Timing can mean everything in boxing. In 2007, Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik, Youngstown, Ohio’s newest rehabilitation hope, couldn’t have found a better time to appropriate the middleweight throne from Jermain Taylor.
By defeating Keith Holmes and unifying two belts in the division Bernard Hopkins ultimately created a new title lineage at middleweight. He made it extremely official with a 12th round TKO of Félix Trinidad in 2001. Taylor then ousted that younger version of Old Man Winter in 2005, albeit controversially.
The four “major” belts had never been held simultaneously by one fighter until Hopkins unified them all, then corrupt and inept sanctioning bodies had them drawn and quartered and sent to the four corners of the kingdom. Never mind that, though; Jermain Taylor was the middleweight champion.
Pavlik lived far more incognito than Taylor, who’d inked a promotional deal with Lou DiBella and eventually got an HBO contract, perhaps even prematurely. Through his first 11 fights Pavlik fought in nine different U.S. states, generally in smaller casinos.
Taylor married a WNBA player, modeled for Everlast ads and GQ Magazine, and Pavlik just occasionally fought on television for Top Rank and played darts.
September of 2007 actually marked six years since the first and only time Pavlik and Taylor met in the ring previously. At the trials for the 2000 Olympics in Tampa, Fla., Taylor out-pointed Pavlik 11-5 in the 156 pound division.
Perhaps something could be said of divergent paths they took after meeting in the unpaid ranks, that Pavlik’s more grizzled pro upbringing chiseled him into the figure required to win the middleweight title. While Taylor wasn’t unlikable on a personal level, his title reign heading into the Pavlik fight at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City aggravated fans and pundits. Taylor’s first defense against Winky Wright earned him a highly unpopular draw to retain the title, and unimpressive wins against increasingly puzzling opponents had even his supporters growing restless.
While Pavlik’s chin and resolve hadn’t been tested at the upper reaches, Taylor’s had and the results begged more questions. On paper the fight figured to be quite the collision, though: Pavlik and Taylor, two big, lanky middleweights, combined to score 45 knockouts in 56 fights.
Nonetheless Pavlik and Taylor jousted early on. It was two fighters with punishing jabs attempting to crack the outer shell of the other’s defense, and neither man had stellar defense. Many jabs got through and Taylor’s was better. The champion then smacked Pavlik to the canvas with hooks in round 2 after a right hand opened him up.
Pavlik teetered about for the remainder of the round, but somehow he returned in the 3rd round to hunt Taylor down, blood streaming from his nose and mouth.
Pavlik’s will and ability to digest a punch or two before plowing home his own threatened to take over the fight, and his predatory approach in the next few rounds made sure of it. Taylor, clearly feeling the pressure, clawed out at the challenger, trying to keep him at bay by physically pushing him, but the occasional big shot from Pavlik would find its way home. Jabs never really stopped from either guy, all the while.
Despite visually being a nip-and-tuck engagement, through six rounds Taylor led four points on one card and three points on the other two. Coincidentally Taylor appeared comfortable in round 7. In hindsight, he’d relaxed too much.
In the last half of the 7th Pavlik’s right hand sneaked its way into the fight as he crashed home several, Taylor absorbing each successive one worse and worse. The fourth or fifth right hand clearly affected Taylor’s legs and prompted him to sway back into a corner. Pavlik summoned a demon, bouncing uppercuts and hooks off Taylor’s head until referee Steve Smoger struck a familiar pose: toothlessly defending the slumped-over remains of a fighter hammered to the floor.
Pavlik’s title reign didn’t endure, just as Taylor’s didn’t, thus confirming how difficult it must have been for Hopkins to remain king for so long.
“The Ghost” had his time, though, however short it was. After defeating Taylor for the first time, Kelly Pavlik said, “Now, I’m up there with all the great Ohio champions.”