By Jake Donovan
Just because it’s an anniversary, it doesn’t make it cause for celebration.
Tuesday marked two years to the day that Kelly Pavlik (35-1, 31KO) claimed the middleweight crown, peeling himself off of the canvas to drop and stop Jermain Taylor in seven rounds at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The very same arena hosts Pavlik’s next fight, as a press conference was held Tuesday afternoon to confirm his December 5 showdown with multi-division challenger Paul Williams.
In many ways, the press conference also announced Pavlik’s long overdue arrival as a world champion willing to defend against all comers.
To say that his reign has been a disappointment would be the understatement of the year. Prior to the announcement of Williams (37-1, 27KO) as his next challenger, Pavlik has made just two defenses of the World middleweight crown.
Nobody gave Gary Lockett or Marco Antonio Rubio much of a chance to be competitive in their separate title challenges, never mind threaten to pull off an upset. Both fights went according to script: Lockett was blown out in three rounds, while Rubio went nine rounds deep before his corner pulled the plug.
The mismatch with Rubio took place this past February, the last time we saw the pride of Youngstown, Ohio step foot in the ring.
If there was anything more frustrating than the fighters against whom Pavlik chose to defend his crown or the infrequency in which it was defended, it was the lack of viable options at the weight class.
Whenever Pavlik’s future was discussed, the same two names would always surface – Arthur Abraham and Felix Sturm. Travel issues and political football always stood in the way of either fight ever threatening to become a reality, which basically left the working class hero of Youngstown, Ohio without much from which to choose.
A lack of depth in today’s middleweight division is often cited in forgiving Pavlik’s less-than-stellar title reign, with his biggest fights coming north of the weight class he has spent most of his career. It’s considered common knowledge throughout the industry, which makes the following statement made by Pavlik’s longtime trainer Jack Loew all the more conspicuous.
"Kelly could have fought three or four other guys," claimed Loew during Tuesday’s presser, which took place at the Timex Performance Center next to Giants Stadium. "But Kelly wanted to fight Paul Williams. He always wants to fight the best out there."
The last part is true – Pavlik has never shied away from a challenge, in fact publicly voicing his displeasure anytime Arum suggested a fight that was anything but a blockbuster.
But who exactly these three or four other guys are, is anyone’s guess. It’s clear that Pavlik, though not entirely to blame, has long ago exhausted the patience of the boxing public, nor have the short list of legitimate divisional challenges ever come close to materializing.
That leaves leave Loew either misinformed or guilty of offering canned responses, the latter often the case for pre-fight pressers where the statements are always the same and only the faces change.
In fairness to Pavlik, the past two years haven’t been limited to overmatched mandatory challenges. His two most notable fights during his reign have taken place beyond the middleweight limit, though producing very mixed results.
The months following his career-defining knockout win over Taylor provided the best of times when he scored a repeat victory over the former middleweight king in their February 2008 non-title rematch.
Then came the Lockett fight, which was originally intended as an infomercial for a possible super fight with Joe Calzaghe later in the year. Enzo Calzaghe, Joe’s father and trainer, was also the chief second for Lockett, which had everything to do with HBO not only greenlighting the mismatch, but also investing heavily.
The joke was on them when Calzaghe instead gravitated to a way-past-its-sell-date showdown with Roy Jones Jr. It was the first of several lucrative options Pavlik would watch fall by the wayside for one reason or another.
Sergio Mora was unavailable due to an owed immediate rematch with Vernon Forrest.
Paul Williams was interested, but where negotiations went south depends on whom you ask.
Even plans for an independent pay-per-view against Marco Antonio Rubio were put on hold after Pavlik decided he didn’t want to fight for less than his contractual minimum.
He and his team ultimately settled on what was believed to be a version of Bernard Hopkins that finally caught up to his 43 years of age. Hopkins instead turned back the clock, embarrassing Pavlik in the very same ring in which the middleweight titlist 17 years his junior was first crowned king.
It remains Pavlik’s lone loss to date, though he’s only fought since then, a ninth-round knockout of Rubio in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio this past February. The plan from there was to revisit all of the options that didn’t quite pan out the year prior.
Mora was once again on tap for a targeted in-house Top Rank PPV this past June, but fell through after Pavlik claimed to suffer from a staph infection. It wasn’t entirely untrue, but was a convenient out for a more pressing issue – contract renegotiations.
Pavlik and Top Rank eventually renewed their vows, but no longer on tap were independent pay-per-views minimizing his potential viewing audience.
But if he were to return to a platform such as HBO, it meant fighting against a worthy challenger to his middleweight throne.
In other words, the opposite of what’s been the case for the past two years.
The network power play forced promoter Bob Arum to swallow his pride and revisit negotiations with Williams, after having sworn to never again entertain a fight with the lanky southpaw or any other boxer advised by Al Haymon.
Predictably, negotiations were drawn out by the Williams side, holding out for as much as they can get out of the $3.5 million license fee put up by HBO. The two sides finally came to terms, only for yet another setback in the career of Pavlik, whose staph infection grew to the point of requiring an operation.
The delay provided Top Rank the opportunity to stage the initial pre-fight presser on the two-year anniversary as middleweight king, a rare stroke of good fortune in recent days for the middleweight king.
December 5 now provides Pavlik an opportunity to give fans talk about what he can do rather than what should’ve already been done.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .