In-Depth Preview: Kelly Pavlik vs. Bernard Hopkins

Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik

Birthplace: Youngstown, OH
Height: 6'2"
Reach: 75"
Current Titles Held: WBC, WBO, Ring Magazine Middleweight (160 lbs.)
Professional Record: 34-0, 30 KO's
Record in World Title Fights: 2-0, 2 KO's
Record at 170 lbs.: No record
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 1-0

Notable Wins: UD12 Jermain Taylor II, TKO7 Jermain Taylor I, TKO7 Edison Miranda
Notable Losses: None

Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins

Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Height: 6'1"
Reach: 75"
Current Titles Held: None
Former Titles Held: WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO, Ring Magazine Middleweight (160 lbs.); IBO Light Heavyweight (175 lbs.)
Professional Record: 48-5-1, 32 KO's
Record in World Title Fights: 21-3-1, 13 KO's
Record at 170 lbs.: 1-0
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 11-4-1

Notable Wins: UD12 Antonio Tarver, KO9 Oscar De La Hoya, TKO12 Felix Trinidad
Notable Losses: SD12 Joe Calzaghe, UD12 Jermain Taylor II, UD12 Roy Jones Jr.


If there ever was a big time boxing match that featured two fighters with the wrong nicknames, this is it.

Reigning middleweight champion Pavlik has the style that systematically breaks down opponents, stopping them with the power he carries in both hands. Former middleweight and light heavyweight belt-holder Hopkins frustrates foes with his unmatched knowledge of defensive maneuvers and the subtler aspects of the sweet science. Opponents can see him, but often they can't hit him with clean shots.

Pavlik comes into the fight off a successful defense of his belts at 160 lbs. against overmatched Gary Lockett. Though he often speaks of his willingness to fight anyone his team will put in front of him, he seemed reluctant to take this one. That's probably less a sign of a lack of confidence than it is the realization that it's nearly impossible to look good against Hopkins, even in a win.

Indeed, the crafty veteran has never acknowledged a defeat, even though he's fallen short on the scorecards in three of his last five fights. The downside to the style that Hopkins has employed in the late stages of his career is that it isn't exactly fan-friendly, leaving few to rally to his cause when he claims he's been sold short by the judges.

If styles do indeed make fights, this one could be decided by whichever fighter is best able to impose his. An action-packed fight with punches landing both ways heavily favors Pavlik, while a bout fought in spurts with the ref intervening multiple times a round will make Hopkins smile. Either way there's a definite possibility boxing fans will see something historic: The Ghost tasting his first defeat or The Executioner losing in decisive fashion.

Pavlik's Winning Strategy: Be Relentless

Note that relentless doesn't mean reckless. Coming forward without a plan leaves big openings for Hopkins' best weapon, his counter right.

Fortunately for Pavlik, that's not his M.O. Despite his high KO percentage, he's neither a pure volume puncher nor a free-swinging brawler. Instead, he walks opponents down throwing combinations that start with his jab, and he's equally effective and willing to go to the body and the head.

This Saturday, his goal will be to win enough early rounds to make Hopkins have to turn aggressive later on. He has to be wise enough to realize that his punches may not do quite as much damage against a man who's now used to being hit by light heavyweights, and he has to be patient enough to keep throwing multiple shots even if not many land flush - which is likely given Hopkins' defensive mastery.

Pavlik also needs to be willing to see his game plan through to the end. His reputation for conditioning has been very strong, but he's only gone 12 rounds one time in his pro career. Since Hopkins has never been knocked out, there's a very good chance that number is about to double.

Hopkins' Winning Strategy: Make it Ugly

The worst thing Bernard Hopkins could see early Sunday morning are high numbers being posted by CompuBox. Most of the time a fighter facing an opponent moving up in weight would welcome a firefight, but that's tough sledding against Pavlik and isn't guaranteed to go in favor of The Executioner.

What Hopkins is looking for is a bout fought in short bursts, and he's uniquely qualified to make that happen. He's excellent at blocking and slipping punches and has an incredible sense for the right time to fight off the ropes. Hopkins will hold and grab as much as necessary on the inside (plus do other things that brush the boundaries of legal tactics), for psychological effect as well as to control the tempo.

Combinations won't be a bad idea if they present themselves - especially at the end of rounds to influence the judging - but Bernard's ideal fight features strong single-shot counters after a Pavlik punch that doesn't land clean. His right hand knocked Joe Calzaghe down in his last fight, so there's no reason it couldn't do the same to Pavlik if he can fire it on target.

Every time Hopkins steps in the ring, there's a chance it could be his last time. If that's the case Saturday, whether he wins or loses, expect him to shape the pace of the fight to his liking if at all humanly possible.

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