Saturday night's HBO card is a good one. Jermain Taylor returns to the ring to defend the 160-pound championship against 154-pound champ Cory Spinks, in a fight being billed as "The Border War" -- taking place in Memphis, it pits the champion from Little Rock against the St. Louis-born challenger.
It's the main event of a double-header, and should Taylor successfully defend as expected against the skilled but undersized Spinks, there will be a big challenge awaiting him later on this year. The undercard will pit undefeated Kelly Pavlik (30-0, 27 KO) and HBO favorite Edison Miranda (28-1, 24 KO) in a fight to decide Taylor's next challenger.
|Miranda's lethal power broke the jaw of Arthur Abraham in the Colombian's only loss.|
The 26-year old Miranda may be the favorite heading into the fight. His power is among the best in the sport, pound-for-pound. He destroyed Willie Gibbs in one round last December, and hammered undefeated Allan Green on the undercard of Cotto/Urkal in March, flooring Green twice in the 10th round and taking a unanimous decision. But the Green fight did show chinks in Miranda's armor, as did his lone loss to Arthur Abraham in September of 2006 (a loss that Miranda, and others, still dispute).
Green managed to put Miranda down in the eighth round, and Abraham fought with a broken jaw for eight rounds in his decision win over Miranda. Both instances are not something that should lead one to believe that Miranda is an overhyped fighter, though. He showed enough resolve after hitting the canvas against Green to dominate the remainder of the bout, and the loss to Abraham is more a testament to the guts and determination of King Arthur than it is anything bad about Miranda, though one does have to wonder how Miranda couldn't put away such a battered fighter.
He'll also be the favorite simply because HBO has invested so much in promoting Miranda since December. A first round KO in the main event of Boxing After Dark tends to make the execs take notice. Miranda is also a very charismatic fighter, despite speaking no English. Shit-talking manages to translate perfectly well, and he's got plenty of it.
Kelly Pavlik isn't really a talker, and doesn't seem to care much for Miranda's style, referring to him in a recent interview as "a bully," and remarking that the only way to fight a bully is to bully him. Pavlik has the skills and the power to do just that. He has a height advantage on Miranda (6'2 1/2" to 5'11") but Miranda has very long arms, so that should be neutralized for the most part.
The worrisome aspect of Pavlik's game is still the same. His defensive lapses are as much his calling card as his vicious straight right hand. Having just turned 25, the Youngstown native is stepping into the ring on Saturday for the biggest fight of his career, which is something that can't quite be said for Miranda.
Though he has 30 fights under his belt and is considered a legit contender, Pavlik has never fought someone close to Miranda's level. He didn't start taking on truly quality fighters until 2005, when he beat Colombian Fulgencio Zuniga. After that, Pavlik became a favorite for Top Rank's boxing series on OLN/Vs. with knockout wins over veteran Bronco McKart and Lenord Pierre. He made his HBO debut in January, beating Jose Luis Zertuche on the undercard of the dreadful Arce/Ler fight.
The fight with Zertuche showed that Pavlik also has problems still, as any fighter at this stage will. But his problems are more likely to get him knocked out on Saturday than Miranda's are. Zertuche was able to tag Pavlik a few times in that fight, and kept himself strong for a few rounds before eventually the nasty right hand of Pavlik was too much for the underdog to take.
If Pavlik has those moments where he lets his guard down and gets popped, Miranda will eat him alive. And if Pavlik wants to stand and trade with Miranda -- something that could well happen -- you have to say that Miranda wins that battle on paper.
With that said, I think you can make a case that both guys could win this fight.
How Miranda Can Win: Simply put, Edison Miranda just has to fight his fight. He has to cut loose on Pavlik when he sees the opportunity, something that might not take very long. He can draw on the fact that he's fought tougher opposition, too. There's almost no way Miranda didn't learn a lot in that fight against Abraham, and even the one against Green, who is a really solid fighter. Pavlik hasn't faced anyone as good as either of those guys. In fact, Pavlik probably hasn't faced anyone close to as good as either of those guys. If Miranda brings a similar gameplan to this fight that he did to the bout with Green, he really should win.
How Pavlik Can Win: Pavlik can't be a cowboy like he was against Zertuche, it'll get him creamed. What Kelly Pavlik has to do on Saturday to beat Miranda is establish the jab and keep his mind on playing defense and counter-punching. He has to frustrate Miranda not into being aggressive, but into being overly aggressive. There's no doubt in my mind that Pavlik can hurt and even knock out Miranda. He has power in both hands, and again, that straight right of his can be brutal. It's fundamental stuff, but Pavlik has to keep his head moving -- something he doesn't do sometimes -- and stay out of Miranda's wheelhouse.
This is a really nice matchup, and even nicer is the fact that it's the fight people wanted to see. Jermain Taylor is established at 160, with two wins over Bernard Hopkins and a draw against Winky Wright. Forget that his last defense was against Kassim Ouma and that his next one is Cory Spinks, two very talented boxers that just aren't middleweights. Taylor is a champion that deserves to have fighters fight to get to him, and that's exactly what Miranda and Pavlik are doing.
This also has Fight of the Year-caliber potential if all goes as it could. It's probably too much to ask of these two guys to just stand in there and slug, but they're both young punchers that love to mix it up, so the likelihood is far greater than in most fights. If I had to pick a winner on Saturday, I go with Miranda just because I think he's the more advanced boxer of the two right now. But I don't expect that this will be anything close to a final chapter in the rise of either guy. Both of them are good, young fighters that are part of boxing's future as well as its present, and two of the best middleweights in the game. Really, it's a match made in TV boxing heaven.