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 15, 2008
By Kieran Mulvaney | Special to ESPN.com

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Friday, 5:50 p.m. ET -- Pavlik, 164; Taylor, 164

LAS VEGAS -- It wasn't exactly Mayweather-Hatton. The arena wasn't filled to the brim with raucous fans who had been lining up for hours. In fact, the arena felt a little empty.

Just to be on the safe side, though, I made sure to get to the weigh-in early, and took a seat in the media section next to the Youngstown cheering section. Several women were waving white oven mitts, with a crooked smile and eyes painted on. It took me a few seconds to figure it out, and then I realized: "Oooooh, right. They're ghosts! I get it."

It was all a little civilized, until on the other side of the arena, a few Taylor supporters unfurled a Razorback flag. That got everyone going: the Youngstown contingent chanting, "Ke-lly, Ke-lly," and the Arkansas section, smaller than that of their Midwestern rivals, did its best to respond.

Michael Buffer took the stage, and introduced the two men, Taylor first, then Pavlik, and now the cheers and the chants hit full stride. Taylor looked as if he couldn't wait to whip off his top, and it soon became clear why. He looked ripped.

He stepped on the scale, and Buffer announced his weight: 164 pounds.

Then Pavlik disrobed, and he looked like he pretty much always does: pale and skinny. It was hard to imagine how he had ever boiled himself down to middleweight, or how he would do so again.

He stepped on the scales, and he too weighed 164.

Taylor -- who, to be honest, I had thought seemed a little weighed down by the pressure earlier in the week -- confidently took the microphone, gave a shout out to both Arkansas and Youngstown fans and promised a very different result second time around. Pavlik simply thumped the microphone with his fist and called out "Youngstown."

And as his fans roared, you had to feel, even if they weren't as numerous as Hatton's Manchester army, that it was undeniably very, very cool that these folks from such a depressed town have Kelly to cheer for and give them an excuse to spend a weekend in Las Vegas they will likely never forget.

Quick anecdote, courtesy of Tim Smith of the New York Daily News, by way of illustration of how much Pavlik is a child of Youngstown and how accessible he is: When Tim came into the casino this morning, he came across an Ohio fan talking to Pavlik. He was explaining to the champion where he lived --"Yeah, I'm on Elm Street, number 415, you know, the red house" or something like that -- and Kelly was nodding and going, "Oh yeah, I know that place. Just round the corner from the gas station, right?"

Love it. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET -- A gift from Kelly

Kelly Pavlik and his people just walked into the press room to present a gift to Bob Arum, a painting of Kelly and his belts and the words, "Forged in Fire, Iron and Steel." The painting is by noted Youngstown artist Ray Simon, who has become well-known nationally for tribute prints to police officers and firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

[+] EnlargePavlik
Chris Farina/Top RankWe better not find this on Ebay, Bob.
Arum seemed genuinely touched by the gesture, not least given that, a few hours before weighing in, most fighters are curled up in their hotel rooms grumpily dehydrating and yearning for the moment they can drink some water and nibble on some food. Which, after pausing briefly for a photograph, is presumably what Kelly -- who disappeared almost as quickly as he appeared -- is doing right now. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Friday, 4 p.m. ET -- A shout out

Just wanted to take the opportunity to send my love and best wishes all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to my Mom, who at this very moment is undergoing surgery in England to relive pressure on her spinal column. Thinking of you Mom, and Dad too. Get well soon. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET -- Hillary stumps for Pavlik

The quiet of the press room was just shattered by a roaring Lou DiBella.

"Is it true?" he bellows, as amused as he is outraged. "Where's the photo?"

There it is, in today's New York Times. A photograph of Hillary Clinton, stumping in Ohio, and waving a pair of Kelly Pavlik autographed boxing gloves. Senator Clinton, let us remember, is the former First Lady of Arkansas, home of Pavlik's opponent, Jermain Taylor.

"She's from Arkansas!" exclaims DiBella, Taylor's promoter. "She knows Jermain! Hey, if it helps her win Ohio, it's a smart move. But if she doesn't, I'm going to throw this in her face."

But Lou knows full well that it doesn't get much better than this. At that moment, Bob Arum walks in, the two promoters see each other and give each other a high-five.

"That's good for 25,000 buys!" says Arum joyfully. "You can't buy that kind of publicity."

DiBella is working the phones, trying to milk the story for all it's worth. These guys could not be happier right now.

"Is that great for boxing or what?" smiles Arum. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Friday, 1:45 p.m. ET -- Shooting the breeze

It's Friday morning in the press room and yours truly is starting to get edgy because the morning's coffee has been wheeled out and the fresh caffeine hasn't yet been brought in to replace it.

Harold Lederman stops by to say hello. As always with Harold, conversation turns to memorable fights, and somehow the name of Iran Barkley came up.

"Kieran, let me tell you. I remember once at the Felt Forum, Iran Barkley hit Wilfred Scypion with a right hand so hard, Scypion's whole body just froze. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he just stood there for a second, and then, boom, fell face first on the canvas."

John Hornewer grabs a seat to chat to myself and Richard Hoffer of Sports Illustrated. Hornewer is definitely one of the good guys, a lawyer and adviser to a bunch of fighters, and one of the people in boxing who can be relied on not to mess with his clients. He's at the fight with Paulie Malignaggi, who he says is hoping to get a fight in the late spring or summer and then a Ricky Hatton bout later in the year. He allows himself a slight smile on behalf of another of his clients, Kermit Cintron, after Paul Williams' loss last weekend, and from here he is heading over to New York where yet another of his fighters, Wladimir Klitschko, is fighting Sultan Ibragimov.

I met Hornewer several years ago when I was writing extensively about Chris Byrd, whom he has advised for many years. I remember more than one pitched battle when John was almost literally having to pry Chris' paycheck out of Don King's hands at the end of a fight. Today, Chris is looking to campaign as a cruiserweight and, according to John, is walking around well under the 200 lb. limit, having cut back on both food intake and weight lifting to fit in the lower weight division.

Ed Keenan, one of the PR team, comes back from a Starbucks run, with bottles of water to hand out … but where's my coffee … ? -- 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.