Commentary

'The Ghost' gets the most out of Taylor

Maybe we can't mention him in the same sentence as Carlos Monzon, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns just yet, but Kelly Pavlik is on the right track as a middleweight standout -- and he has Jermain Taylor to thank for it.

Updated: February 18, 2008, 12:21 PM ET
By Eric Raskin | ESPN.com

Kelly PavlikJed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesHow far can Pavlik go as a world class middleweight? Only time will tell.
In the buildup to Saturday night's Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor rematch, Pavlik's promoter, Bob Arum, dropped the names of some of the outstanding middleweights he worked with over the past three-plus decades: Carlos Monzon, Rodrigo Valdez, Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns.

Mixing hope and hype as any good publicity-seeking promoter should, Arum suggested that Pavlik has the potential to "go down in history as one of the great middleweights."

Of course, it's much too soon to say whether Pavlik will one day be viewed as a middleweight for the ages, as his era's equivalent to Monzon or Hagler. But if he eventually is, he'll have Taylor to thank.

Specifically, he'll want to thank the version of Jermain Taylor that showed up at the MGM Grand on Saturday night.

The first fight with Taylor, on Sept. 29, 2007, made Pavlik the champion. Winning it by dramatic knockout made him a star.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Monzon
AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesWill we one day be able to compare Pavlik with a fighter like Monzon?
Saturday's rematch didn't make "The Ghost" any more of a champion, and it didn't make him any bigger of a star. But it was precisely the kind of battle that will make him a better fighter in the long run.

A quick blowout win, which was the outcome many were predicting, would have been perfect for extending Pavlik's momentum. But for all it would have done for his marketability, it would have done nothing for his ability. It wouldn't have furthered his development as a boxer one bit.

And though Pavlik is the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, let us not forget that he's only 25 years old. I hesitate to call him a "work in progress," because Taylor was saddled with that tag throughout his title reign and didn't respond well, but let's just say that Pavlik is at a point in his career where learning experiences are still welcomed.

Over 12 close, compelling rounds, Taylor gave Pavlik one to grow on.

Taylor called himself a "Ghostbuster" leading up to the fight (was anyone else hoping to hear the sweet sounds of Ray Parker Jr. blasting as Taylor made his way to the ring?), and while he failed to bust this Ghost, he did force Pavlik to bust his butt.

Other opponents have made Pavlik work hard for a win; Edison Miranda, Jose Luis Zertuche and Fulgencio Zuniga all come to mind. But nobody has ever made him think this hard, make this many adjustments and, most importantly, put in this many rounds to get the job done.

"Any time a puncher has to go the distance, obviously, it can help him in the long run," observed boxing writer and broadcaster Steve Farhood, who saw Taylor winning a close fight from his ringside seat. "It was a good fight for Pavlik's development because Taylor made certain adjustments from the first fight, which caused Pavlik to have to make adjustments.

"It's funny, in the first round, Pavlik landed a lot of big right hands and I said, 'Well, this is Round 8 of the first fight.' But for the remainder of the first half of the fight, Taylor did a very good job defensively."

Taylor kept his hands up better than he did in the first fight, and until the last couple of rounds, he was extraordinarily diligent about never letting his back touch the ropes (the position in which Pavlik opponents tend to find themselves right before waking up to smelling salts).

Taylor was patient, picking his spots, never leaving himself wide open, rolling with Pavlik's right hands just enough to avoid danger.

He won the third round by countering Pavlik's jab with lefts and rights, upstairs and down. The ex-champ seemed to momentarily hurt Pavlik with a combination to the body in Round 6, and in the ninth, Taylor landed some of his best power shots of the evening, most notably a clean left hook.

All the while, Pavlik was getting plenty done himself, winning several rounds behind his long, perpetually pumping jab, and through 10, I had the fight scored even. The right hand to the body -- a punch Pavlik should have been using all night that remained holstered until the final three rounds -- hurt Taylor in the 11th, and Pavlik won the 12th purely on superior stamina.

[+] EnlargeJermain Taylor (l) hits Kelly Pavlik
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesTaylor did a good job of testing Pavlik's mettle, but Pavlik always had an answer.
Those two rounds made him a 115-113 winner on my card and locked up a unanimous decision on the official score sheets.

In a sense, Pavlik got just what he needed: a victory to keep his record pristine, a compelling bout that kept the fans entertained and a lot to review on tape and improve upon next time out.

"I thought Pavlik was a little one-dimensional in his approach: one-two, one-two, one-two," Farhood noted. "He came forward the whole fight, and obviously the judges rewarded him for that. But offensively, he just seems to be a little bit of a one-trick pony to me."

I couldn't agree more. It's a hell of a one trick to have, throwing right hands that knock out almost 90 percent of your opponents. But where was the double jab? Where were the rights to Taylor's exposed ribs in the first nine rounds?

Most tall fighters incorporate uppercuts, but Pavlik only threw two or three of them all fight. If you want to chalk that up to the fact that there was no infighting whatsoever, then fine, we'll give him a pass on that. But what about the left hook? Where was that?

None of this is meant as harsh criticism of Pavlik's performance. The champ said afterward, "I thought we both fought a great fight. He was better tonight than the first fight, but I was better too."

From a technical perspective, it's hard to argue with that statement. Neither man punched as destructively as they did the first time around, but neither man made as many mistakes either.

Certainly, it was a fine win for Pavlik -- not one of those fights, a la Taylor vs. Cory Spinks, where your stock drops in victory.

But there's a lot to improve upon for The Ghost, a lot to learn from and a tremendous amount of experience gained because Taylor pushed a fighter who'd never before gone beyond nine rounds to work hard for 12.

The caveat for Pavlik, though, is that most observers said the same thing about then-27-year-old Taylor's two narrow escapes against Bernard Hopkins: They were challenging fights that would make him better in the long run.

Instead, the wheels came off, one at a time, over his next four fights, culminating with his chassis on the canvas in the seventh round against Pavlik in Atlantic City.

Pavlik has a chance to succeed where Taylor failed, to improve as a result of tough back-to-back fights against the previous champion.

Taylor will not go down in history as the great middleweight champion some folks believed he'd be. But perhaps he'll prove to be the great teacher Pavlik needed in order to someday have his own name mentioned alongside the legends.

Eric Raskin is a contributing editor and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.