A funny thing happened to Kelly Pavlik on his way to a fight with Paul Williams. After two injury-related postponements of that fight, suddenly, Williams didn't matter quite as much as before.
Sergio Martinez, who substituted for Pavlik in December lost a majority decision to Williams, but in the process, Martinez made Williams look bad and polished his own credentials as a worthy opponent. Enough people thought Martinez won the fight so that it looked like a sensible move for Pavlik to bypass Williams and go straight to Martinez.
It's boxing's version of the old bait-and-switch tonight at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Martinez (44-2-2, 24 KOs) is allowed to keep his WBC super welterweight title while challenging Pavlik (36-1, 32 KOs) for his WBC and WBO middleweight belts. Fans can compare Pavlik's performance to that of Williams against the same tough opponent in successive fights, which is the next best thing to seeing them against each other.
The key to tonight's fight from a strategic point for Pavlik is that he gets to fight a 154-pound champion who is moving up in weight against a power puncher. The fact that Martinez got up from a flash knockdown by Williams in the first round of their fight to knock down Williams and leave him wobbly showed Martinez has just enough power to command respect.
But Pavlik still has a significant advantage in size and strength, and if he's able to win impressively, it will restore a lot of the luster that was lost when Pavlik lost a non-title bout to light-heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins 18 months ago at a 170-pound catchweight.
"I'm just looking to get back in the swing of things," said Pavlik, who defeated two lesser opponents, Miguel Espino and Marco Rubio, in hometown bouts in Youngstown, Ohio since the Hopkins fight. "I'm excited to be fighting Martinez. He didn't have that big a name before the Williams fight, but people that knew boxing knew he was a good fighter. The Williams fight definitely helped him.
"A lot of the reason could have been the stuff that happened between me and Williams, the fight that was supposed to be taking place. A lot of people paid attention to that fight, so I think it's a great fight to go in against a guy like Martinez and put on a good show."
Because he was accused of ducking Williams, despite receiving treatment at the Cleveland Clinic for a serious staph infection in a finger on his left hand, Pavlik has trained better than ever in the hope of regaining his credibility with the public. Trainer Jack Loew said Pavlik has sparred more than 100 rounds with southpaws emulating Martinez' style; he's done the strength and endurance work and he's studied lots of video of Martinez going back to his seventh-round TKO by Antonio Margarito in 2000.
"He leaves himself wide-open," Pavlik said of Martinez. "If you go back and watch films, he got knocked out by Margarito by leaving himself wide-open. Williams hit him with a bunch of punches. [Kermit] Cintron looked lethargic, but every time he punched, especially the jab, it was landing. There's a lot of negatives that go with his pluses.
"I definitely feel I have a strength advantage against Martinez or a naturally big middleweight like Edison Miranda or Jermain Taylor. I overpowered them. But I don't bank everything on that. I work on my hand speed; I work on my conditioning. If strength is a plus, I'm glad. I think it will be eventually in the fight. We'll see what happens when he's in with a natural middleweight that's hitting him and putting pressure on him."
Pavlik gives Martinez credit for having the heart to step up in class to fight true middleweights like himself and Williams, and he understands that Martinez is a good athlete who can box and pose problems with his southpaw style. But Pavlik also knows he's the guy with the hammer in this fight.
"All fighters, you've got to be wary of power if they have a high knockout ratio or not," Pavlik said of Martinez. "But he didn't have a high knockout ratio at junior middleweight. He's going to have to try to keep us from landing hard, big shots. He's going to have to worry about that through the whole fight."
Can Martinez outbox Pavlik for 12 rounds without absorbing too many power punches? If Pavlik is on top of his game, that's highly doubtful. The pick: Pavlik by TKO in the 9th round.