ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – To listen to promoter Bob Arum tell it, Kelly Pavlik's knockout of Jermain Taylor will not only invigorate boxing in the Midwest, but it will also be a catalyst for finding the next great heavyweight as well as solving many of the economic woes in the nation's heartland.
You can excuse the septuagenarian promoter for being a little giddy after Pavlik won the WBC and WBO belts and universal recognition as middleweight champion with Saturday's dramatic seventh-round stoppage of Taylor before a raucous crowd of 10,127 at Boardwalk Hall.
He just may have fallen into the next big money maker in boxing.
While Pavlik's victory likely won't have any long-lasting social implications, have no doubt that it will reverberate throughout the boxing world.
The 25-year-old Pavlik, now 32-0 with 29 knockouts, is getting better. Only a few years ago, many around him were urging him to dump long-time trainer Jack Loew in favor of a big name who could teach him the game's subtleties, but Pavlik did the little things that classy fighters do that usually aren't noticed.
A power fighter, Pavlik was more nuanced than he'd ever been before. Against Taylor, he showed ring awareness, a powerful jab and better-than-expected defense.
"He fought the type of fight that any of the previous middleweight champions would have had a rough time with," said Taylor trainer Emanuel Steward, who has coached many of the best of the modern era. "He's a big guy, but his defense is pretty doggone good, too.
"He was slipping punches. His jab was pretty good. He's not the fastest, flashiest guy, but he was very effective and very, very determined. He would have been a threat to anybody and I take my hat off to him."
Steward is so sage that he began to worry about Taylor just when most in the pro-Pavlik crowd were prepared to go home unhappy.
Taylor cracked Pavlik with a hard right in the second and then hit him with a flurry of punches, dropping him.
"When I got up, I still had a tingling feeling in my legs," Pavlik said.
It was Taylor's opportunity. He hadn't come close to putting Kassim Ouma and Cory Spinks, the super welterweights he had fought in his previous two fights, in such jeopardy over what would be 24 frequently tedious rounds.
But against the biggest and hardest-hitting middleweight he'd faced, Taylor nearly ended the fight in less than six minutes.
When Pavlik arose on very shaky legs – "My legs felt like they weren't under my hips," he said, chuckling – Taylor attacked. It was the way he attacked that proved costly, however.
Taylor threw a bunch of wild, overhand rights trying to chop Pavlik down. They didn't land because Pavlik was bent over at the waist. Most of the shots Taylor threw while attempting to finish off Pavlik went whistling over Pavlik's head.
"Mistake. Big mistake," Taylor said. "I needed to throw some uppercuts there."
He didn't and Pavlik survived. And when he did, Steward instantly knew that meant trouble.
"He's a big guy and he's strong and he just kept coming, coming, coming," Steward said. "It was clearly his kind of a fight."
Arum had been trying to get someone interested in Pavlik for more than five years, but he said he continually got rebuffed. There were times when he kept getting rejections from television executives who had little interest in featuring Pavlik that he wanted to concede, but his matchmaker, Bruce Trampler, kept pitching Pavlik to him.
Arum regards Trampler as something of a Svengali, and Trampler kept telling him that Pavlik could be special.
Trampler has a unique ability to develop talented young fighters. Many promoters feed their prospects one tomato can after another in an attempt to protect them until they land a big fight, but Trampler likes to test his prospects. He matches them carefully, pitting them with fighters with varied styles, so that by the time they've matured and are ready to fight on the big stage, there's little they haven't seen.
He did it with Oscar De La Hoya, he did it with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and he's done it again with Pavlik.
"It would be a huge mistake to underestimate the impact Bruce Trampler has had on Kelly's career," Arum said. "He kept getting him the right fight at the right time. When you have a guy you think can do something, you have to put a lot of care and time and thought into picking his opponents.
"You don't just match him with anyone willy-nilly. Trampler is the best at that and he did that for Kelly."
And after Trampler got him to the race, it was up to Pavlik to run it and win it.
On his biggest night, he was as good as he's ever been.
"Kelly is a hard puncher," Taylor said. "But he's more. He's just a great fighter."
Pavlik is obligated by contract to give Taylor a rematch, but Taylor promoter Lou DiBella said he'd wait at least a week before thinking about whether to exercise the clause.
Arum wants to take Pavlik on a barnstorming tour throughout the Midwest in an attempt to rebuild interest in boxing in an area that was once its heart and soul. Cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit produced some of the greatest fighters who ever lived, but boxing has largely died in those areas.
Pavlik will probably make his first defense in Cleveland, Arum said, and will fight regularly in the region.
Pavlik, though, wasn't particularly concerned about the future on Saturday. He hugged the WBC belt like it was a pretty girl. As Loew and Arum spoke at the dais at the post-fight news conference, Pavlik held the belt close to his chest.
"I went through a lot to get this thing," he said later. "And I don't plan to give it up any time soon."
- Jermain Taylor
- Kelly Pavlik