In the history of boxing there are more than a few people whose names are enshrined in the roll of champions merely because they rose to the top while there was a dearth of talent in their division. Occasionally such champions were able develop into something legitimate; although one would be hard pressed to name a great “hard times” champ.
Perhaps the best example of this is “The Easton Assassin,” Larry Holmes, who fought for years in the shadow of Muhammad Ali and even beat Ali in 1980. He was solid, and he was better than everyone else at the time, but the bottom line is, that wasn’t saying much.
Kelly Pavlik, with a record of 34-0, 30KO, is the WBC/WBO middleweight champion, but has faced the same criticism that Holmes faced. For eight years he’s beaten everyone he’s faced, but the beef against him is the same. The middleweight division, especially in 2008, just doesn’t have the wall to wall talent it once did.
Indeed many critics claim that Pavlik has been protected by his management, facing far from the best competition on his way through the ranks, and not really being challenged until facing Jermain Taylor, who he handled easily to win the title, but had to go the distance to beat him in a return, indicating that he may not have a KO answer for someone looking to go the distance.
So how much changes in his upcoming bout with No. 1 ranked light heavyweight and former middleweight marquee fighter, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins? Not much, frankly. Hopkins, twice beaten by Jermain Taylor, is the reason that Pavlik is recognized as champion by The Bible of Boxing, Ring Magazine.
It was Hopkins who unified the title, become the first world middleweight champ since Hagler. The line continues unbroken to Pavlik (regardless of what the alphabet soup guys decide in their various backrooms around the world).
But what does Hopkins have to offer Pavlik in the way of competition? The prevailing wisdom says ranked top o’ the light-heavies or not, The Executioner’s best years are way behind him.
And while styles make the fight and the matchup of two bangers is often entertaining, it’s still difficult to believe that Hopkins will retain the tools to deal with the younger, faster, stronger Pavlik.
He’ll have a puncher’s chance, of course (32 KO’s is nothing to sneeze at), and middleweights historically haven’t always fared well when moving up to 175 pounds (Hopkins can’t really says he’s tested the best of the division), but Pavlik while not a defensive marvel, should have enough ring savvy to keep Hopkins at bay while attempting to exert his will upon the situation.
It’s been a long time since Hopkins beat the likes of Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya. He’s lost five times, but has never been stopped and should Pavlik be able to pull that trick out of his hat there may be those who feel he’s erased the pampered, champion-in-a-vacuum status, much as they did when Ali retired in his corner after round ten against Holmes.
But nature, and boxing, abhors a vacuum. One must recall that just as Holmes was poised to tie the unbeaten record of Rocky Marciano, along came Michael Spinks.
The other thing about the Hopkins "Unstoppable" aura is it brings in the chance that he will look to survive, rather than win. This could provide an additional challenge for Pavlik, who will need to draw Hopkins out.
And as if Hopkins doesn't have enough problems already, explain how an executioner is supposed to handle a ghost?