Sizing up Taylor-Pavlik matchup |

Sizing up Taylor-Pavlik matchup

Appeal Sports Writer

Ever since he was an amateur who was built like a praying mantis, middleweight Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik – all 6-foot-2 1Ú2 of him – has been underestimated by his opponents.

Even though he’s now the No. 1-ranked middleweight in the world and carries a record of 31-0 with 28 knockouts, the 25-year-old Pavlik, of Youngstown, Ohio, is still not getting any credit from his opponents – at least not before they fight.

That much was apparent during a conference call last week with world middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, 27-0-1 (17), of Little Rock, Ark. The normally classy 29-year-old Taylor – nicknamed “Bad Intentions – and his promoter Lou DiBella showed bad taste when talking about Pavlik, against whom Taylor defends his WBC and WBO belts Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., in a HBO-televised event.

The broadcast begins at 7:15 p.m.

After spending a good bit of time discounting Pavlik’s qualification as a challenger, Taylor answered one reporter’s question why he thought Pavlik was getting a title shot.

“Because he’s ‘The Ghost,'” Taylor said of the double entendre in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink tone.

Just so Taylor wouldn’t be misinterpreted, DiBella cleared the air.

“He (Pavlik) is white,” DiBella said. “Let’s face reality.”

Taylor – who is black (DiBella is white) – won the undisputed middleweight championship with a split decision over Bernard Hopkins in July 2005 and defeated Pavlik in the 2000 Olympic Trials, but said the only thing he remembered about the fight was that he won.

“He’s a strong fighter over smaller guys,” Taylor said of Pavlik. “I don’t know that he’s shown improvement (since they fought in 2000). He comes straight forward. He comes to fight. He’s not slick – he doesn’t move his head at all. He’s a one-game guy.”

At least Taylor didn’t say Pavlik is a no-game guy.

Pavlik scored a comprehensive seventh-round technical knockout of vaunted knockout artist Edison Miranda in May, earning a shot against Taylor, who will move up to the super middleweights after this fight.

Pavlik’s promoter, Bob Arum, said HBO brought his fighter in as “cannon fodder” for Miranda.

For his part, Miranda was busy calling out Taylor before his bout with Pavlik, but had a different attitude after he ended up a bloody, lumpy mess after one of 2007’s better fights.

“Miranda was humble after the fight, I give him that,” Pavlik said.

Pavlik didn’t crawl down into the sewer with Taylor and DiBella when he was told about their racial comments; in fact, he appeared to relish their comments.

“I love it. It makes me work harder,” Pavlik said. “Styles make fights. In other fights I’ve backed up my opponents. With Taylor you go straight down the middle and box. It’s more to my advantage if that’s what he thinks. (Former WBO junior middleweight champion) Bronco McKart said that he didn’t see what the hype was about me.”

Pavlik stopped McKart in the sixth round in their July 2006 meeting.

Prior to McKart, Pavlik scored an eight-round decision over former junior middleweight contender Ross Thompson and followed that with a ninth-round TKO of Fulgencio Zuniga, who was then considered a prospect. It was also Pavlik’s Versus network debut.

Pavlik then moved over to ESPN, where he knocked out 2000 Mexican Olympian Jose Luis Zertuche in eight rounds to earn his shot at Miranda on HBO.

“I’ve fought rugged fighters all through my career,” Pavlik said. “Zertuche had good hands – hit hard with both hands – but I just wore him down and that was the end of him.”

Pavlik said he didn’t have any vivid memories of his bout with Taylor, but had some thoughts on the matter.

“I was 17, just out of the Junior Olympics,” he said. “It was maybe my fifth fight (in the open division). He was a 21-year-old. He had more experience. He won the fight. If I had a couple more fights under my belt, it would have been a different story.”

Pavlik, who had more than 60 amateur bouts, signed with Arum and Top Rank after the Olympic Trials rather than continue taking his chances with the electronic scoring system.

“Things can happen if you stick around for four more years,” he said. “After I lost to Taylor, I won my next bout and then faced Anthony Hanshaw. I was down 10-7 going into the last round and we went to war. I landed some hard punches. I had a good last round and thought I spun (the scoring) around.

“At one point I landed five unanswered punches. I didn’t get one point. It hurt somewhat that I didn’t get even one point. I definitely beat him. Why stick around and have the same thing happen again?”

For his part, Taylor has taken a lot of criticism after each of his last five fights, including the title-winning effort against Hopkins and a split-decision victory in the rematch.

Taylor drew with Winky Wright in June 2006, a bout several journalists thought Wright had won. And after scoring a 12-round decision over former junior middleweight beltholder Kassim Ouma, Taylor looked horrible in a split-decision victory over Cory Spinks, who turned pro at 140 pounds before moving up and winning titles at 147 and 154.

“(Wright, Ouma and Spinks) were smaller fighters,” Pavlik said of Taylor’s recent opposition. “At the same time they were defensive fighters and knew how to fight. Even so, I don’t understand how Jermain could let that happen (by not pursuing and trying to knock out the smaller Spinks).”

Prior to his bout with Miranda, Pavlik said he was going to bully the bully. And to the surprise of many, that’s what he did, in spite of walking through some firepower himself.

“With Miranda, I stuck with my game plan,” Pavlik said. “I was in against a power puncher, who wasn’t used to backing up and getting hit. When I backed him up, his hands were down. I did get hit very hard.”

Pavlik said he sees some flaws he can exploit in Taylor.

“He’s fast, but he’s not the fastest – and he’s not the strongest,” Pavlik said. “Compared to Miranda, he’s faster. He’s also faster than Zertuche and Zuniga. But he leaves his hands down a lot. He looked like crap against Spinks.

“I’ve been working on the jab and head movement. I’m going to jab with him and throw a lot of punches.”

Pavlik will also be attempting to bring some attention back to Youngstown, which already boasts four former world champions, including WBA lightweight champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Harry Arroyo (IBF lightweight), Jeff Lampkin (IBF cruiserweight) and Greg Richardson (WBC bantamweight).

While remaining confident in his own skills, Pavlik said he wouldn’t underestimate Taylor, who’s most happy when he’s counterpunching an aggressive pursuer.

“Jermain’s still a big guy (6-foot-1) and I won’t look past his power or his style,” Pavlik said. “He thinks I’m just a slow white kid from the Midwest. He’ll be surprised come fight night. He has a lot of flaws to his game and I’m going to take advantage of those on Saturday.”

Pavlik sounds like a fighter who believes he has more than just a ghost of a chance against Taylor.