I bet middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik totally wishes he had a Hot Tub Time Machine that could take him back to mid-2008, when he was near the top of the world and the future was so bright he had to wear shades and Michael Jackson was white but at least not dead. Pavlik’s own whitish hue no doubt contributed to his success, but it was as much about his punching power and exciting fights and “savior of Youngstown” back story. Then Bernard Hopkins schooled him, his career saw a series of bad misfires and even Youngstown seemed to turn on him a little. Saturday will be the first time since then he is to face an elite opponent, and there’s a good news/bad news element to it. As Ring magazine wrote recently, “If it sems as if we’ve been waiting a while for the next stage of Kelly Pavlik’s career to begin in earnest, it’s because we have.” The Martinez fight represents that. But Martinez — who may deserve the pound-for-pound status Pavlik still retains — also represents a threat similar to the one Hopkins gave him, so that’s the down side.
It’s the main event in a split site Saturday HBO doubleheader. Before heading to Atlantic City, the card visits Canada to pit super middleweight Lucian Bute — a potential Pavlik opponent, if Pavlik beats Martinez — against Edison Miranda, who’s being pitched to us as reborn from several convincing losses thanks to new trainer Joe Goossen. Bute may have his own claim to pound-for-pound status, but Miranda is at minimum a dangerous puncher. Given the reputation of all four men for action fights, it should be a fun night of boxing.
LUCIAN BUTE-EDISON MIRANDA
With all of the rest of the best 168-pounders tied up in Showtime’s Super Six tournament, Bute, ranked #1 by Ring magazine, has had few options. Once he got his spectacular body shot knockout revenge on Librado Andrade, where was he to go until Pavlik moved up in weight? As it happens, Miranda was about the best choice, which is too bad, because Bute’s talent deserves a greater challenge. If only Bute had been in the tourney.
Miranda is nonetheless always dangerous and always will be. Any one punch from the Colombian at any time can do most any fighter in. Before Andre Dirrell beat Arthur Abraham in the Super Six, Miranda very well nearly did the same, if not for a second chance the referee gave Abraham not to quit with a multi-broken jaw and some questionable point deductions. Miranda beat another Super Six fighter, Allan Green, with some ease. Alas, that was all back in 2007. That same year, Pavlik smashed him by standing up to his shots and knocking out Miranda; the next year, Abraham avoided most of his power shots to knock out Miranda; and the next year, Andre Ward (another Super Six fighter) totally outclassed Miranda. A 2008 Knockout of the Year over journeyman David Banks was the last of his authentic highlights. Miranda looked done against Ward. His chin was a liability from the start, and his boxing ability was always secondary to his power, but Miranda no longer boxed at all, coming forward stupidly and loading up with one big right hand to the head after another to no avail.
In his most recent fight, an October 1st round KO over unproven Francisco Sierra, the addition of Goossen looked as though it might pay dividends. Miranda’s jab was back. His left hook was back. His body attack wasn’t back, but he didn’t have much time to establish it. And he was actually focusing on defense, moving his feet and head. It was all a little rocky, like he was dusting the cobwebs off his old self, and a secondary question — his conditioning, as he’s apparently in the past blown up to 200 and a quarter or so — never got answered. A solitary fight with Goossen may not be enough to restore Miranda to contention, and one wonders whether even a fully-realized Miranda would be good enough to beat Bute. But he has a better chance being this Miranda than the other.
Bute in his last fight looked better than ever. He’s got above average speed, above average power, he’s a lefty who can box and man is that body assault something. He finished off Andrade — a man who nearly knocked him out in their first meeting — with an uppercut to the gut that still makes my insides clinch up when I think about it. It was a masterful performance. He moved, he set traps, he countered and he engaged. Bute does so many things well. He is a good defender, he mixes up his shots… I dunno, there’s not any one thing that stands out about him besides his body punching, but I really like him as a fighter.
If there’s a fear here for Bute, it might be his chin. Andrade hurt him badly late in their first fight, and it’s amazing he got up, controversial long count or no. It’s clear that that knockdown came at least in large part because Andrade was tired and he foolishly chose to mix it up with Andrade that round rather than keep his distance. Bute’s held up against big punchers before, like Alejandro Berrio, so his chin may not be a problem at all. It is nonetheless an opening for Miranda, if there is one.
I don’t think it’ll be enough. I think Bute rips up Miranda here with some ease. I say he wins by early knockout. He’s the better boxer, much faster, and Miranda’s chin is less sturdy than his. Miranda’s goes first.
KELLY PAVLIK-SERGIO MARTINEZ
This stacks up as a more competitive match-up. Pavlik is the favorite, but Martinez is a popular underdog pick here. Both views are justified, and it’s not an easy call to say who wins this one. On the line is a return to glory for Pavlik, and the marquee win that has evaded Martinez ever-so-slightly in the past. And it figures nicely into a three-way rivalry that includes Paul Williams.
The only person to beat Pavlik was Hopkins, and he did it a few ways: movement, defense, speed, greater size and painful counters. Martinez excels in a couple of those categories. I think his legs are better than Hopkins’. I think his speed is far greater than Hopkins’. He’s not as smart as Hopkins offensively, but his speed puts him in the ballpark of Hopkins as a counterpuncher. His defense… well, that could use some work. He fights with his hands down and invites getting punched as a result, but his legs are good enough that he can get out of the way of a lot of shots and he’s kind of herky-jerky, plus his counters make attacking him no simple task. And he’s not bigger than Pavlik, not by a long shot. He’s a natural 154-pounder who’s fighting at 160 because those are where the opportunities are for bigger paydays, and Hopkins-Pavlik was waged at 170, where Pavlik is nowhere near as effective. On the other hand, another Martinez advantage over Hopkins is that he’s a southpaw, which nobody ever likes fighting.
Pavlik has become fond of pointing out that he’s not so vulnerable to boxer-types. He did dispense with Jermain Taylor twice, even though Taylor was the superior boxer. That’s true. And he’s also become fond of pointing out that he was ill the night of the Hopkins fight, something Thomas Hauser reported from inside Pavlik’s locker room beforehand, so that’s not your usual “excuse” boxers use, either. It’s also true that Pavlik hits harder than Williams, the man who beat Martinez in his last fight and had him down once and stunned a couple times. And Pavlik is as physically big and strong as a middleweight gets, unlike Williams, who considers himself a natural welter. Likewise, the volume attack that Williams deployed got to Martinez a bit, and Pavlik has a similar propensity for punches in bunches.
I don’t doubt that Pavlik can hurt Martinez if he gets to him. But he touched Hopkins flush once maybe that entire fight. I think he’ll find Martinez similarly hard to touch. Williams was able to get to Martinez in part because of his own speed. Kermit Cintron, also faster than Pavlik, didn’t reach Martinez until Martinez got pissed off late in the fight because of the knockout win the referee had stolen from him. Cintron and Pavlik don’t punch on the move as well as Williams, who throws from so many angles and with such desperation for contact that he doesn’t care if he’s in position or not. Pavlik isn’t as basic as his critics make him out to be — he’s a great 1-2 man, but he also has a left hook, uppercut and withering body punches at his disposal, plus he picks off some punches with his gloves — but he still is fairly slow, fairly easy to hit and is no master craftsman. Taylor could box, certainly, but he was deeply flawed in that regard as well and he nearly beat Pavlik twice. Taylor wasn’t the boxer Martinez is.
This is going to be the epitome of a cat and mouse game, with much at stake. If Pavlik loses again, he’ll be written off, fairly or no. I give him a lot of credit for taking on what is a difficult style match-up. I think he beats every current middleweight, and were he to fight the weight-shifting Williams — something that almost happened twice — I would likely predict him to win. But losing again to a particular style would confine people to thinking he was so limited as to be no good. Martinez definitely was robbed of a win in the Cintron fight, and he arguably was robbed of a win in the Williams fight. Even a close loss to Pavlik, defensible though it might be because of the size disparity, would put him in the category of not quite good enough to beat the best. Remember, we’re talking about a fighter here whose best win is over Alex Bunema. Competitive or no with Williams, deserved win or no against Cintron, he’s not on my pound-for-pound list because I need to see him definitively beat a top-notch opponent. I hesitate to put him in Joshua Clottey’s category, but it’s a risk he faces.
I think the mouse wins this one. I suspect it will be a good deal closer than the shutout or near shutout Hopkins pitched, but I see Martinez one way or the other — definitively or closely — outboxing and outmaneuvering Pavlik, maybe with some moments of trouble thrown in like against Williams when he had to go on the run for a little while to survive and clear his head. But it’s not an upset I pick lightly. Pavlik is a formidable opponent, and he’s a gutty fighter who never completely gave in against Hopkins. He’ll be alive to the final bell, and as long as he’s alive, he’s a very serious danger to Martinez.
[The TQBR Prediction Game is in effect, and this will be the final sequence in 1.0 of the game. Remember the rules.]