LAS VEGAS – Jermain Taylor fought Kelly Pavlik's fight in September and got knocked out and lost his middleweight championship.
In their non-title rematch on Saturday, Taylor fought the fight he had hoped to fight the first time.
And Pavlik still came out on top.
If they fought 100 times, Pavlik would probably win 95. But each of them would be entertaining.
"I don't see why, but if they want us to do it, we'll take the payday," Pavlik trainer Jack Loew said, shrugging his shoulders, of a potential third meeting between the two after Pavlik scored a unanimous decision in a more tactical but still exciting bout before a loud crowd of 9,706 at the MGM Grand Garden.
Pavlik won by scores of 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113 by virtually sweeping the second half of the bout. He did it with what he called stingers in both hands, which he will have X-rayed to check for breaks.
Taylor's fatal flaw has been his inability to finish and it haunted him on Saturday in a fight that was there for him to win. Many of the rounds were excruciatingly close and turned on a hard punch or two.
But the two most decisive rounds of the fight – the 11th and 12th – were Pavlik's best rounds of the fight. He had never gone into the 10th round before, but he closed the fight in championship fashion.
Pavlik won four of the last five on Patricia Morse-Jarman's card, seven of the last eight on Dave Moretti's and five of the last six on Glenn Trowbridge's.
"In rounds 10 to 12, I was landing the body shots," said Pavlik, who earned $2.5 million plus a percentage of the pay-per-view by improving to 33-0. "He was tiring and I could feel him exhaling."
Taylor somehow managed to raise his stature despite the loss, coming up with a better game plan and sticking religiously to it. He kept the fight in the center of the ring, assiduously avoiding the corners and the ropes where Pavlik would have had free reign to pound on him.
Taylor's back may not have touched the ropes until the 10th round and he landed 35 percent of his jabs. There was little tactically he could have done much better.
"Jermain's going to be more popular than ever, the way he fought tonight," said Emanuel Steward, who had trained Taylor for his previous five fights but then was fired and worked on the HBO broadcast on Saturday. "I think this fight did more for him than those two wins over (Bernard) Hopkins. His stock definitely went up tonight."
So, too, did the number in his loss column. He's probably the second-best middleweight in the world and one of the handful of best super middleweights, but Pavlik is a bad match for him.
Pavlik has far more power and is at least as good a boxer. Pavlik was hit far too often for a world-class fighter in their first bout, on Sept. 29, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, but his defense was vastly improved.
He picked off a lot of Taylor's punches with his gloves and forearms on Saturday and, while he's no Willie Pep, he has made great strides defensively.
He's off to defend the WBC and WBO belts he won in September against either popular but unheralded John Duddy or ex-middleweight champion Felix Trinidad in June in New York.
Promoter Bob Arum would love to be able to work out a deal for a Trinidad fight, but he concedes Duddy is the more likely opponent.
Duddy isn't in Pavlik's class, but after a stretch of some of the division's roughest fighters, he deserves a little break.
"After (Jose Luis) Zertuche, (Edison) Miranda and two fights with this kid, he deserves a break," Loew said. "Nobody else is fighting guys like this time after time. But if they want to give us Trinidad, we'll take the payday."
Taylor's future is much more uncertain in terms of specific opponents, but he plans to compete full-time at super middleweight. Given the back-to-back exciting fights he put on with Pavlik, promoter Lou DiBella won't have much difficulty convincing HBO to give him another significant fight.
He'll probably have to content himself with matches against other super middleweights on the comeback trail, like former champions Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler, but he can be reasonably certain that it won't be long before his phone rings again with big-money fight offers.
"Jermain is a hell of a fighter, one hell of a fighter," Steward said. "He really put on a good show against a guy who probably is better than a lot of people give him credit for being. Kelly is a real good, strong fighter and Jermain was right there with him. They both come out of this looking good, to be honest with you."
Pavlik wasn't able to sit down on his punches after hurting his hands – "You really are conscious of them when they're like that," he said – and so he may not have been able to get a knockout that otherwise would have come.
But Pavlik is going to get plenty of knockouts in the next few months. He'll probably get rid of Duddy in less than five rounds and then will get a fall fight against IBF champion Arthur Abraham.
"Paper champion," Loew sniffed. "They gave him that belt."
But Pavlik will take it from him and will likely end the year 35-0 with three of the four major middleweight belts.
The prospect left Arum daydreaming of a dollar-filled future.
"I told you this kid was going to be huge," Arum said of Pavlik. "He had some adversity again (with the hands), and look how he carried himself. He's a kid everybody likes and know that we got him out there a little bit, he's a guy everybody wants to see."