The biggest fight of the weekend, and probably the biggest fight of April, will see Kelly Pavlik defend his world middleweight championship this Saturday night on HBO against Sergio Martinez. Let's look back now at the last five fights for both men, starting with the defending champion.
Fight 1: Jermain Taylor (W-UD-12 / February 16, 2008)
After Pavlik beat Jermain Taylor via thrilling TKO in September 2007, the brave Taylor exercised his rematch clause immediately, setting up this 164-pound catchweight fight in February 2008. Most expected Taylor, who was dumping trainer Emanuel Steward and had been unraveling in recent fights, to take a tune-up fight, but Jermain didn't do it. He went right back to the man who took his "0."
The rematch wasn't as epic as the first fight, but my initial feeling that it was "disappointing" was, as I've said before, really silly. It was a damn good fight, with 12 competitive rounds. Taylor got tired late in his first fight with Ozell Nelson as lead trainer, and Pavlik was able to seal the fight in his favor. It was arguably the best all-around performance of Kelly's career. Both Taylor and Pavlik fought smart and cautiously -- after all, Pavlik had tasted Taylor's power and been knocked down the first time around when he got stupid, and he didn't seem willing to test those waters again. Taylor wasn't fearful of Pavlik's power the second time around, simply very aware of it, and knew it was the sort of power that nobody really wants to try and go through. It wasn't the thrilling FotY contender the first fight was, but it showed that Pavlik was more than just a right hand.
Fight 2: Gary Lockett (W-TKO-3 / June 7, 2008)
Gary Lockett is one of the least deserving world championship challengers in recent memory. This fight was a farce, an utter travesty. By all accounts Gary Lockett is a wonderful guy who loves boxing (he's taken over training for many ex-Calzaghe fighters) and always did his very best, but he was remarkably out of his depth against Pavlik. Everyone knew it, too. The fans knew it, the media knew it, Pavlik knew it, Jack Loew knew it, Enzo Calzaghe knew it, and most importantly, Gary Lockett knew it. Lockett came in 30-1, but with a very soft record. Nobody thought he deserved the fight. Nobody. And he didn't. Pavlik wailed on him until the fight thankfully came to an end, having proved to be as big of a mismatch as everyone said it was going to be. It was one of those fights where I felt bad for the challenger, who like I said knew he was outclassed, and felt bad for the champion who had to fight him, knowing it wasn't a real test of his skills or his championship status. I don't blame the fighters -- Lockett tried, but he had no business in the ring with Pavlik, and Pavlik simply did his job. The idiotic WBO allowing this to be a mandatory defense is to blame.
Fight 3: Bernard Hopkins (L-UD-12 / October 18, 2008)
Kelly Pavlik went up to 170 pounds next to fight the living legend Bernard Hopkins, who at 166 years old was supposed to be meeting the end of his line against the powerful, rugged Pavlik. Kelly had all the advantages -- size, youth, probably even speed, definitely power.
I don't get into this voodoo B.S. much, but it seems to me watching the fight now that Bernard Hopkins and his aura, Hopkins' tough guy personality, intimidated Pavlik a little bit. It's not that Pavlik had never faced good fighters before, but he'd never faced someone like Bernard. Hopkins gets into fighters' heads and deconstructs them. Pavlik says he was sick, and I don't have a problem believing that, but he went out there to fight and just plain lost the fight. And he lost it bad. He lost almost every single moment of the fight. He couldn't do anything with Bernard, who gave him some major boxing lessons in this fight.
Fight 4: Marco Antonio Rubio (W-RTD-9 / February 21, 2009)
Rubio had fought a tooth-and-nail brawl with Enrique Ornelas on the Pavlik-Hopkins undercard, a WBC title eliminator between two solid but unspectacular fighters, neither of whom figured to match up with Pavlik all that well. Rubio won a close fight, and frankly set up perfectly as a Pavlik bounce-back foil. He was tough, but didn't match up physically to Pavlik, something that didn't change even after the Hopkins schooling.
The physical mismatch was never more apparent than when the two were next to one another in the ring. Rubio, at 5'10" with a 70-inch reach, was dwarfed by Pavlik, who lists at about 6'3" with a 75-inch reach. Pavlik battered a reluctant, scared-seeming Rubio for nine rounds, until Rubio broke down in the corner and the fight was stopped. It was a one-sided affair all the way, with the challenger just tough enough to not go down, but smart enough to know it wasn't in any way a winnable fight for him. Only occasionally would he even throw punches back at the bigger man, and Pavlik's second defense of his crown was just about as easy as the first.
Fight 5: Miguel Espino (W-TKO-5 / December 19, 2009)
Here's what didn't happen between Rubio and Espino. Pavlik signed to fight former "Contender" winner and ex-junior middleweight titlist Sergio Mora in June 2009. That fight came apart for one of two reasons: staph infection in Pavlik's hand, or a contract dispute with Top Rank. Maybe a combination of both. Pavlik then signed to face Paul Williams in October, but that fight was delayed until December 5 because of the staph infection to Pavlik. Then the December 5 date was scrapped for the same reason, setting in motion a turn of events that wound up with Shane Mosley not fighting Joshua Clottey, either. In a way, Pacquiao-Clottey and Mosley-Mayweather both happened because Pavlik-Williams did not.
But then Pavlik surprised a lot of folks by taking a December 19 fight with Espino, another former "Contender" fight with no credentials. If Lockett was a terrible challenger, at least he was a mandatory. Rubio didn't do well at all, but he was right at the back end of the top 10 in a weak division. Espino was sort of a combination of the two in the end, and to his credit he proved a lot more game than either Lockett or Rubio had. But he was, as they were, physically overmatched against Pavlik, and was banged out in five pretty exciting rounds. Exciting, sure, but tough to rate as a good win.
Martinez's last five after the jump.
Fight 1: David Toribio (W-UD-4 / February 16, 2008)
Almost every fight on the Pavlik-Taylor II card (on-TV and off) had a guy with some kind of name, and Sergio Martinez's four-rounder with David Toribio was no exception. At this point in time, I still felt Martinez must have been a pure illusion, a guy with a record that looked good and meant absolutely nothing. Fighting a can like Toribio proved nothing about him, other than he could win four rounds against a sub-standard opponent.
Fight 2: Archak TerMeliksetian (W-TKO-7 / June 7, 2008)
TerMeliksetian was another sub-gatekeeper for Martinez. Though this was the same date as Pavlik-Lockett, it was not the same card. Pavlik and Lockett fought in Atlantic City, while this bout was held in Connecticut on the off-TV undercard for Forrest-Mora I on Showtime.
Fight 3: Alex Bunema (W-RTD-8 / October 4, 2008)
Martinez's HBO debut was an odd one. It was one of HBO's "young guns" triple-headers, with Yuriorkis Gamboa and Alfredo Angulo in action. Martinez, at 33, was hardly young, just largely unknown to American audiences. Bunema was also probably the best fighter Martinez had faced since his 2000 loss to Antonio Margarito, and if it wasn't Bunema, it was Saul Roman, so we're talking about a long gap in real quality. In this fight, Martinez made some fans, and some believers out of skeptics, and I count myself among them. Martinez tore through Bunema, giving his opponent no chance to get into the fight. It was a great display of skill and ring smarts, and kept him in the HBO eye.
Fight 4: Kermit Cintron (D-12 / February 14, 2009)
An awful robbery. In fact, two robberies in one. Martinez knocked out Cintron in this fight, but referee Frank Santore Jr. completely bungled his own call and allowed the fight to continue for some reason. Then, though I felt he'd clearly won at least eight rounds, Martinez was screwed on the scorecards. Judge Tom Kaczmarek did score it 116-110 for Martinez, which I felt was the appropriate score, but Peter Trematerra and Ged O'Connor scored it 113-113 even. Cintron moved on to beat Alfredo Angulo in a moderate upset, and Martinez simply moved forward. Though he didn't get the W he deserved, he impressed once again.
Fight 5: Paul Williams (L-MD-12 / December 5, 2009)
Martinez replaced Kelly Pavlik on short notice, and was put on the canvas by Williams in the first round. But before the bell could sound to end that round, he thumped Williams violently upon the head, rattling Tall Paul's cage something fierce and evening the knockdown totals. From there on, it was a war of attrition. How either of them stayed up the next 11 rounds is tough for me to figure. At points, they both worked in something that seemingly couldn't be stopped, only to have it stopped. It was some hell of a great fight. When the scores came back, we had two reasonable cards: 114-114 and 115-113 for Williams. And then there was judge Pierre Benoist scoring it 119-110 for Williams, probably the single worst card of 2009.
Like the Cintron fight, the fact that Sergio didn't get the W doesn't really matter. Once again, he raised his profile and gained more fans. Now, he's on the doorstep of the world middleweight championship. Our full previews for Pavlik-Martinez and Bute-Miranda will go up on Friday.