This reluctance from the middleweight king is not surprising.
In his first year as champ he has defended his title only once, in a routine pummeling of unknown Gary Lockett. Now he faces yet another non-title fight at an arbitrary catch weight, against a 43-year-old who will draw little PPV revenue and possesses a cagey style that has rendered him immune from knockout throughout a 20-year career.
But while Pavlik should be eager to dominate at 160 lbs. and make good on Arum’s promise to establish a Hagler-like legacy, this fight presents a unique opportunity for the Youngstown native to make the transition from titleholder to true champion.
Ultimately, boxing is savagery. And the sheer magnitude of the suffering and trauma endemic to the sport has created an assumption that a fighter will inevitably be consumed by his trade.
Reinforced by both the history of the game and the universal demand that what goes up must come down, we fully expect that there is a tragic arc to even the greatest career.
Whether it’s a hero like Floyd Patterson or a villain like Sonny Liston, the pathos of that moment where he succumbs to fate becomes as intrinsic to his legacy as the elation of his first title. Like a pride of lions, the old leader retires only when slain by the young challenger.
This brings us to Hopkins, the self-styled “Executioner” who at 43 remains capable and lucid, if not particularly exciting. Having dominated the middleweight division for 12 years and after two losses to Jermain Taylor in 2005, he remains respectable but overly defensive and incredibly boring.
Also, his villainous routine—complete with black robe, axe-wielding entourage, and endless trash talk—has devolved from fearsome to irritating as his championship aura fades from memory.
Nonetheless, he remains a Hall of Fame fighter, who deserves better than another split-decision slapping match before fading into irrelevance.
He deserves a chance to go down swinging, to redeem himself or nobly fall in the attempt. He deserves Kelly Pavlik, the relentless, undefeated power-puncher who, after dealing Taylor his first loss in brutal fashion back in September, has emerged as a potential star for the casual fan.
Although Pavlik “isn’t thrilled,” this fight offers him his first chance to seize the limelight by sealing the fate of a great, albeit faded, fighter who happens to be his predecessor at the middleweight division.
Of course, Pavlik’s victory, especially by KO, is no guarantee.
But if he can do this, he has everything to gain: the notoriety of ending a great career, supremacy at middleweight by besting its last champion, and most importantly, the chance to play a prominent role in the dark drama that is boxing, where glory is achieved by standing over the battered relic of yesterday’s hero.