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, May 23, 2007

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No Mora Please, Taylor-Spinks Stinks While Pavlik-Miranda Show Skill And Thrill



When I tuned into HBO Boxing Saturday night, my wife, who usually only joins me if I grovel and beg, gladly watched. She’s a major fan of Dancing with the Stars and finds fighting repulsive. So she delighted in the bout between the so-called undisputed middleweight champ Jermain “Bad Intentions” Taylor and opponent Cory “Next Generation” Spinks.

Those of us who relish fisticuffs, had an altogether different reaction. In 36 minutes of inaction from Memphis, Tennessee’s FedEx Forum, where I’d have rather watched Laila Rhumba, Taylor won a SD by scores of 117-111, 115-113 and 111-117. His record rises to 27-0-1 (17), while Spinks’ falls to 36-4 (11).

We who follow the sport knew exactly what we were in store for.’s Steve Kim put it best in a pre-fight piece when he described this bout as the “walk-out.” The televised undercard featured the real main event between Kelly Pavlik and Edison Miranda, in one of the most compelling match-ups imaginable. This bout was as exciting (more on this later) as the other was mind-numbing.

The only good that came out of Taylor-Spinks is that a) the torture is over and b) Taylor must now fight someone who poses a threat. This narrows it down to either super middle kingpin Joe Calzaghe or Pavlik. I’d rather Pavlik get the shot, so that we can find out who is The Man at 160. But Taylor, who increasingly talks of money, believes Joe represents the biggest payday. And, besides, if the Welshman spanks him, he got beat buy a Hall of Famer who’s hasn’t lost in his 13-year pro career. If Pavlik beats him—and I think the oddsmakers would have him even money to do so—he lost to a mere contender who the public is just now getting to know.  

Taylor deserves credit for taking on Bernard Hopkins twice followed by Winky Wright. Anyone who can go tooth-and-nail with them is pretty good. The judges had Taylor receiving two decisions over Hopkins and a draw with Wright. The majority of the ringside press saw it differently. Many had Taylor going 0-3 against those venerable old men.

Few begrudged Taylor for taking an easy fight after those. His light touch came in the form of jnr. middle Kassim Ouma.  Though smaller and lacking the power to hurt Taylor, Ouma was the aggressor, took away Taylor’s vaunted jab, and acted the boss. Taylor won an unflattering decision, one in which the word “undisputed” feels more and more like a lie on Michael Buffer’s lips.

Oddly, Taylor’s promoter Lou DiBella and his advisor Al Haymon figured that the next opponent ought to be feather-fisted Contender star, Sergio Mora. It looked like a done deal, but Mora inexplicably declined the offer. Would the fight have been a draw? Sure. But who the hell is Mora beyond a TV creation? What has he done to earn a title shot? The Ring has him at #10 and I think that’s being generous.

With increasing frequency, the once hungry and humble country boy Taylor now subscribes to that zeitgesity mantra: If it makes dollars, it makes sense. Defenders of this mentality argue, Don’t hate the playa, hate the game. Well, in that case, let me spew some Haterade in HBO’s face. They heard the negative feedback when the Mora fight was discussed. When that fell through, The Heart & Soul of Boxing had the temerity to make Cory Spinks—the IBF jnr. middle titlist, who’s spent the vast majority of his career at welter—the new opponent. In fact, Taylor has faced mainly blown up jnr. middles, and never a genuine puncher, throughout his career. That he’s gone as far as he has, and is still generally referred to as a work-in-progress, is actually a compliment of sorts.

Emanuel Steward took over Taylor’s corner for Pat Burns before facing Winky Wright. If anything, Taylor seems to be regressing. This might be one reclamation project the great trainer can’t salvage. Taylor’s jab wasn’t much of a factor against Spinks—or Ouma, Wright, and Hopkins for that matter. He landed a couple good right hands. But for the most part it seemed as if his gloves were tethered to his body. The punch stats tell the whole story in this case: Over 12 rounds Taylor threw 319 punches, landing 101 of them. Spinks threw more punches but landed only 85 of them for a 16% accuracy rate.

Spinks is a fine boxer and technician, but a guy even purists of the sport wouldn’t wish upon their enemy. Spinks may rhyme with jinx, but it also goes with stinks. So I’m not sure why Jim Lampley was so facetious when wrapping up the bout, calling it “almost borderline unwatchable.” When citing the power punches totals, he said, “…And we use the term advisedly.” Good stuff, Lamps, but what did you really expect?  

Youngstown, Ohio’s Kelly Pavlik has now fought, and won, two eliminators in a row for the #1 spot in the WBC’s middleweight rankings. Someone call El Presidente Jose Sulaiman and find out how he justifies this one. The first eliminator came last January against tough Jose Luis Zertuche, who Kelly stopped in the eighth in a thrilling slugfest. It was Kelly’s HBO debut and he didn’t disappoint. Saturday’s fight, against Edison Miranda, pitted the two hottest, lead-fisted contenders against each other. It was a pick ‘em, but most of the boxing media slightly favored the raw Colombian puncher Edison Miranda who’d already battered Howard Eastman, Arthur Abraham (in a disputed loss) and, most recently, Allan Green.

No matter. Pavlik, whose maturity in and out of the ring belies his 25 years, stopped Miranda at 1:54 of the seventh. “The Ghost” raises his mark to 31-0 (28). Pantera goes to 28-2 (24).

Had anyone but referee Steve Smoger been the third man, it wouldn’t have gone seven. Call me a sadist, but Smoger is one of my favorite refs. And a big-hearted puncher like Miranda, who proved his mettle against Abraham, deserves every last chance to land his Sunday punch.

The tall, rangy Pavlik wasn’t secretive about his game plan going in. He said he was going to throw 100 punches per round, set the tempo, and back his man up. A thinking man’s slugger, he’d noticed that Miranda could not fight backing up. He also believed that he needed to fight from medium range; not too far on the outside where he might get chin-checked by one of Edison’s long looping punches, and not too close where his own punches would get smothered.

So confident is he in his game, Pavlik will divulge his exact gameplan and then execute it to a T. It’s like Babe Ruth pointing his bat to the outfield wall before sailing the ball over it, or Joe Namath guaranteeing to win the Super Bowl over the heavily-favored Colts. Indeed, Pavlik appears much more confident than the current version of Jermain Taylor, who might have regressed since winning the belts.

From the opening bell Pavlik had Miranda fighting on his heels. Kelly connected on 39% of his 97 punches, most of which were power shots. Even his jab was intended to maim more than measure. Edison found himself in the discomfiting position of having his back pressed against the ropes. When Miranda caught Pavlik with a few clean shots, the bald-headed bruiser shook them off and pressed forward.

The second was no less busy. Most fighters that set such a torrid pace are either in four-rounders or weigh less than Pavlik’s cup, but he has tremendous stamina and a good beard, complemented by an offensive arsenal that includes every punch in the book. Miranda countered with some vicious shots, and looked to turn the fight his way with a minute left. But Pavlik recovered well and responded in kind.

As the third began, Larry Merchant asked, “What if this had happened two weeks ago with De La Hoya and Mayweather?”  I’ll answer that rhetorical question, Merch: Boxing would’ve made countless new fans—maybe even been saved?—just as Hagler-Hearns did when they squared off 22 years ago.

Pavlik continued his onslaught in the third and fourth. In the later frame, he connected on 39 of 82 power shots—emphasis on power. Miranda landed just 11 of 56 power shots. Getting desperate, he went low a couple times and received a warning to keep it clean.

Miranda came out very game in the fifth and somehow had recovered the snap in his punches. After a minute, he had to take a breather, and there was Kelly standing in front of him once again. Edison’s eyes began too swell and close right then and there, as if they could no longer bear the ominous, orange-trunked sight before them.

Despite Pavlik’s obvious advantage in skill, he rarely took full advantage of his gifts. He’s a fighter first, boxer second. He allowed the bout to become a war of wills by the sixth, instead of the boxing clinic it could’ve been, now that he’d tenderized the Panther. Commentator Lennox Lewis advised Kelly to play it safe and ease off the gas pedal a bit, especially since Miranda always has a puncher’s chance. “The Ghost” was tuned to a different channel.  History shows that no one gets off that easy with him.

Much credit goes to the Colombian for hanging tough the way he did. Who’s to say he isn’t the second best 160-pounder in the world, based on his massive will, aggression, punching power and size. But a big right caught him flush with a minute left in the sixth, and the fight was effectively done.

Miranda beat the count and had the wherewithal to spit out his mouthpiece to buy some time. Smoger let his corner wash it off and the action resumed. Larry Merchant was so disgusted with the ref I thought he was going to go Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka off the top rope. No need. Pavlik floored Miranda moments later. The courageous fighter once again beat the count, and the unique ref gave him another chance.  The bell rang, ending the round.

More brutality followed in the seventh. When Kelly once again trapped him on the ropes and landed that big right, Smoger was forced to finally halt the bout.     
For the past year, welter Andre Berto, 23, has been getting the hype and ink that not long ago was going to Colombian Joel Julio. One bad outing—as when Julio fought anemically against Carlos Quintana on Boxing After Dark—and all the kingmakers move on. Berto, now 18-0 (16), has yet to face even a faded fringe contender, but his people are already talking about a title shot at the end of the year. Saturday, he had his way with the light-handed but mobile Martinus Clay—now 12-15-2 (4)—who was dispatched at 2:15 of the 7th. HBO showed clips of the fight, which means he’s the one HBO’s pushing. No one doubts his ability, and with Al Haymon and Lou DiBella in his corner, the road to the Promised Land has been paved. Still, the boxer still must win and look impressive doing it.

Middleweight Ronald Hearns, son of The Hitman, a.k.a. The Motor City Cobra, won a UD 8 over Dennis Sharpe. This Hearns is now 14-0 (11) and resembles his father physically—tall (6’3’’), long-limbed and lean. Whether he will win a title is too early to tell—the 28-year-old is being matched soft. But I like him by KO over by Buddy McGirt’s kid, James Jnr.  A reliable source close to the situation said “[Hearns] is no Andy Lee,” when assessing the better young middleweights in the game.

Super fly Jose Navarro had a stay-busy bout against Roberto Gomez (14-18-3), who was KO’d at 1:38 of the sixth.  Now 26-2 (12), Navarro is penciled in to face WBO beltholder Jhonny Gonzalez on July 21 (although there are rumors the fight might not take place) which will be on the televised PPV undercard of Hopkins-Wright. Regardless, I’m going to have to miss this one; a double header on regular HBO would’ve been acceptable.

“Terrible” Tim Witherspoon’s nephew Chazz [Witherspoon] scored a TKO 3 over Joe Stofle, moving his record to 18-0 (12).  Stofle drops to 10-11-2. Perhaps not the most naturally gifted heavy among the young crop coming up, 6’4’’ 230-pound Philly native deserves mention. His handlers are keeping him very busy and he’s proving himself a quick study. This should come as no surprise since he had a 3.8 GPA in high school and received an academic scholarship to St. Joe’s University, where he graduated with a degree in Pharmaceutical Marketing. Despite a limited amateur career (32 fights), he was still good enough to win the National Golden Gloves in 2004—stopping all five of his opponents. In today’s meager heavyweight division, this 25-year-old, nicknamed “The Gentleman,” could become player.

Promising Tennessee lightweight Ira Terry went to 15-0 (10), winning a UD 6 over an undersized Carlos Valdez.

Heayweight Joell Godfrey earned a UD 6 over DeLeon Tinsely.

Light heavy Ray Smith won a UD 4 over Don Mouton.





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