Wednesday October 22nd, 2008

For the better part of the last two years, Kelly Pavlik has played the role of the hunter. In 2007, Pavlik sought and received a fight with the hard-hitting Edison Miranda, who Pavlik battered around for seven rounds before securing a TKO victory. Four months later Pavlik secured a title bout with middleweight glamour boy Jermain Taylor. After surviving a vicious second-round assault that put him on the canvas, Pavlik recovered and proceeded to deliver a savage beating to Taylor before the fight was stopped in the seventh round.

And even though it was Bernard Hopkins who first approached Pavlik about last Saturday night's light-heavyweight fight, it was a matchup Pavlik salivated over, both for the hefty payday and the chance to knockout a legend.

Now, however, Pavlik is preparing for life as one of the hunted. While losing to Hopkins tarnished Pavlik's perfect record, it did nothing to diminish his appeal in the middleweight division. Pavlik (34-1) is still the darling of the 160-pound weight class and a man fighters are beginning to line up to face.

And at the front of that line stands Arthur Abraham.

If you haven't heard of Abraham yet, here are the CliffsNotes: Abraham (27-0) is the reigning IBF middleweight champion who cut his teeth in the division much the same way Pavlik did, in a pair of brutal wars with Miranda. In 2006 Abraham won a hard-fought unanimous decision over Miranda despite breaking his jaw halfway through the fight. That's like a basketball player going 30 minutes on a broken ankle, or a running back playing the whole game with a separated shoulder. Two years later, a healthy Abraham faced Miranda again in a rematch, only this time he knocked him out -- three rounds earlier than Pavlik did.

That makes Pavlik-Abraham a natural fit, right?

Not so fast. Arguably the most explosive middleweight fight in years has to clear several obstacles before the two fighters with a combined 85 percent knockout rate can square off.

1. Pavlik doesn't want the fight

Sauerland Event CEO Chris Meyer, who promotes Abraham, told me in a recent telephone interview that Pavlik was "afraid" to fight Abraham. "That's the only reason I can think of," Meyer said. I'm not ready to call Pavlik scared -- especially not after he withstood a brutal assault from Hopkins last weekend -- but I get a definite sense that Pavlik isn't enamored with an Abraham fight.

"I guess that's the fight everyone wants," Pavlik said last week, with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.

For this fight to happen, Pavlik needs to push for it. He needs to go to Top Rank and insist that Bob Arum make a deal. He needs to feel compelled to unify the middleweight division. If he doesn't, no amount of negotiating will make it happen.

2. Top Rank doesn't want the fight

It's not that Arum doesn't think Abraham is a great fighter. It's that he doesn't think anyone else does.

"Most people in America think Arthur Abraham is Sauerland's accountant," Arum said.

Hyperbole aside, there is some merit to Arum's argument. Abraham has fought Stateside once, against Miranda, and Sauerland isn't inclined to put Abraham in a tune-up fight in the U.S. after Abraham defends his title next month against Raul Marquez in Germany.

That's not what Arum and Top Rank want to hear. Ideally, they would like to see Abraham take on former middleweight champion Winky Wright in Las Vegas or Atlantic City sometime early next year. The 36-year-old Wright is well past his prime, but still has a big enough name that Abraham could capitalize on -- if he can find a way to beat Wright, who, when in shape, is a very skilled and crafty fighter.

But Sauerland, while open to the possibility of fighting Wright, is insisting that the fight happen in Germany. Meyer said they offered a contract to Wright for an overseas fight but were told Wright had no interest in fighting there. Recently Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told HBO executives that Wright was reconsidering the possibility of fighting in Europe, but the deal is a long way from being completed. How far away? Well, Meyer is still operating under the impression that Wright doesn't want to come.

"We were informed by [Golden Boy COO] David Itskowitch in writing that they rejected the offer to come to Europe," said Meyer in a recent email. "He wrote me that '"I've had some conversations with Winky and his team regarding the idea of coming to Germany and they are unwilling to do so.'"

Even if the fight does take place in Germany, as long as it is on HBO or Showtime, Top Rank will be satisfied.

3. If the Wright fight falls apart, so does a potential pay-per-view

Arum, who would put conference calls on pay-per-view if he thought they would sell, seemed open to the possibility of putting Pavlik-Abraham on HBO or Showtime -- at the right price.

"I think if a network put up about $6 million, it could get done," Arum said. "Maybe $5.5 million."

While HBO has paid that kind of money for fights before -- the Oscar De La Hoya-Steve Forbes fight last May, for example -- two HBO executives scoffed at Arum's asking price.

"I can't believe Bob really said that," said one executive.

Still, one executive acknowledged that, had Pavlik beaten Hopkins, it might have made the network more willing to consider meeting Arum's price. Consequently, the loss could lead to Arum dropping his.

Even with the complicated negotiations gumming up the works everyone -- Pavlik, Top Rank, Sauerland and HBO -- agree this fight should happen. The question is, when? Pavlik will likely face mandatory challenger Marco Antonio Rubio early next year to defend his title (and possibly to rebuild his confidence) before looking for a big-name challenger. Abraham is it. The sooner all the parties realize it, the better.

1. The biggest surprise of the Hopkins-Pavlik fight? That Hopkins, leading comfortably after nine rounds, didn't clutch-and-grab his way to a victory. Hopkins remained the aggressor throughout the fight and had Pavlik on the ropes in each of the final three rounds.

"I wanted to knock him out," Hopkins said as he walked to his motorcade early Sunday morning. "How great would that be, to knock out the guy everyone said was going to knock me out."

Hopkins said that he saw the flaws in Pavlik's style when he watched "hundreds of hours" of Pavlik's fight tapes.

"Watching film, I saw that Kelly fought lock-legged," Hopkins said. "That means he doesn't bend his knees. He's up and punching everything from up top. He uses his upper body and not his legs. He fights stiff. Against a guy that is mobile and gives him angles, he really has to turn his whole body around. For a guy like me, I'm too smart to make him turn around and then fire. I'm going to get him in the process of turning before he can line me up. He's like a Frankenstein. He's very stiff. He has to reset because he's not mobile. He doesn't have the soul."

2. More Pavlik: The loss to Hopkins probably eliminates any possibility of a Pavlik-Joe Calzaghe matchup next year. That doesn't seem to bother Calzaghe one bit.

"I said all along Kelly Pavlik was overrated, over hyped and hadn't done anything in his career to a warrant a fight with me," said Calzaghe from his training camp in Wales. "This was evident Saturday night when Hopkins destroyed and exposed him for what he is. That is why I wasn't going to waste my time fighting him and went straight to a bout with Roy Jones, who has proved himself time and time again that he is one of the greatest fighters in our era. I have been a champion for 11 years and I am only interested in fighting legends."

3. Pacquiao Bulk: I've been hearing whispers that less than two months away from his welterweight fight with De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao is out of shape. Not a good sign. Pacquiao will certainly need to pack on more pounds than ever before, but he needs to be in top shape if he is going to have a chance against De La Hoya.

4. Don King Steps In: Shelly Finkel, who advises both Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, told me last week that King approached him after Vitali Klitschko pummeled Sam Peter and said he wanted to open negotiations for a Vital-Nicolay Valuev fight. Stay tuned.

5. Uncertainty Looms For One Klitschko: That's not good news, however, for Wladimir, who now faces an uncertain future. Should Wladimir get by Alexander Povetkin in December, he will likely be looking at an uninspiring matchup with former cruiserweight champion David Haye.

6. Waiting For Felix: Anyone know if Felix Sturm is going to defend his WBA middleweight title? I mean, against a real opponent?

7. Bye, Bye Floyd There will be a familiar face among the missing when HBO welcomes back its hit reality show 24/7 on Sunday night: Floyd Mayweather Jr. The late-night-jogging, daddy-trash-talking, king-of-the-bling was the star of the network's first two forays into reality TV, but he will not be a part of the third. Instead, HBO will go behind the scenes at the Calzaghe and Jones training camps.

"In a way this is an experiment to see if we can capture the same kind of lightning in a bottle we caught with Floyd," said HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg. "That's the intrigue here. But judging by the dailies I've been seeing, I think we're going to see some scintillating television."

8. Golden Undercard? Here's hoping Golden Boy and Top Rank find some quality matchups for the De La Hoya-Pacquiao card. Because last weekend's undercard was brutal.

9. Next Fighter to Come Out of Retirement? Prediction: Mayweather will return next May to face De La Hoya.

10. Future For B-Hop: I can see two more high profile fights for Hopkins next year. First, a rematch with either Jones or Calzaghe followed by a showdown with light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson, who dismantled Antonio Tarver earlier this month.

11. November Prediction: Calzaghe over Jones. Unanimous decision. Too much speed for Jones to handle.


Nacho Beristain has trained Juan Manuel Marquez for years. Marquez wants a third shot at Pacquiao and now it is De La Hoya, with Nacho in his corner, getting the shot. Is that a conflict for Beristain? --Tim, Los Angeles

Great question. I asked Beristain the same thing last month, but he insists Marquez is "happy for me" and holds no ill will towards his trainer for helping someone else train for a fight he is desperate for. Beristain's history with Pacquiao makes him a superb choice for a trainer but I would have liked to have seen him help Marquez get another shot first. To me, that's a much better fight.

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