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 14, 2008
By Kieran Mulvaney | Special to ESPN.com

Wednesday's blog | Friday's blog | Saturday's blog

Thursday, 5:40 p.m. ET -- Thursday wrap

LAS VEGAS -- Thursdays are often the quiet days during fight weeks: the day after the press conference, the day before the weigh-in. The exceptions are when the fights aren't pay-per-view. Then, the press conferences are normally on Thursdays. Or, as was the case with Jones-Trinidad last month, when the fight is being held in a city whose NFL team has made it to the conference championship; then, the New York Giants commandeered Wednesday, forcing the final pre-fight presser all the way to Tuesday.

Hey, the fight did something like 530,000 pay-pre-view sales, so maybe it's an idea whose time has come.

For the fighters, the work continues. Thursday is the day they do the "satellite tours," when they sit in front of a camera and do live feeds for TV shows all over the country, one after the other. It's their final big media obligation before the bout and one they're often happy to get out the way.

For the rest of us in the media room, it's a case of finalizing our last pre-fight pieces for Friday, looking for one more interesting angle, and canvassing each other -- out of curiosity as well as the possibility of picking up different ideas --for our opinions on how the fight will go.

By Friday, things should pick up again. We're expecting a good portion of the city of Youngstown to descend on Las Vegas (and hopefully, they'll have different songs than the city of Manchester; two months later, I still can't get "There's Only One Ricky Hatton" out of my head), the fighters will weigh in, and the buzz will start to build.

There's a sense that the fact that Saturday's bout is not for a title has dampened the interest of some of the non-boxing media a little, but these are two very good fighters, and whatever the outcome, there seems to be universal agreement that it will be one heck of a fight. It deserves a lot of attention -- Kieran Mulvaney

Thursday, 5:30 p.m. ET -- The man behind the camera

Not too many people on the boxing media circuit spend their lives solely focused on the sweet science. Most of the beat reporters also cover one or two other sports.

Me, I write about polar bears. Really.

Then there's Chris Farina.

If you've read boxing stories on ESPN.com, you've seen a Chris Farina photograph. He's the photographer of record for Top Rank; he's on the apron at every Top Rank fight, and front row and center for every major Top Rank press conference and media event.

He also took the picture of Scarlett Johansson that presently serves as the wallpaper on my laptop.

When Chris isn't shooting boxing for Top Rank, he is working the red carpet for the Corbis press agency at the Grammys, Emmys, Golden Globes and the like. Ten days or so from now, though, he gets his biggest assignment yet. He's been commissioned by Entertainment Weekly to be their red carpet photographer at the Oscars.

It isn't quite as glamorous as it seems.

"They have the strictest rules you can imagine," he says. "You have your spot, and you can't move from that spot or they kick you out. No moving to get a better angle. You are allowed to take one route and only one route to get to the transmit room." And the hours are long: chances are he won't be finished reviewing and editing the thousands of shots he'll take, and transmitting the ones he uses, until 6 a.m. the following morning.

But the subject matter is inarguably more attractive. And I have already put in my order for my next wallpaper photograph. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET -- Jack Loew

Jack Loew opened the Southside Gym in Youngstown, Ohio, as a hobby.

"I did it because I love boxing; I got to work with the kids," he said.

As good of a story as it might be to say that Loew could tell from the outset, as soon as Kelly Pavlik walked in the door, that he would be a champion, nothing could be further from the truth.

"You know, when Kelly walked through the door, he was one of the only kids on our first team who didn't get a uniform. Now, he's the only one who's still in the gym. Kelly really wasn't that special in the beginning.

"You knew he was a real [gutsy] kid, he had a lot of heart, he was a good athlete. But in the south side of Youngstown, we have a lot of those. He was the type of kid who took numerous butt-kickings. He had bloody noses all the time. But he wanted to spar five days a week. And if a kid beat his butt the day before, [he'd say] 'Put me back in with him.'

"When he was about 15 years old, he was sparring two of my pros. B-level fighters, but decent records: 15-1 and 15-0. They used to smack Kelly around pretty good. One day, he just went in there and everything turned around. By the end of that week, he was hanging with both of them, and after three or four months, he was The Man in the gym."

Far from becoming carried away after winning the middleweight last September, Loew told reporters that Pavlik has shown even greater dedication.

"He actually called me to fight early. I've never seen him this enthusiastic to start early. He said, I want to start eight weeks out instead of six or seven. He was so energetic, so enthusiastic."

Neither fighter nor trainer allowed victory and riches to go to his head, said Loew.

"We're just average guys from Youngstown, Ohio. We didn't splurge. No Bentleys, no fancy houses," he said.

Loew is still laying asphalt for a living, although he has put in a bid on some new equipment. Oh yes, and "I did get central air conditioning," he said.

Loew said of Pavlik: "He is so confident. He knows he took the best of Jermain Taylor. They told us [before the first bout] that was the best training camp, they'd never lost [after training] in the Poconos, blah blah blah, and now they say it wasn't. Kelly took the best Jermain had to throw at him, shame on him for not landing that one punch in the second round. We got through that, and if you take that second round away, I think it was a dominant performance by Kelly Pavlik, regardless of what those scores were.

"Jermain's been on HBO virtually his whole career. We've been waiting seven years for this. We're finally here and it's not going to be taken from us." -- Kieran Mulvaney

Thursday, 4 p.m. ET -- Ozell Nelson

Ozell Nelson has been with Jermain Taylor from the very beginning. Taylor walked into his gym as a kid, and Nelson taught him how to box.

"My son had been boxing," Nelson recalled earlier today, "and Jermain was about 14, my son was 15. They were sparring and I told my son to take it easy on him, because Jermain didn't have any experience. But my son tried to take him out. So he had Jermain upside the ropes, but Jermain never turned his head. He stood in there and gave it all he could, and so I stopped it. I pulled my son over to the side and I said, 'Why'd you do that?' He said, 'I dunno, I just wanted to beat him.' So I said, 'Get out of here.'

"I called Jermain over, and Jermain's head was kind of slumped, and I said, 'Son, you stick with me six months, you'll kick my son's butt. Because I can see you want it. My son don't want it. He's just going through the motions.' And he started perking up."

Did he ever fight his son again?

"Yes."

And did he kick his butt?

"Yes."

Not that there were any hard feelings. Taylor and Nelson's kids became very close, and Nelson became like a father figure to the young fighter.

It was under Ozell's guidance that Jermain blossomed into an amateur standout and an Olympian, but when Taylor turned professional, Nelson suggested hiring Pat Burns as chief second, feeling that he didn't have enough experience himself. But, he told reporters this afternoon, the plan had always been for him to take over at some point; having tried Burns and Emanuel Steward, Ozell will be the man with the plan in Taylor's corner on Saturday night.

Pavlik trainer Jack Loew greeted that news with the comment that he was glad Nelson was back, because he was the man who taught Taylor all his bad habits.

"You know, I'm kind of mad about that," said the mild-mannered Nelson, "because if you look back, Jermain won national tournaments and stopped Kelly from going to the Olympics. So if he had bad habits back then, I'd like to get them bad habits back. That's what I've been trying to get back to. Jermain was a great boxer as an amateur."

He says that taking advantage of that boxing ability is key to Taylor's hopes of avenging his September defeat to Pavlik.

"I think Jermain needs to show Pavlik more angles. He needs to move. He needs to box the [stuffing] out of Pavlik. I think Jermain is a much better boxer. I think Kelly is a strong kid, he's got long arms, he comes to fight, but I think he's a little basic."

After losing to Pavlik, said Nelson, Taylor "went into hiding. Usually after a fight, he and his wife will go on a cruise or something. This time, he stayed right at home. I gave Jermain his space. We talked off and on, but I gave him his space. He was very upset. He said, 'I should have had this guy. No way he should have beaten me.'"

Nelson said Taylor has rediscovered his focus and dedication since the loss.

"He got real comfortable by being on top," he said. "He was winning, and I guess he felt like nobody could touch him. I said, 'Jermain, you got to do this,' or 'You got to do that,' and he said, 'Yes, coach, I know.' But sometimes, you say you know, but you really don't know. Like a father and son, sometimes another person can do more with your kid than you can. Until something happens, and he comes back and said, 'You know what, Dad? You were right.'" -- Kieran Mulvaney

Thursday, 1 p.m. ET -- Happy Valentine's Day (Massacre)

With today being Valentine's Day, and with the middleweight champion fighting on Saturday, it seems a good opportunity to revisit one of the all-time great middleweight title fights, the so-called Valentine's Day Massacre, between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta.

The bout, which took place on Feb. 14, 1951, was the sixth between the two men; Robinson led the series 4-1.

[+] EnlargeJake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson
AP PhotoA moment they'll cherish forever: Jake LaMotta, left, and Ray Robinson exchange punches to the kisser on Valentine's Day, 1951.
"In his first 123 bouts, Robinson lost only one [contest] and that was to LaMotta" recalls boxing historian Bert Sugar, chewing on his trademark cigar as I suck down my daily dose of caffeine.

That defeat was in the second fight of the series, in Detroit in February 1943. LaMotta knocked Robinson through the ropes in the eighth; the former welterweight champion was saved by the bell at the count of nine, but lost a unanimous 10-round decision. He avenged that loss in the same ring just three weeks later (having already fought California Jackie Wilson in the interim), and then beat him twice more.

They had not fought in five years. When they met in Chicago, LaMotta was the defending middleweight champion.

"In the early rounds, LaMotta did well," says Sugar, who watched the fight live on TV. "But he always had trouble making weight. He had been the Golden Gloves champion at light heavyweight. Before this fight, he was on a beef broth diet, and by the end he had nothing left."

Robinson took control for good in the eighth, although LaMotta made one last desperate stand in the 11th. The fight ended in the 13th, with LaMotta clutching the top rope as Robinson rained down unanswered blow after unanswered blow. -- 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.