by David P. Greisman
The formerly industrial city of Youngstown had come in support of Kelly Pavlik, from the estimated 5,000 fans who left the Rust Belt for the glow of Atlantic City to the three famed local products in attendance – Harry Arroyo, Jeff Lampkin and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, past titlists cheering for another to join their ranks.
True to his roots, Pavlik took the championship with fists full of steel.
With less than a minute remaining in the seventh round, Pavlik landed a right cross that sent Taylor staggering into the blue corner – Pavlik’s corner. It was hostile territory, and there would be no escaping. Pavlik closed in, looking to finish. A left uppercut sent Taylor’s head bobbling, his eyes rolling first toward the ceiling of Boardwalk Hall and then to the back of his head. Next came a left hook, a right hook and a right uppercut. Another pair of vicious left hooks and Taylor was limp, supported only by the ropes as referee Steve Smoger moved in to halt the pounding and hold the fallen fighter.
The Youngstown contingent had roared earlier when Pavlik began his approach to the ring. Now, they exploded as he ended Taylor’s reign.
Taylor had once been in Pavlik’s position, the motivated heir apparent seeking to bring a change to the middleweight division. But disputed wins over Bernard Hopkins, a controversial draw with Winky Wright and unimpressive victories against Kassim Ouma and Cory Spinks left many questioning whether Taylor’s time at the top would soon reach its end.
Taylor pointed to the skill levels of the more experienced Hopkins and Wright, to the less conventional styles of southpaws Wright, Ouma and Spinks. Pavlik would be orthodox and coming forward, readily available not only to be hit but also, according to Taylor’s Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward, to be knocked out within six rounds.
It nearly happened.
Taylor landed an overhand right in the second round, several more punches following while Pavlik was flailing. Taylor threw forth an onslaught of hooks, and Pavlik fell forward and hit the mat.
“He caught me with a good one,” Pavlik told HBO commentator Larry Merchant in a post-fight interview. “Obviously it took the legs from me. … I got back up; I was still a little shaky. Being in there with Jermain, the kid can punch like a mule, and he’s a big natural middleweight so I did whatever I possibly [could] to survive the rest of that round.”
Taylor, his energy a combination of confidence and nervousness, tried to make sure Pavlik didn’t make it to the bell. A looping right hand landed high on Pavlik’s head, sending him stumbling across the ring. Taylor kept firing away with more hooks, but he appeared to punch himself out. Pavlik held on, weathered the worst and made it back to his corner with a bloody nose as a souvenir.
“Once I got back up and got the cobwebs, I shook them off, I knew I was going to be in for a good night,” Pavlik told Merchant after the bout.
Pavlik wasn’t winning on the scorecards – the three judges, through six, had Taylor ahead 58-55 (twice) and 59-54 – but his right hands were finding Taylor’s face, and Taylor was tempting fate by occasionally keeping his left arm low.
“I just think it was a total accumulation of punches,” Pavlik said afterward. “He could take a hell of a shot, which he showed during this fight. I hit him with a lot of flush shots that he took, but eventually I think it just caught up in the seventh round.”
Taylor regained his bearings while still crumpled on canvas. He nodded his head, recognizing what had just happened.
“I had him hurt; I thought I had him,” Taylor, who had gone back to his dressing room, said to Merchant in a post-fight interview. “I threw a bunch of unnecessary punches I shouldn’t have thrown. I should have been coming with uppercuts like everybody was screaming. I went wild and tried to hurt him and get him out of there.
“I just can’t believe I lost. I lost the championship, and now it’s all about going back to the gym and regrouping. I would like to fight him my very next fight,” he said.
Ah, the next fight. Moments after Michael Buffer announced the winner with the words “and new,” the focus shifted to including “and now?”
Taylor-Pavlik was contracted with a rematch clause, the terms of that potential second go-around including a maximum weight of 166 pounds and giving mercy to a Taylor whose handlers recognized that making the middleweight limit was becoming far too difficult. Pavlik, similarly tall and lean, accepted.
There are other possibilities. It’s likely that HBO would want to see either Pavlik or the winner of the rematch face whomever comes out atop November’s Joe Calzaghe-Mikkel Kessler super middleweight unification bout. And there are still numerous names at and around 160 that Pavlik’s promoter, Bob Arum, could bring in as opponents for an action-friendly, fan-friendly, all-in-all marketable middleweight who attracts thousands of screaming supporters wherever he fights.
“We’ll see what happens,” Pavlik said in his post-fight interview with Merchant. “I love to fight, and I never back down from a fight.”
The 10 Count
1. On the undercard, Andre Berto ditched the prospect label and raised himself to contender status with an 11th-round stoppage of respected welterweight Chris Estrada.
Berto, who turned pro in late 2004, had recently stepped up his level of competition with a July challenge of fringe contender Cosme Rivera. Berto was floored in the sixth round of that fight but got up to take a 10-round unanimous decision.
Berto’s next test was Estrada, an opponent whose only losses had come at the hands of Ishe Smith, Shane Mosley and Kermit Cintron. But Berto was calm and confident, working behind his jab, going to Estrada’s body and breaking his foe down with accurate power punches.
With the win, Berto is now the top contender to the International Boxing Federation titlist, Cintron, and the World Boxing Council beltholder and current 147-pound champion, Floyd Mayweather Jr. Mayweather-Berto is improbable at this point in both men’s careers, but Cintron-Berto could be interesting if Berto has one or two more good experience-building fights first. My recommendation, however unlikely: Berto against Alfonso Gomez.
2. Meanwhile on Showtime, Chad Dawson retained his WBC light heavyweight belt Saturday by defeating late replacement Epifanio Mendoza via fourth-round technical knockout.
Dawson had been slated to meet mandatory challenger Adrian Diaconu until Diaconu was forced to pull out due to a hand injury suffered in training camp. In stepped Mendoza, a Colombian fighter who largely built his 28-4-1 (24) record at middleweight, where he knocked out then-undefeated prospects Tokunbo Olajide and Rubin Williams, both within the first minute of the first round.
Dawson has now successfully defended his title twice since clearly outpointing Tomasz Adamek in February. With Diaconu temporarily on the shelf, Dawson seems destined, for some reason, for a bout with former 175-pound king Antonio Tarver.
3. The undercard to Dawson-Mendoza saw bantamweight Joseph Agbeko score a one-sided upset over Luis Alberto Perez, capturing the IBF 118-pound title when referee Dan Stell, acting on the advice of the ringside physician, called the bout off between the seventh and eighth rounds.
Agbeko, whose style gave him the appearance of a miniature mixture of James Toney and Emanuel Augustus, came into the Perez fight as the IBF’s 15th-ranked bantamweight, the lowest ranking that can still qualify as an opponent for a voluntary title defense.
4. “Dancing with the Stars” update: Floyd Mayweather Jr. performed an intense cha-cha-cha in last week’s season premiere, earning low scores from the competition’s three judges, who tempered their criticism with comments about the welterweight champion’s potential.
“I’m going to change your name from Mayweather to September Storm,” said judge Bruno Tonioli. “Your energy is incredible. You bashed the cha-cha-cha. And you have an incredible sense of rhythm.”
“Treat her with tenderness,” advised judge Carrie Ann Inaba.
Mayweather and partner Karina Smirnoff received a total of 18 points, the worst score of the show’s six male semi-celebrities and the second-worst score of the 12 couples. But it was model Josie Maran getting the boot after week one, giving Mayweather another week to improve and another chance to impress.
5. Samuel Peter, who was awarded the WBC’s interim heavyweight belt after current titlist Oleg Maskaev suffered an injury and pulled out of their Oct. 6 bout, will now face Jameel McCline this Saturday on “Showtime Championship Boxing.” That card will air opposite HBO’s Manny Pacquiao-Marco Antonio Barrera 2 pay-per-view extravaganza.
McCline was originally scheduled to face a comebacking Vitali Klitschko Sept. 22 before Klitschko withdrew due to a back injury. McCline was then slated to face DaVarryl Williamson, plans that changed when Maskaev was sidelined.
Needless to say, Peter-McCline is far better on the palate than the possible pairings of Peter with either Andrew Golota or John Ruiz.
6. Boxers Behaving Badly: Zab Judah defaulted last week on a lawsuit filed against him by a woman who said the former welterweight champion sexually assaulted her in April 2006 at a New York City diner, according to the New York Post.
Viola Nile said Judah approached her, asked her for a hug and then lunged forward, hugging and kissing her and leaving a mark on her neck and her breasts exposed. She filed a police report, but Judah has not been arrested. Both Judah and his lawyer were no-shows at Brooklyn Supreme Court last week, the newspaper reported.
Nile was awarded $5,000, but she says she wants more.
“It wasn’t about the money then, and it’s not about the money now,” Nile told the Post. “He should be responsible for his actions and know he has to treat women better than that.
“Five thousand dollars? I’m pretty sure he spends more than that at the bar,” she said.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly Update: Mike Tyson faces up to four years and three months in prison after pleading guilty Sept. 24 to a felony charge of cocaine possession and a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence, according to the Associated Press.
As a result of Tyson’s plea, prosecutors dropped a felony drug paraphernalia possession charge and a second misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence, the AP reported.
Tyson was arrested in late December in Scottsdale, Ariz., after his car nearly struck a sheriff’s vehicle. Tyson, who was leaving a nightclub, failed field sobriety tests, and he was charged with felony possession of cocaine after police said they found bags of the drug in his back pocket and in a pack of cigarettes in his car.
Tyson’s sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 19.
8. The woman seen in photos showing Oscar De La Hoya in various compromising poses and outfits not necessarily designed for a “Golden Boy” now says she “cannot personally verify the authenticity of the images,” according to the New York Daily News.
The pictures, Milana Dravnel said, “were taken from my personal camera and were out of my control. I was pressured into going public with the photos by certain individuals who had improper motives and acted solely for their own financial gain. I have not received any money from the sale or use of these photos.”
Oh, to be a fly on the wall during a conversation between De La Hoya, Marv Albert and a resurrected J. Edgar Hoover.
9. Elsewhere in the news, former De La Hoya rival and current Golden Boy business partner Shane Mosley once again saw his name surface in connection with the Bay Area Lab Cooperative (BALCO) steroids scandal.
Mosley, according to federal investigator Jeff Novitzky, allegedly used steroids testosterone and tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG, along with blood-doping drug Erythropoietin, or EPO, prior to his September 2003 rematch with De La Hoya, reported Sports Illustrated writers Luis Fernando Llosa and L. Jon Wertheim.
Mosley, who testified in 2003 in front of a grand jury that would ultimately indict four people in the BALCO investigation, denied using steroids through a written statement and polygraph test results submitted prior to his March 2004 bout with Winky Wright, according to then-Las Vegas Review Journal reporter Kevin Iole.
Last week, however, Mosley said he unknowingly took performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, according to a Golden Boy Promotions press release that also stressed that Mosley admitted to doing so when he testified for the grand jury.
“We went out there and I left [BALCO founder Victor Conte] a check for $1,500 with my name on it, and from then on I never saw him again,” Mosley said in the press release. “But from the beginning I had them contact the Nevada State Athletic Commission to make sure there were no problems. They got the banned substance list, and I was told that nothing I was being given was on that list.”
“I know in my heart that I’m a clean guy and a good guy, and I think all the fighters, promoters and even the boxing writers know what type of person I am, what type of fighter I am, and I don’t need that type of edge,” Mosley said in the press release. “My record speaks for itself in this matter: I’ve always been a clean fighter, and I have nothing to hide. That one little hiccup should never have happened, and it won’t happen again.”
10. “The Contender” update: Episode four in this third season of Mark Burnett’s boxing reality series began with a pep talk and ended with a bout in which the winner’s team would have control over its fate for the final two opening-round fights.
After seeing Brian Vera and Max Alexander drop the show’s first two matches, trainer Pepe Correa sat down with his remaining three fighters for a stern talk.
“This kid last night gave the fight away,” Correa said. “Max Alexander had a guy [Sam Soliman] in front of him and wouldn’t go get him. Had him knocked out three times and didn’t go get him. I don’t like looking bad. It’s been years and years since I lost a fight.”
Meanwhile, Jaidon Codrington received unfortunate news with a phone call saying that his father had passed away. “Sugar” Ray Leonard would sit down with Codrington and mention his Olympic teammate Howard Davis, whose mother died while he was in training camp but who kept fighting and went on to win a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics.
This week’s bout paired Miguel Hernandez against Wayne Johnsen, with Johnsen winning unanimously via scores of 50-45 (twice) and 48-47.
Johnsen joins Codrington and Soliman in the ranks of fighters eligible for the second round. Codrington’s second-round knockout of Vera places him at the top of the competition’s power rankings. Soliman is in second place, thanks to his outscoring Alexander by a total of 12 points. Johnsen, with a total of 11 points, trails in third. Five fighters will win their opening-round bouts, but only four will advance to the quarterfinals.
Trainer Buddy McGirt’s gold team is four strong: David Banks, Codrington, Donny McCrary and Soliman. Three fighters remain on Pepe Correa’s blue team: Sakio Bika, Johnsen and Paul Smith.
Johnsen’s win gives the blue team the right to choose the next first-round fight and, by default, the final match-up, too.
David P. Greisman’s weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. He may be reached for questions and comments at [email protected]