Two years ago, before the King of Pop Michael Jackson's death, comedian Katt Williams stood before a half-gasping, half-cackling crowd and shouted, "Michael Jackson...if somebody calls you a crack head for twenty years, you are smoking crack," controversially referencing continuous accusations that Jackson engaged in pedophilic acts. While Williams took heat for his unrepentant jabs, many understand his frustration.
Oftentimes it appears that public figures have the ability to escape incrimination, even after multiple accusations. Look at Ben Roethlisberger. If you get accused of sexual misconduct once—okay, we know what potential money does to people—we'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Twice? Shame on me, right? Eventually, multiple instances escape excuse and strike truth as true as Texas tea.
Ever since his second title defense, Youngstown-born Kelly Pavlik has been accused of lacking the skills that catapult a good fighter to what boxing analyst Max Kellerman calls a “special one.” Even when he floored Edison Miranda (who was then still highly regarded) and Jermain Taylor in back-to-back fights, there remained an ominous cloud of mistrust when people talked about the new champ due to certain pimple-on-your-nose flaws.
We heard countless expressions of each one of them—ranging from “he can’t move his feet or his head” to “he’s just a good one punch type guy.” Before Kelly had even one chance to defend his title, his days as an elite champion were numbered.
Then, Pavlik beat the great Taylor again…and boxing aficionados began to believe. After all, Jermain Taylor, who lost to Pavlik by unanimous decision in the rematch, had just ended a ten year reign by Bernard Hopkins, possibly the greatest middleweight of all time.
With the second win over Taylor, Pavlik’s critics began to disregard his weaknesses and, instead, sing praise for his seemingly incomparable strengths. He had fierce power and great reach, but most valuable, he possessed one extremely well-refined quality: his heart, furnished in the fires of Youngstown’s steel mills. All of a sudden, Team Pavlik was a force to be reckoned with in a dying sport. Pavlik was taller than you, stronger than you, and able to take the best you had, get off the mat, and then punish you for your arrogance (just ask Taylor).
In fact, the new middleweight champ was so confident, later that year, he predicted to not only beat but be the first person to KO the greatest fighter in the division that had made Pavlik famous, Bernard Hopkins.
Unfortunately, when Pavlik finally butted heads with Hopkins, he did not come through on either of these predictions.
He failed. He failed terribly.
In doing so, he not only received his first loss but also witnessed the fading of his public presence as the loopholes in his composition surfaced once again. To make matters worse, months later, Taylor, his Sistine Chapel, the fighter whose status gave him credibility, fell painfully at the hands of two talented fighters in Showtime’s Super Six tournament. He was KO’ed not once but twice, in consecutive fights.
After Taylor’s defaming, it all seemed to come apart at the seams for Team Pavlik. So much so that, a year and a half after Hopkins, one-loss, middleweight defending champion Kelly the “Ghost” Pavlik stepped into the ring this past Saturday night still needing to prove himself.
And, once again, he failed. He failed terribly.
There is no doubt in my mind that Kelly is as good a fighter today as he was in 2007 when many predicted that he would resurrect boxing. You can still see the power in his right hand when he manages to extend it. You can still see his opponents being bothered by his stiff, solid jab. If you were watching the fight Saturday, you couldn’t miss how challenger Sergio Martinez, while keeping his hands down, thought it necessary to jog a couple miles in the ring so as to miss connecting with Kelly’s knuckles.
In fact, the only difference from two-loss Pavlik to the Pavlik of 2007 is that Kelly is now doing something that he hasn’t ever done before. He’s losing.
There must, then, be something missing, something not entering the ring with this “tough cookie from Youngstown.” And, upon further review, the answer makes sense: what Kelly is missing can’t be seen on HBO or preached in any corner. He’s lost that quality which had him shaking off his cut man in 2007 title shot with a smile and "I'm fine" after being thrown around the ring by Taylor....
He’s lost his heart.
There are no more excuses. There’s no more pointing to injury or sickness or poor matchmaking. He was outclassed by a challenger in his own division, at a time when he was in admittedly great shape. Excuse him twice, shame on us. Now, it’s time to face the music.
I am aware that this time Pavlik has not made any excuses for his poor performance, but we Pavlik supporters have already begun to do so. We need to realize that when Pavlik lost to Hopkins and could only schedule fights with weak opponents, we undeservedly continued to place him in the same league as other boxing headliners.
From now on, Team Pavlik needs to realize that there are only two possible diagnoses for their current problems:
: Kelly lacks too many parts of his game to be considered elite (which I do not believe to be true), or
: Kelly doesn’t have the heart of a champion (anymore)
Blame poor fighting mechanics or poor dieting all you want. Pavlik came to the corner on Saturday with a defeatist attitude. He evoked a “Don’t say that!” from his trainer Jack Loew, a man charged with the task of constantly trying to reignite some sort of fire or even a glimmer of confidence in his fighter. It didn’t sound like the corner of a champion.
Say what you want about Floyd Mayweather, but I can’t imagine Mayweather taking a loss without a knockout. I can’t imagine Floyd going to his corner and saying, “I lost this one, Rog” and then simply trying to box his way to a decision when he knows he’s guaranteed a loss.
A young high caliber champion doesn’t lose so handily by points. Not when you’ve been giving thunder in your right and lightning in your left. Not when you have the ability to turn the tide of the fight with one punch. Not when you have the heart of the steel mill urging you on.
Yes, we’ll see Pavlik again. He only has two losses. He's young and has chance to fight his way back. Manny Pacquiao was just coming into his own at this point.
But, after watching his golfer-like attitude during last Saturday’s unanimous decision defeat, I’m left wondering…will we ever again see his heart?