- William Dettloff
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Writers, just like fighters, often get into trouble when they look past the event in front of them. But if there ever was a fight that seemed a solid bet to go exactly as predicted, it's Kelly Pavlik's world middleweight title defense in Atlantic City, N.J., Saturday night against Welshman Gary Lockett, a 15-1 underdog in some circles.
You can forgive us, then, for jumping the gun in this case and looking at what Pavlik should do after Saturday night if he is to reach the heights predicted for him just a short time ago.
You'll recall that after he flattened Jermain Taylor in September 2007 to win the title, Pavlik's promoter, Bob Arum, told the press his fighter would soon be the biggest name in all of boxing -- the fighter who would bring back the masses.
Here we are a year later, and Arum is blaming the economy for the relative dearth of Ohioans making the trek from Youngstown to Atlantic City, and talking about Pavlik's next bouts coming against guys only marginally more threatening -- and no more interesting -- than Lockett.
All is not lost, however. Pavlik wants to be a legend and there's a way he can be. The middleweight division isn't the hotbed of stars it's been at other times, but there are five fights at or around his weight that Pavlik must make and must win if he wants to be the star he was predicted to be.
The exciting, hard-hitting Arthur Abraham (26-0, 21 KOs) is a perfect first step. Pavlik's people have said Abraham doesn't carry enough name recognition in the United States to make a big fight, to which we respond: Who said the fight has to be in America?
Abraham, whom The Ring ranks as Pavlik's top challenger, is huge in Europe. There's no reason Pavlik can't go to Europe to make the fight, and before you start wringing your hands, take a look at the records of all the great champions from boxing's heyday. They all fought in Europe. Every one of them. There's no reason Pavlik can't too.
If you haven't seen Abraham yet, you will soon. He's scheduled to face bomb-throwing Edison Miranda later this month in Florida in a rematch to their brutal fight in 2006, won by Abraham by decision. If he gets by Miranda, there's no reason he and Pavlik can't get together next.
He's past his prime and is still reportedly negotiating for a fight with Joe Calzaghe, but if that doesn't work out, Roy Jones would be an excellent addition to Pavlik's résumé. Jones (52-4, 38 KOs) looked just good enough thrashing a used-up Felix Trinidad last time out to convince some -- certainly not all -- that his speed would get him past Pavlik. Don't be thrown that Jones is rated at light heavyweight. Coming down in weight for the right fight has always been an option for him, and Pavlik, as he showed in the rematch with Taylor, is very comfortable at a higher weight. A catch weight in the high 160s would be fine with both.
Every young star should get a future Hall of Famer on his record. Pavlik hasn't gotten one yet and may never. He must get one if he wants to be a star, and Jones fits the bill.
It's the toughest fight out there for him around his weight, but if Pavlik wants to be the big dog, he must supplant the current one, Calzaghe.
Of course, Calzaghe (45-0, 32 KOs) is coming off a career-win over Bernard Hopkins and is The Ring super middleweight and light heavyweight champion. Like Jones, he would have no objection to coming back down from light heavy if the price was right, and the price would be right for this one, in the U.S. or in Wales. That talks with Jones apparently have stalled make this one a reasonable possibility, but if it's going to happen, it should be soon; Calzaghe, at 36, won't be around much longer and a big fight against a young American stud like Pavlik would be a good one to go out on.
It works in Pavlik's favor that there aren't many very big fights out there for Calzaghe either; this would be bigger at 168 than was Calzaghe's win over Dane Mikkel Kessler in November. Winning it would put Pavlik among the elite.
Speaking of Kessler (39-1, 29 KOs), he's next on the list. Don't be misled by his loss to Calzaghe last year. He's still Calzaghe's top contender at super middleweight according to The Ring, and fought well enough in defeat not to have lost a lot of ground in terms of public support. To put things in perspective, remember how easily and impressively he handled the very difficult Librado Andrade when they met in March 2007? He also has wins over Markus Beyer, Eric Lucas and Anthony Mundine.
Kessler did take a public opinion hit when his management steered him away from a very interesting fight with Miranda (who ended up with a rematch versus Abraham), but that can be remedied with a win over any other top-five 168-pounder. With his credibility restored, Kessler is a very high-profile opponent, and, unfortunately for Pavlik, a difficult assignment. But you don't get into the Hall of Fame fighting Gary Locketts every week.
American fight fans remember Felix Sturm (29-2-1, 13 KOs) primarily for his controversial points loss to Oscar De La Hoya in June 2004. But since then, the German has gone 9-1-1, won and defended the WBA middleweight title and established a large and faithful following in Europe. He's not the most dangerous guy on this list for Pavlik; he's not in the top three. And it's not the biggest fight. But his status as a respected belt holder and a big name in Germany make him a mandatory.
So does his status as a titleholder in Pavlik's division; the first requirement for becoming a star is making sure you've established your superiority against the legitimate challengers in your own weight class. Sturm qualifies.
So there you have it: a five-point plan for Pavlik's road to stardom, assuming he comes out of Saturday's fight with his title and undefeated record in tact. It's a hard road to walk, but no one said becoming a
star is easy.
The Ring's senior writer William Dettloff co-wrote the book "Box Like The Pros" with Joe Frazier.