But Kelly Pavlik DID Lose To Bernard Hopkins, And He Could Learn From It If He Acknowledged It

I defended Kelly Pavlik after his loss to Bernard Hopkins from idiotic remarks that he had been “exposed,” as if his entire career up to that point was fraudulent and it took B-Hop to reveal the truth that he sucked. But I think Pavlik and his crew are missing an opportunity to turn Pavlik into a better fighter by effectively acting like the whole thing never happened. There’s confidence, and then there’s denial. The Pavlik team, in recent remarks and past ones, sounds like it’s crossed over from confidence into a bad case of pretendsies.

Everyone knows that Pavlik was sick that night in October. Objective third parties have documented as much — it’s not just Pavlik making excuses, what with the way every fighter who ever underperforms just happens to have had flu for his entire three-month training camp or had seven toes amputated or whatever else. And everyone knows that Pavlik is a middleweight (160 lbs.), the middleweight champ, in fact, and isn’t ready and may never be ready to be a top guy at around 170 pounds. The Pavlik team definitely learned that lesson, because his fight next month is at middleweight, so they haven’t completely turned a blind eye to the loss.

But as much as I defended Pavlik before, it wasn’t as if B-Hop didn’t exploit weaknesses in Pavlik’s game. Hopkins was the more skilled man, the faster man, the smarter man. He would have been at 160, too. Recognizing that could prompt Pavlik to work on lateral movement, on hand speed, on developing greater punch variety, on head movement, on learning how not to get beaten to the punch. Some of those things are assets you’re born with, but anything Pavlik could do to improve in those categories would make him a better fighter. And the upside of getting one’s ass kicked by a boxing master like Hopkins is, yeah, you lost, but you’re less likely to next time if you try to absorb something from the beating other than the punches themselves.

Instead, here’s what Pavlik trainer Jack Loew says:

“It’s over,” said Loew, whose one adjustment from the Hopkins training camp is to run a more private training camp instead of having it be so open to fans and media as it was for Pavlik’s recent fights. “Kelly and I didn’t even talk about it much. We have only talked about what we will do for this fight, which is the only thing that matters. Hopkins is not in my mind. We’re coming off a loss and Rubio is sitting there with nothing to lose. Maybe this is his only opportunity for a world title. We know he’s dangerous because we have a hungry fighter with nothing to lose in front of us. So for us, it’s full speed ahead. It’s a very serious training camp. Mentally, Kelly is 100 percent ready. We know back-to-back losses would be devastating.”

Really? The only adjustment is… more private training camps? That’s it? There are no other adjustments Pavlik needs to make?

“My mind-set was to go back to the gym, throw that in the past and work hard,” Pavlik said. “Every fighter goes through it. Great fighters get through it. That’s what I’ll do and put on a good show Feb. 21. The loss doesn’t really bother me much anymore. People bring it up, which is when I think about it. But I just throw it out the window. It happened. It’s over. It’s something that sucks, that you have to lose, but it’s not the end. I’m back at middleweight.”

The headline to this post is slightly deceptive, because Pavlik did say, “it happened.” And it’s commendable for Pavlik and his team to not make excuses. But I don’t know if the answer is to “throw it out the window,” as though it didn’t happen.

It’s not the first time Pavlik and team have talked thusly. Here’s Pavlik in one of his first interviews after the fight, starting out talking about Hopkins:

“And it’s not that he’s that good. For crying out loud he lost to Jermain Taylor, twice. I beat Jermain Taylor twice, I beat him by decision and I knocked him out. It has nothing to do with his athleticism or his craftiness. Jermain Taylor hit him at will. Calzaghe hit him at will.”

That is totally, totally missing the point that fighters match up differently. Taylor is more athletic than Hopkins, which helped Taylor win two close decisions over the craftier Hopkins, but both Hopkins and Taylor are more athletic than Pavlik. Calzaghe’s probably more athletic than Hopkins and in his league in the craftiness department, but Calzaghe is both more athletic and craftier than Pavlik, and Hopkins is most certainly craftier than Pavlik, too. In other words, you can give Hopkins trouble with athleticism and/or craftiness, but Pavlik operated at a deficit of both against Hopkins. So, yes: athleticism and craftiness did have a lot to do with it.

I don’t happen to think that Marco Antonio Rubio, Pavlik’s opponent Feb. 21, is going to require anything more of Pavlik than he had before the Hopkins fight. Rubio’s a gutsy dude who hits hard but doesn’t have a flashy skill set or glaring athleticism. But some day, unless he’s matched exceptionally carefully, Pavlik is going to fight someone who does have those attributes, and if he’s the same fighter he was before the Hopkins bout, there’s an increased chance he’ll lose against that man the same way he did to Hopkins. I don’t know if Arthur Abraham is the one, or Paul Williams. My sense is both are a little more skilled and athletic than Pavlik. Felix Sturm definitely is, and Williams, Sturm and Abraham are among his three most prominently mentioned next opponents.

I think this quote from Bob Arum, who has a great big boxing brain, while ultimately supportive, kinda hints in the direction I’m going with this. I’ll give the Bobfather the last word, from ESPN, talking about Pavlik and his team, emphasis mine:

“It seems like they’ve overcome that, but who knows,” Arum said. “To talk to them it’s like it never happened, but it happened. What they are really thinking, I don’t really know, but the vibe I got from them was good.”

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.