By Chris Robinson
At the height of his career, former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik was one of the hottest names in the sport of boxing.
2007 was the year that the Youngstown, Ohio native truly broke loose, scoring three brutal stoppage victories on HBO’s airwaves in a span of eight months against the likes of Jose Luis Zertuche, hard-punching Columbian Edison Miranda, and Jermain Taylor. The fight with Taylor was one of the year’s finest as Pavlik overcame a 2nd-round knockdown before rallying to turn the tide of fight, scoring a 7th round TKO and laying claim to the middleweight championship of the world.
Then promoted by Top Rank, as he is today, Pavlik became very familiar with two of the company’s other big stars at the time, Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto.
In 2007 Pacquiao was competing at 130 pounds and produced victories over Guadalajara’s Jorge Solis and Mexico City’s Marco Antonio Barrera in a lopsided rematch. At the same time, Cotto was enjoying a move up to the welterweight class and finished off his year with entertaining triumphs over Zab Judah and Shane Mosley inside of Madison Square Garden.
A lot has changed for the three fighters over the years. Pacquiao and Cotto are still champions in the sport, Manny holding the WBO welterweight crown and Cotto the WBA junior middleweight bauble, with each getting ready for a defense of their title in the coming months.
Cotto will meet up with undefeated superstar Floyd Mayweather Jr. inside of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on May 5th while Pacquiao faces the daunting challenge of junior welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley one month later inside of the same building.
The fight with Pacquiao represents a whole new stage for Bradley but Pavlik feels that the undefeated champion has a legitimate shot and explained why.
“You know what? I really, really do,” said Pavlik as he spoke before a brisk training session in Oxnard, California earlier this month. “Bradley’s a young, in-his-prime, fighter who’s strong and fast. Manny throws a lot of punches but so does Bradley. Bradley’s got very good hand speed with an aggressive style, which always helps.
“It’s hard to go against Pacquiao,” Pavlik would continue. “Pacquiao’s a very impressive fighter and a very-good skilled fighter, but if there’s anybody out there right now that has a chance of beating Pacquiao, other than Floyd Mayweather, it’s Tim Bradley. I think it’s a great matchup for boxing.”
Those supporting Bradley in his efforts to unseat Pacquiao are quick to point to the Filipino icon’s November fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, the third in their heated rivalry. It was far from a sterling performance, as Pacquiao struggled to find a rhythm against the counter-punching style of Marquez until late in the fight, but Pavlik can’t knock Manny’s performance.
“You know what? I can’t say that Pacquiao looked bad,” said Pavlik of Pacquiao’s majority-decision victory. “I don’t know, either Marquez had a night where he looked young again or he just knows how to fight Manny Pacquiao and he broke down a sh*tload of film. Because Marquez fought a very smart fight and no matter what Manny would have done, it just seemed like Marquez put himself in a situation to counter every time and he was able to block a lot of the effective punches against Pacquiao.”
Dating back to his own loss to Pacquiao in November of 2009, Cotto is riding a three-fight winning streak heading into his underdog role against Mayweather. Having last seen action this past December as he busted up Antonio Margarito’s right eye beyond repair in their grudge rematch, Cotto has gotten his confidence back and Pavlik can’t sell him short.
“Miguel Cotto is a still dangerous fighter,” Pavlik claimed. “Do I think Miguel Cotto has been through a lot of wars and took a lot of big punishment? Yes. Do I think he’s still the same Miguel Cotto? I don’t, but then again, the way I break down boxing, I thought Miguel looked very good his last fight, against Margarito. I thought he boxed, his hand speed, his defense, everything, he looked good. Now, is that the same Margarito? Nobody knows, but going off of his last performance, I thought he looked good.”
Turning his attention to the brash Mayweather, Pavlik seemed to have mixed feelings but couldn’t hide his undying respect.
“Anytime you think there’s a chance of somebody beating him, he just comes out and does what Mayweather does,” stated Pavlik. “There’s guys though that can beat him. [Jose Luis] Castillo, back in the day, showed that he has the style or knows what it takes to beat Mayweather. But overall he can slug with you, he can stand in the middle of the ring with you, and he can go to the ropes and bounce around. He’s kind of like a Sugar Ray Leonard.”
And perhaps it is the statement below that sums up Pavlik’s true feelings on the Mayweather-Cotto matchup.
“If I was a betting man I would probably lean more towards Mayweather in that fight, but anything can happen. It’s boxing,” claimed Pavlik.
As for his own career, Pavlik is enjoying his new team at the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in the aforementioned Oxnard and is inching closer to a March 31st date against Aaron Jaco in San Antonio, Texas.