- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Their memories are foggy, now that it's more than seven years since their first meeting, but neither of them disputes the outcome: Jermain Taylor won a decision in his only amateur meeting with Kelly Pavlik.
Now, all these years later, Taylor is the middleweight champion of the world, Pavlik is the clear No. 1 contender, and they are set to meet in one of the year's most anticipated fights on Saturday night (HBO, 10:15 ET) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
In the opening bout, welterweight Andre Berto (19-0, 16 KOs), the 2006 ESPN.com prospect of the year, faces David Estrada (21-3, 12 KOs) in an elimination bout.
But what about that first Taylor-Pavlik fight on Feb. 9, 2000 in Tampa, Fla., and does it have anything to do with what will happen Saturday?
Their amateur showdown came in the opening round of the U.S. Olympic trials, which Taylor won and parlayed into an eventual bronze medal at the Sydney Games.
Taylor was 22 and Pavlik was two months shy of his 18th birthday. Taylor's physical maturity and vast experience advantage powered him to an 11-5 decision victory on the first day of competition in the 156-pound division.
After the Olympics, Taylor (27-0-1, 17 KOs) went on to sign a seven-figure promotional contract with Lou DiBella, a fat television contract with HBO and eventually win the undisputed championship in 2005 by outpointing the great Bernard Hopkins.
Shortly after the loss to Taylor, Pavlik (31-0, 28 KOs) signed with manager Cameron Dunkin and promoter Top Rank, and turned pro in anonymity. He finally worked into the mandatory position he's in today by knocking out heavily-hyped Edison Miranda in an all-action brawl May 19 on the undercard of Taylor's lackluster points victory against junior middleweight titlist Cory Spinks.
Dunkin was ringside for that 2000 trials match. He's one of the premier amateur talent evaluators in the sport and had had his eye on Pavlik for quite some time. So when Pavlik was eliminated Dunkin quickly signed him and then brought him to Top Rank, which developed him from a raw prospect into a bona fide contender.
Dunkin remembers the bout.
"I watched the fight with my son," he said. "I was after Pavlik already, so I was sitting quietly just watching the fight. To me, it was a very close fight. I think Taylor threw more punches and won the fight. He was a little more busy than Kelly. But it wasn't like Kelly got backed up, or Jermain backed up. It was more of a boxing match in the center of the ring than a fight. It was one of those fights you watch and at the end you say, 'Hey, it could go either way.'
"But one thing I know is this -- I had seen Jermain knocking guys out with the right hand in the amateurs, beating guys up and bullying a lot of guys. He didn't do that with Kelly. You're looking at 17-year-old kid and I was impressed. He hung tight with this guy and I thought to myself, 'Imagine what he will do with this guy in a few years?' I was impressed, but I also liked Taylor a lot, too. There was nothing spectacular about it, just a solid fight, but you could see Kelly had solid skills for his age. He was just a lanky kid, not the strong man he is now."
The memories of the boxers aren't as clear as Dunkin's.
"I don't remember the fight," Taylor said. "I just remember that we did fight. I can't tell you what happened or how hard he hits. But I can tell you that I won. I don't remember the fight, I remember winning, but I can't tell you (if) he drops his hands, or any of that. "
In fact, not only does Taylor not remember the fight, he didn't even recognize Pavlik when the two came face-to-face a few months ago to announce Saturday's fight.
When Ozell Nelson, Taylor's assistant trainer and father figure, pointed Pavlik out when they arrived for the press conference in New York, Taylor's reaction was: "I came in and saw him and said 'I never saw that guy in my life.'"
Regardless, Taylor appears to be using the amateur victory to help raise his confidence heading into the championship fight.
"I whipped him once, and I'll whip him again," Taylor said.
Pavlik's memories of what would be his final amateur fight are equally as murky as Taylor's.
"I don't really remember the fight," he said. "I was 17 years old. I had just come out of the Junior Olympics and it was maybe my fourth or fifth open tournament. Now it's a different ballgame. You can't go off the amateurs. He won the fight, but it wasn't a blowout. If I had a couple of more fights under my belt, it would have been a different story."
While Pavlik admits that he lost, he believes strongly that it was more a product of his youth and lack of experience than anything special Taylor did against him.
"I can't say that I won the fight. I'm not going to sit here and say I got robbed," Pavlik said. "He was experienced. He was older. I learned a lot from that fight. Now I think the difference is I'm 25 years old, I'm grown and I have a lot of experience behind me and I think that's what the difference is gonna be now."
There are many cases where fighters meet in the amateurs and then again as pros with similar results. One of the more famous examples is the Vernon Forrest-Shane Mosley rivalry.
Mosley was a favorite to make the 1992 U.S. Olympic team when he ran into Forrest, who ended his Olympic dream at the trials.
As a professional, however, Mosley emerged as the star while Forrest toiled in the shadows. Mosley won the lightweight and welterweight title, defeated Oscar De La Hoya and was considered one of the top fighters in the world pound-for-pound when he agreed to defend his welterweight championship against Forrest in January 2001.
Although Forrest's amateur triumph over Mosley was a significant storyline leading into their pro fight, Forrest, despite having also won a version of the welterweight crown, was a heavy underdog. He beat Mosley, however, with relative ease in a shocker and then did it again six months later in a rematch.
DiBella doesn't put much stock in what happened the first time around between Taylor and Pavlik, but candidly admitted, "I'd always rather have won, even if it was in the amateurs. I always think that is a slight advantage. It never hurts to have beaten to guy before. That's my attitude. But this won't be like an amateur fight. Those are touch and run fights. This is going to be a real fight."
Emanuel Steward, Taylor's trainer, puts more stock in the amateur outcome than DiBella. On HBO's "Countdown to Taylor-Pavlik" preview show, he said, "Jermain won and I think the same reason that he won then is why he'll win this time -- his greater speed, better natural coordination and then another major factor, the quality of guys he's been fighting."
Jack Loew, who has trained Pavlik since he started boxing at his Youngstown, Ohio, gym, said he wants the Taylor camp to believe that Taylor's success in the amateur meeting means something.
"Kelly was a baby. Jermain was a young man at the time," Loew said. "That's nowhere near a fair comparison. If that's what they are leaning on and going on, good. God bless 'em."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.