Commentary

The lead-up to Pavlik-Taylor II

Kieran Mulvaney takes you through the build up of Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor II in Las Vegas.

Originally Published: February 13, 2008
By Kieran Mulvaney | Special to ESPN.com

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Wednesday, 6:15 p.m. ET -- Kelly Pavlik holds court

LAS VEGAS -- Jermain Taylor managed to give me the slip after the press conference, but a few of us did manage to sit down for 10 minutes with Kelly Pavlik.

[+] EnlargeKelly Pavlik
Chris Farina/Top Rank Please speak directly into Kieran's microphone, Mr. Pavlik.
I have to say, I speak to a lot of fighters, and most of them are pretty nice guys. But Kelly seems less affected by his recent fame and accomplishments than any boxer I can remember meeting. His humility is underlined by a story that he was standing in line at the MGM Grand buffet for half an hour or so last night, when he could easily have had room service delivered to his suite.

"That was blown out of proportion," he smiles, a little embarrassed. "It wasn't that long."

If he hasn't quite learned that he doesn't need to stand in buffet lines anymore, however, he has definitely noticed changes in his life since winning the middleweight title by stopping Taylor in September.

"It's awesome, especially when it's franchises you've been following for your whole entire life," the Youngstown native says of being feted by other Ohio sports legends like Jim Tressel, the coach of the Ohio State football team. "To talk to Ohio State players before the Michigan game, which is the biggest sports event out there; and [Clevaland Browns coach] Romeo Crennel and the Browns team. That stuff is neat. I was surprised. I went to some of these places, and I thought: 'You guys won't want to talk to me. You're professional athletes, you're paid millions of dollars.' When you're a big fan of a team for many years and you meet that team, and they're your fans, and they're humble, that's even better."

Of Taylor, his opponent last September and again this coming Saturday, he has this to offer:

"He says he's going to come out and slug, but I think that could all change after one big right hand. He might try to work on some of his bad habits, just like I'm going to work on mine. The thing is, who's going to go back to it? And I think Jermain will go back to it, he's been doing it for too long. Some fighters you can get away with doing it, some fighters you can't. With me, 6-foot-2 and with a quick right hand, and that height advantage and leverage, I think some of his bad habits are [really] bad against a guy like me."

Last time around, he said, "my jab set everything up. I hit him with the first right hand, he stood there for a little bit, he froze. I just stood there and pulled my right hand back, and I just came in again and threw another one-two and that second one; he went back into the corner and I knew he was hurt real bad."

He is honored with the way promoter Bob Arum describes him as potentially one of the great middleweight champions, but although he is clearly pleased with his progress, he is reluctant to accept that mantle just yet.

"The last three guys that I've fought, they've never been knocked out before, they've never been hurt, they've never been down, and to go in and do what I did but there's still so much more for me to accomplish before I put myself in that category." -- Kieran Mulvaney

Wednesday, 6 p.m. ET -- Mr. Hearns speaks

I have to admit, it was a nice press conference. Nobody bad-mouthed anybody, there was genuine mutual respect in the house and I think there's real excitement for this fight.

[+] EnlargeThomas
AP PhotoMiddleweights today sure don't carry themselves the way they used to … no, wait a minute …
There was also plenty of connection to eras past, not least in the form of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini and Thomas Hearns, whose son, Ronald, fights a 154-pound bout in the opening contest of the pay-per-view telecast.

Answering a few questions afterward, Hearns was far from ready to concede promoter Bob Arum's point that Kelly Pavlik could be one of the all-time great middleweight champions.

"There's a possibility that Kelly could be a good puncher, a good fighter, but I think he has a long way to go to be at the status where I'm at today," he said.

"You've got to judge the fighters the way they are now because back then, in the '80s and '90s, it was totally different. We weren't fighting the way these guys fight today. We brought excitement to the ring. These guys, they don't fight like we did, they're not willing to take a chance like we were.

"I look at these guys and I make comparisons. I like to think what would have been the outcome if I had to fight these guys. I really don't see that much threat to me. These guys are good. I think they're real good. But they're nowhere near the same class." -- Kieran Mulvaney

Wednesday, 4:50 p.m. ET -- Quick news conference quotes

Lou DiBella: "I wasn't surprised that [Taylor] wanted a rematch. It takes a real man to get back in the ring against someone who took the title from you and Jermain is a man's man. There's been a lot of talk about the change in trainers, and I think it's been one of the best camps he's ever had. He has the hunger again and sometimes it takes something like what happened in September to wake you up.

Ozell Nelson [Taylor trainer]: "We are in great shape for this fight. Jermain is in excellent shape, and he's looking forward to this fight. He's been looking forward to it since September."

Ray Mancini [former world champion, and the last great fighter from Pavlik's hometown of Youngstown, Ohio]: "Vegas is always a special place for me. That's where I won my world title. The people of Youngstown were here for me then and they'll be here for Kelly on Saturday night. I go a long way with [Pavlik trainer] Jack Loew. Jack was the angriest young man I knew. He wanted to fight everyone. Now he's up here, he's all Shecky Greene with the one-liners. Shows what success can do. Makes you all warm and fuzzy inside. People don't realize, Jermain is a wonderful fighter. He was one punch away from winning that fight. And he was boxing real well, he was ahead in the fight. But it's a small enough ring as it is, and when someone brings pressure on you, it gets smaller real fast, and Kelly did what he had to do. I expect a continuation of the previous fight. Kelly to me is the hardest puncher in the middleweight division since Carlos Monzon and Tommy Hearns. Jermain, as strong as he is, is going to have to fight a lot of people that night. He's fighting Kelly and the people of Youngstown."

Jack Loew [Pavlik trainer]: "We're hungrier than ever. Kelly called me to start camp early. I never thought I'd see a kid work harder than we did for the first Jermain Taylor fight, but I have. We're expecting the best from Jermain, because we took something very important from him. But I believe we're going to see the same outcome Saturday night. I believe Kelly's an irresistible force." -- Kieran Mulvaney

Wednesday, 4:15 p.m. ET -- News conference rituals

The press conference is underway and as with all boxing press conferences, there's ritual involved. MGM Mirage executive Robert Halloran, who attends all these press conferences and emcees all the weigh-ins, welcomes us all, and hands over to Bob Arum, who in turn introduces Richard Sturm of MGM Mirage, the man who is ultimately responsible for buying and overseeing sports and entertainment events at all MGM properties in Las Vegas. Sturm hands back to Arum, who introduces Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Kizer says a few words, hands back to Arum, who tosses it to Mark Taffett of HBO pay-per-view. Taffett says some nice things about Pavlik and Taylor, and reminds us all that the card will air at 9 p.m. ET for a suggested retail of $49.95. Then Arum, who apparently only has love (today, anyway) for Taylor promoter Lou DiBella, hands over the podium for DiBella (who returns the love in spoonfuls) to introduce the televised undercard.

And then it's time for the fighters to say a few words.

I can almost guarantee that their comments will be along the lines of "I'm prepared for this fight, I'm in the best shape of my life; I respect my opponent, but on Saturday I will win." The more interesting quotes will come immediately after the presser, and I'll have some of them right here when the press conference is over. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Wednesday, 3:40 p.m. ET -- Hey, remember me?

[+] EnlargeBrian Viloria
AP Photo/Ronen ZilbermanWho are you, and what have you done for us lately?
While everyone rushed to have their photo taken with Pavlik, left sitting by himself was a young man who once commanded a pretty devoted fan base of his own.

As Larry Merchant frequently says, in boxing, it's all about "what have you done for me lately?" And after suffering a couple of defeats, former 108-pound titlist Brian Viloria is on the comeback trail, fighting a non-televised eight-rounder against Cesar Lopez, and hoping, he tells me, for a title bout at 112 pounds after a couple more fights.

There's no forgetting the man who just walked in, though, creating a buzz everywhere he walks. Ladies and gentlemen, Thomas "Hit Man" Hearns is in the house. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. ET -- Fight people can be fans, too

No question that things are a lot different for Kelly Pavlik these days. He, trainer Jack Loew and team members just ambled into the media room and were immediately deluged by video cameras, photographers and autograph hunters.

[+] EnlargeKelly Pavlik
Chris Farina/Top RankWas life this good one year ago for Kelly Pavlik? We think not.
Robert Garcia, a former 130-pound world champion and now a respected trainer, was one of the first out of the blocks, racing over to Kelly to have a glove autographed and a photo taken.

Team Pavlik is kitted out in matching Everlast gear; "Hey Jack," shouted Lou DiBella, promoter of Pavlik rival Jermain Taylor to Loew, "when you win a title, you get nicer sweatsuits, huh?" -- Kieran Mulvaney

Wednesday, 1 p.m. ET -- Fight week kicks off!

Fight week is underway here in Las Vegas. Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik arrived at the MGM Grand and held workouts for the media yesterday, and the final pre-fight press conference will be later today, at around 1 p.m. PT.

[+] EnlargeTaylor arrives
Chris Farina/Top RankTaylor made his grand arrival at the MGM Grand on Tuesday.
A few days out from fight night, the MGM doesn't yet have that big-event atmosphere, but rest assured that by Friday, the place will be buzzing

In the media room, a couple of knots of journalists and others are chewing the fat, telling tall tales, keeping one eye on the baseball hearings on Capitol Hill and swapping predictions about Saturday night. It's really like a traveling circus, the boxing media circuit; once a month or so, we all meet up, catch up, talk a lot of nonsense and go our separate ways until the next time.

We'll be blogging and updating throughout the week, bringing you the atmosphere, background and happenings in the MGM and environs. Check back later for press conference updates and a Wednesday wrap. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com and Reuters.

Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com, HBO.com and Reuters, and also blogs for Discovery Channel News.