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 16, 2008
By ESPN.com staff | Special to ESPN.com

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Saturday, 11:15 p.m. ET -- How things change

LAS VEGAS -- Last time Jermain Taylor fought here at the MGM Grand, half the state of Arkansas was in the house cheering him on. This time, he walked in to a shower of boos. Las Vegas is a little bit of Youngstown tonight. Now Kelly is coming in to huge cheers. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Saturday, 11:00 p.m. ET -- Montiel crushes Castillo

Junior bantamweight titlist Fernando Montiel (36-2-1, 27 KOs) turned in perhaps the finest performance of his career, knocking out former beltholder Martin Castillo (33-3, 17 KOs) at 1:56 of the fourth round Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

The fight was the main undercard bout on the Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor II show.

It was a dominant performance from Montiel in a fight that was essentially a pick 'em. But Montiel wiped him out almost from the opening bell.

Using a short left hook, Montiel scored a surprising knockdown early in the round. Castillo also wound up with an abrasion over his left eye, which has been a source of so many of his past cuts.

Montiel, 28, almost scored another knockdown at the bell ending the third round when he landed a flush left on Castillo's chin and he buckled badly against the ropes.

Totally in command, Montiel knocked him down in fourth with a combination. Castillo got to his knees but shook his head and listened to referee Joe Cortez's full count.

"Coming into the fight I felt very strong and when I put him down in the first round, I knew it was going to be a very good night for me," Montiel said. "Boxing is about styles and I don't think he knew my style."

Castillo, at 31, looked like he had seen better days.

"I got caught cold with a good left hook in the first round and then a liver shot [in the fourth]," Castillo said. "Montiel fought like a great champion." -- Dan Rafael

Saturday, 10:40 p.m. ET -- Mijares retains 115-pound title

[+] EnlargeCristian Mijares
Chris Farina/Top Rank ThanksNavarro, left, threw more punches than Mijares -- but still lost the fight.
In his fourth try at a world title, junior bantamweight Jose Navarro suffered his worst defeat.

Titleholder Cristian Mijares gave him a beating to retain a version of the 115-pound world title in a fight that was shockingly called a split decision.

Two judges had it for Mijares, 117-111 and 115-113, while judge Doug Tucker's score was announced 120-108 for Navarro.

Navarro (26-4, 12 KOs) sure looked like the lopsided loser. ESPN.com had it 117-111 for Mijares.

Mijares (34-3-2, 13 KOs), making his sixth defense, had mild swelling under his right eye early in the bout, but Navarro's face was eventually a mess from eating so many left hands.

A right uppercut from Mijares in the second round sent blood flying from Navarro's nose. At the end of the seventh, Navarro returned to his corner with blood gushing from his mouth.

By the 11th, his face was a mess. He was bleeding from a cut on his right, bleeding from his nose and his left eye was swollen. Twice during the round, referee Russell Mora called time to have the ringside doctor examine his cut.

By the time the fight was over, Navarro's white drunks were drenched in his own blood.

Mijares, 26, of Mexico, hasn't been seen much in the U.S., but he made an impression on many fans last April with a lopsided decision win against division star Jorge Arce.

For Navarro, 26 and a 2000 U.S. Olympian, it could have been his last shot at a world title. He lost three previous shots overseas, twice in Japan (although one was considered by many the worst robbery of 2005) and once in Russia last October. -- Dan Rafael

Saturday, 9:40 p.m. ET -- Hearns stops Astorga

[+] EnlargeRonald Hearns and Thomas Hearns
AP Photo/Jae C. HongAstorga's hard head was no match for Hearns' heavy fists.
Junior middleweight prospect Ronald Hearns, with his famous father, Thomas Hearns, at ringside, banged and battered game Juan Astorga en route to an eighth-round TKO.

It seemed only a matter of time until Hearns (18-0, 14 KOs) stopped Astorga (11-2-1, 6 KOs), who took numerous hard, flush shots.

Hearns, 29, didn't begin boxing until his mid-20s and had no amateur background, so he's still gaining experience against fighters such as Astorga, who was a step up in competition.

Hearns had a huge third round, when he had Astorga on the verge of going down several times. In the fifth, Hearns landed a perfect right hand that floored Astorga.

Although he was hurt, Astorga, 29, got to his feet and the round ended a couple of seconds later.

Hearns continued to stalk Astorga until finally knocking him down again in the eighth of the scheduled eight-rounder. Astorga again made it to his feet, but referee Jay Nady stopped it at 1:10. -- Dan Rafael

Saturday, 9:20 p.m. ET -- Joe Louis Barrow

Be sure to watch HBO next Saturday, Feb. 23, for that network's latest first-class documentary, "Joe Louis: America's Hero -- Betrayed." I watched an advance copy last night, and it is excellent.

The program highlights the importance of Louis to the country, but also the way in which his patriotism and generosity came to bite him in that by donating some fight purses to the Army and Navy Relief Funds and by foregoing defending his title in the war years to enlist in the Army, he wound up with huge back tax bills which weighed on him for much of his life.

This afternoon, a few journalists enjoyed pizza at Wolfgang Puck's Bar and Grill, with Louis' son, Joe Louis Barrow Jr.

Barrow is clearly proud of his father, and particularly so, he says, when he considers the extent of his influence on people's lives -- an influence of which he is made aware every time he encounters someone who tells him about the excitement they felt while listening to his bouts on the radio or by meeting him when he was working as a greeter at Caesars Palace.

There were, he said, fewer better illustrations of his father's impact than when Nelson Mandela visited the United States shortly after being released from prison.

"I read in the Washington Post that he spoke about my father, how he showed that people could succeed if only they were allowed to compete on a level playing ground," he recalled.

After reading that, Barrow made arrangements to meet with Mandela, who spent 15 minutes alone with him, talking to him about the impact his father had had on his life.

But the availability of his father to the public meant that sometimes he and his daughter did not get quite the alone time with him that they would have wished, a recollection of this proves obviously moving to Barrow during the documentary.

"There were times in the film when remembering things about Dad that made me sad. It's a sadness that I didn't spend as much time with him as I could have. I lost him very early." (Louis died shortly before his 67th birthday).

He takes solace in the fact that, as he put it, although his father "didn't have the money or wealth he earned & in terms of love and respect, he was the richest man in the world."

Really, be sure to catch the documentary. It's fabulous. It airs next Saturday, Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. on the east coast; on the west coast it airs immediately after the Wladimir Klitschko-Sultan Ibragimov bout at about 9.30 p.m. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Saturday, 8:55 p.m. ET -- Viloria shines

[+] EnlargeBrian Valoria
Chris Farina/Top RankViloria, left, is anxious to get his career back on track.
Former junior flyweight titlist Brian Viloria (21-2, 12 KOs), now fighting at flyweight, displayed his entire arsenal as he dominated Cesar Lopez (20-6, 4 KOs) to win a unanimous eight-round decision, 78-73 (twice) and 77-74.

Viloria, 27, won his second in a row after a rough patch in which he went 0-2 with a no contest in three title 108-pound title bouts.

But he came back to outpoint Jose Garcia Bernal in January and then took care of Lopez, who lost his third consecutive bout. Viloria was on the verge of a knockout a few times but Lopez, who has never been stopped, survived. Viloria knocked him down with a right hand in the fifth round. -- Dan Rafael

Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET -- Garcia impresses

Junior lightweight Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia (11-0, 9 KOs), one of Top Rank's brightest prospects, scored a sudden fifth-round TKO of Jorge Ruiz (5-4-1), who had never previously been stopped.

Garcia was cruising along when he floored Ruiz with a powerful right hand. Ruiz struggled to his knees but referee Toby Gibson called it off without completing the count at 1:35.

The 20-year-old Garcia, one of the main sparring partners for junior featherweight champion Israel Vazquez, certainly has the bloodlines to become a top fighter. He is trained by Roberto Garcia, a former junior lightweight titlist. Roberto's father, Eduardo, is also a noted trainer, having worked with Fernando Vargas. -- Dan Rafael

Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET -- Jacobs crushes Volkov

Brooklyn, N.Y., middleweight Daniel Jacobs (3-0, 3 KOs) had an opponent survive the first round but Alexander Volkov (0-1-1) of Denver didn't make it through the second.

Jacobs, whose first two fights lasted a combined 94 seconds, hammered Volkov in the second round. The 21-year-old, who was a top amateur before losing in the U.S. Olympic trials, dropped Volkov with a right on the chin. Volkov went down under a hail of punches in the follow up flurry and referee Jay Nady called it off at 2:57, but not until one final uppercut nailed Volkov as he was going down. -- Dan Rafael

Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET -- Garcia impresses

Junior lightweight Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia (11-0, 9 KOs), one of Top Rank's brightest prospects, scored a sudden fifth-round TKO of Jorge Ruiz (5-4-1), who had never previously been stopped.

Garcia was cruising along when he floored Ruiz with a powerful right hand. Ruiz struggled to his knees but referee Toby Gibson called it off without completing the count at 1:35.

The 20-year-old Garcia, one of the main sparring partners for junior featherweight champion Israel Vazquez, certainly has the bloodlines to become a top fighter. He is trained by Roberto Garcia, a former junior lightweight titlist. Roberto's father, Eduardo, is also a noted trainer, having worked with Fernando Vargas. -- Dan Rafael

Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET -- Martinez stays busy, wins easily

Junior middleweight contender Sergio Martinez (42-1-1, 22 KOs) outclassed David Toribio (14-11, 8 KOs) in the opening bout of the Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor II undercard at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Martinez, who is from Argentina but lives in Spain, was staying busy because he is the mandatory challenger for 154-pound titlist Vernon Forrest.

It was only a four-round fight, which is unusual for a seasoned professional such as Martinez. Nonetheless, he dominated, winning 40-36 (twice) and 39-35 over Toribio, who dropped his 11th fight in his last 13. -- Dan Rafael

Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET -- Ohio in Vegas

[+] EnlargeKelly Pavlik
AP Photo/Jae C. HongOhio is in town to support their man, Mr. Kelly Pavlik.
To be honest, the atmosphere around here still hasn't really ignited. Sure, there's more of a buzz now than earlier in the week, which is to be expected, and perhaps we're all still suffering the hangover of Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton. But you can't help feel that this fight would have done better in the Midwest; after all, if one of the fighters is representing a hugely impoverished rust belt community, it's perhaps a bit unreasonable to expect that community to be able to afford to descend en masse on Las Vegas or stay in its expensive hotels.

That said, there is a pretty good representation here from both Ohio and Arkansas, and I had the chance to spend some time with an entirely random selection of Kelly Pavlik fans last night. If they're at all representative, then Pavlik's supporters are among the most dedicated, and also the nicest, fight fans in the world. Lots of comments along the lines of: "Boy, we love Kelly, and we really think he'll win, but gee, both guys are just so nice, and it's just a shame either of them has to lose." -- Kieran Mulvaney

Saturday, 5:10 p.m. ET -- Mom update

Thanks to those who sent their best wishes for my Mom. I'm happy to report that surgery was a success, and that she was last seen sitting upright next to her hospital bed and already agitating to come home. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Saturday, 2:40 p.m. ET -- Saturday morning

It's the morning of the fight, and as I often do on fight morning in Vegas, I just spent an hour as a guest on Rich Marotta's "The Neutral Corner" radio show.

Rich is one of the real veterans of the boxing beat and an outstanding journalist and host. He'll be calling the action tonight on the international broadcast (and the non-televised undercard, being streamed on ESPN360).

This week, I was on with Lance Pugmire of the LA Times, and the three of us chatted about tonight's fights as well as the upcoming Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez, Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez and Bernard Hopkins-Joe Calzaghe cards.

At one point, Martin Castillo, who is facing Fernando Montiel for the WBO super flyweight title tonight, showed up to talk about his fight. It's pretty impressive to me how a boxer can find the time and the emotional space to talk to the media just a few hours before the biggest fight of his life, but Castillo seemed laid-back and engaging.

And then, a short while later, another special guest called in.

Ever since his victory over Jose Luis Zertuche a little over 12 months ago, Kelly Pavlik has appeared on Rich's show the morning of his fights. It's worked out pretty well for him so far, and so, not one to break his string of good luck, he called in from his suite, sounding as relaxed and unaffected as ever. -- Kieran Mulvaney

Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com and Reuters.