Hopkins vs. Pavlik Preview and a Whole Lot More!

This week kicks off what will be a great end to the 2008 boxing season, as we head into the holidays and a new year. Unbeaten, big-time knockout artist, Kelly Pavlik from Youngstown, Ohio, takes on one of the great Middleweight Champions of all time, Philadelphian Bernard Hopkins, this Saturday from Atlantic City, New Jersey on HBO pay per view. Before we get to my breakdown of that fight, let me first recap a few fights from this past weekend seen on Showtime Championship Boxing.

From Berlin, Germany we saw Vitali Klistchko back in the ring after a four year layoff and decisively defeating the chronically underachieving Samuel Peter from Nigeria. I called this fight correctly in terms of the outcome but I did not think it would be so one-sided. Peter, of course, quit on his stool after the 8th round. He had lost probably seven rounds of this fight, (by the way, he knew it too, due to the open scoring that was being done at this fight, more thoughts on this later).

Peter is the only guy we ever did an entire show on IN THIS CORNER, before they were a world champion. I felt he would win the title someday and he did, but he has been very much a disappointment given his recent performances, lack of effort during fights, and, even more so, his lack of preparation for these big-time World Heavyweight Title fights. I remember telling his manager more than two years ago, that they needed to get a different head trainer and training program for Sam. Oh well, it may be too late at this point, but he is still well under 30 years old and given the sorry state of the Heavyweight Division, he may still have a life or two left in him. But only if he makes some wholesale changes in his camp, in his mind and most importantly his heart.

As for Vitali, well he looked good against what really amounted to a Nigerian heavy bag. Klitschko did an excellent job of using his height and reach advantage, and he made great use of his left jab, right cross, a few left hooks and he fought in little circles, not utilizing much energy himself. What he will do from this point on is unkown. He certainly is not going to fight the best heavyweight weight in the world because they grew up in the same house together, his brother Wladimir Klitschko. Maybe Vitali will go into retirement for another four years and come back again, who knows? The fighting brothers and doctors of sports medicine may very well be the best two up there. You have to give them this much, they come in very prepared mentally and physically and they have really made the most of all their physical and boxing skills, they are very smart when it comes to their bodies, maybe they are legit doctors after all.

As for the open scoring, I don’t like it, as I’m old school. A fighter does not need to know anything about scoring. Maybe if Joe Louis had known about open scoring it might have affected his first fight with Billy Conn, maybe not. Maybe open scoring would have affected Rocky Marciano in his first fight with Jersey Joe Walcott, maybe not. Both Louis and Marciano were behind at the time they scored their brilliant knockouts. Maybe Tommy Hearns would have fought differently in his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in their first fight had he known he was in the lead. If boxing wants to improve and got back to the way it was, when it was among the most glamorous of all sports, it would not worry about silly things like open scoring but it would go back to 15 round fights when champions were really all-time greats, and go back to same day weigh-ins and have only 8 to 12 total divisions and total world champions instead of the 2000 so called world titlist of today’s game. I will spend more time on stupid open scoring another time. I hate it.

Saturday night, I was ringside at the Pearl Theater at the Palms Hotel and Casino here in Vegas and watched Chad Dawson put on an excellent boxing performance in beating former best light heavyweight in the world Antonio Tarver. This one turned out to be just as I stated in my preflight breakdown, Dawson was just too young at 26-years old, too quick, and too good for the 39-year old Tarver who could not pull the trigger against his much younger opponent.

Dawson looked really good, especially his left jab and combination punches and he also showed better defense. He has a lot of good fights out there like the winner of the Joe Calzaghe vs Roy Jones fight coming up November 8 at MSG in New York for starters.

Antonio can still compete at a high level, but I for one hope he decides to pack it in soon and stay in the sport in other ways like training or promoting fighters. By the way, it was great to hang out with team Tarver last week and I got to spend some time chatting with long time very good trainer, and cornerman Jimmy Williams. Jimmy and I really enjoyed talking about boxing in Florida, where we both have so much history, in fact Jimmy actually worked my first professional fight as my regular trainer, the late, great Mac Goodman was not available for that one. I think we did not want to pay him enough, or pay for his gas ride from Miami Beach to West Palm Beach. Jimmy remembers me as the Usain Bolt of boxing. He actually said Carl Lewis, but Bolt is faster.

On to the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and Saturday night’s showdown between 26-year old Kelly Pavlik 34-0 (30 KO’s) and Bernard Hopkins 43-years old, 48-5-1 (32 KO’s). The two will meet at a catch weight of 170 pounds, which will be the first time Pavlik has fought at this high of a weight in years. As for Hopkins he has fought his last 3 fights above 170, although he had fought only at 160 pounds for the last 17 years as a pro before that.

There was one exception, in his first professional fight where Hopkins weighed a whopping 177 pounds, the most of his career, in losing a majority decision to Clinton Mitchell in New Jersey on Oct 11, of 1988. Whatever happened to Clinton Mitchell? Well, he had three more fights over the next ten years. In his last fight, on July 26, 1998, he lost his only fight with a first round KO to Robert Fredricks. He finished with a scintillating record of 3-1, but he was the first and one of the few to ever beat Hopkins. Just knew you had to know that stat. Want to know what happened to Robert Fredricks? Well if you’re that obscure, that’s on you baby!

As for the weight, I don’t think it will make too much of a difference, if it does favor anyone I think it would be Hopkins, who, at his age, you would think has filled out naturally more than Pavlik who is 17 years his junior. I feel someone winning and punching the way Kelly has done should stay at 160 until it is nearly impossible to do so. One of the things that has made Bernard so good for so long is he knew he should stay and play at 160, and he knows his body like a book. He did not start to stray to a higher weight until he go into the 4-0’s of life. Kelly has told me he has struggled to maintain 160 with his tall frame of over 6’ 2“, but I still think a buck 60 is where he will have maximum power.

I need not spend an hour breaking this one down. It is what it is. A younger, very good fighter heading perhaps towards greatness against an all-time great heading down towards very good. Is Pavlik heading up better than Bernard’s heading down? Is Kelly heading up fast enough to beat how fast Bernard is declining? I say yes to all the above. I have never picked against Pavlik and have called all of his wins nearly to the round, except I felt he would stop Jermain Taylor in their rematch that he ended up winning via Unanimous Decision.

How this fight unfolds will be interesting in terms of whether Bernard will try and really win the fight as he did against Antonio Tarver, or will he just be content to be in the fight as he did against Joe Calzaghe. If Bernard really tries hard to win, he might be able to do so, but I doubt it, and so will he when he feels some of Kelly’s natural power. If Bernard does engage he will win or get stopped. My better judgment says he will be cagey, use his tremendous ring guile and a few less than savory tactics and in the end Kelly Pavlik will be the busier more powerful and engaging of the tow and win a decision. I hope we get some fireworks in AC, rather than a stroll on the boardwalk. Back with a breakdown and plenty more pugilistic stuff next week, and don’t forget… hands up, and chin down!

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