be heading into the fight; thus, the decision doesn’t ruin the immediate future of the sport in any way. The bout naturally didn’t live up to the hype thanks to Taylor’s fabulous exhibition of boxing, but it couldn’t possibly have rivaled the first encounter in which both men went for the knockout in their best moments. Then, there is the matter of title implications. Fighting at a catchweight closer to the super middleweight limit, Pavlik’s middleweight title wasn’t on the line, which meant that even if the verdict had gone Jermain’s way, little would have changed. Kelly would no longer be undefeated, clearly, but he would still be the middleweight champion, which is exactly the weight class he is meant to rule. Pavlik looked slow, lost, and out of his element at 166 pounds, meaning he should look the other way should Joe Calzaghe or Roy Jones Jr. come calling next. After two fights against one of the sport’s best, Kelly will probably take a few easier paydays as he should.

As a final point, the decision will not linger in the annals of boxing infamy for one more reason. Pavlik has shown he can make exciting fights even when matched up with superb boxers like Taylor, and he should continue making such fights at middleweight, perhaps unifying the titles against the likes of Arthur Abraham and Felix Sturm. Jermain, on the other hand, has had his opportunity in the spotlight, and it’s not a stretch to say he failed to make the most of it, wasting much of his time looking feeble in failing to stop Kassim Ouma and practically absurd when chasing Cory Spinks around the ring. The great tragedy in the entire muddle of Jermain’s run as middleweight champion is that his best performance, the one in which he finally seemed to understand his role and utilize his strengths, resulted in a controversial loss. This is an error boxing should never make and one that may hurt Taylor’s career in the long run, killing both his desire to be champion again and love for the sport in general.

The first big fight of 2008 has not helped boxing in maintaining the juggernaut that was launched throughout the previous year. The bouts themselves don’t always have to be classics, but the decisions must be correct to retain a level of integrity and respect in the sports world. On this occasion, the opposite happened when Pavlik and Taylor put on a stellar, professional showcase of skill and determination only to receive a poor decision for their effort. Had these three judges, Dave Moretti, Glen Trowbridge, and Patricia Morse Jarman, been assigned to the superfight between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. from last year, De La Hoya would have come out of that bout victorious while Mayweather suffered a ridiculous loss, setting the sport back as much as the lousy decisions for the first fight between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield and the “fight of the millennium” between De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad did in 1999. If winners are determined by which boxer “makes the fight,” then there is nothing left to separate boxing from ultimate fighting, an association from which the sport worked painfully hard to escape with its repeated successes and mostly commendable judging in 2007.