RD 1: As the fighters touch gloves, Espino comes over the top with a lunging left, and actually glances off Pavlik’s head… Pavlik is momentarily stunned by this unsportsmanlike gesture, then comes back with a jab. Pavlik starts throwing lead left hooks, lead lefts to the body, as Espino is keeping his arms up in a high guard and trying to crouch a bit and stay low. Espino is moving forward, Pavlik moving back, Espino throwing to the body. Pavlik comes back with a HARD right to the body, riling the crowd, and there is a distinct difference in sound between Pavlik’s and Espino’s body shots… They stand close, throwing tight shots in a high-volume exchange but no one really landing. Pavlik steps back, flicks out a jab and backs Espino up. Espino is here to fight, steps right back in, hitting hard to the body, a right, a left. Pavlik returns fire with a jab, right cross, left hook to the body, then comes up with the left uppercut. Pavlik finally starts backing Espino up. They clinch, and Espino throws fiercely from the clinch, tagging Pavlik once, two times. Pavlik already looks a touch weary. Thus far, I note Pavlik looks a touch slow, less snap on his punches, but what do you expect with a ten-month lay-off while battling a staph infection? In the clinch, Espino punching low, tying Pavlik up and then immediately throwing, just how Ward frustrated and dominated Kessler a few weeks ago. Pavlik clams up, then a left uppercut, left to the body stops Espino – and with Smoger at the referee, he will allow this… Espino steps forward again, arms high, and Pavlik lands a few more body blows. They clinch, and Espino throws a few wild haymakers from close range. Smoger splits them up, Pavlik landing a HARD right to the body – these body blows will certainly add up… Pavlik starting to find his range, throws a right cross, then a right uppercut, tactics Hopkins used against him… After the bell, Espino throws an intentional right, hits Pavlik, and the two have to be separated, Pavlik livid. Smoger immediately takes a point away. Pavlik, who is marked with a dark welt under his right eye, is grumbling angrily as he reaches his stool. 10-8 Pavlik, based on activity and the harder body shots.
RD 2: Pavlik starts with a big left to the body. Espino immediately goes in low, throwing consecutive blows that clearly look too low. Smoger steps in, warns Espino in the corner. The fighters meet center ring, Espino banging to the body. I note: “Tough kid, coming to fight. No fight-changing blows yet from either fighter.” Espino bangs to the body. Pavlik lands a BIG right to the body, then comes upstairs, lands cleanly, the arena going NUTS! Espino is hurt and the crowd senses immediate execution! Pavlik rips a left-right to the body, and Espino, clearly slowed, throws a few wide body shots in return. They clinch, Pavlik’s arm caught, Espino ripping him while Pavlik is tied up – smart move. LOUD body shots from Espino. Pavlik counters over the top, wobbles Espino with a short, crisp right. Espino hasn’t given Pavlik his distance, actually backing up the champion, and thus far Pavlik is willing to fight this way. But now with Espino hurt, Pavlik is finding his distance, throws lead rights from the center of the ring. Espino does not back up. He’s throwing less but is not backpedaling. Pavlik lands another LOUD right to the body, then a left hook upstairs. Espino is looking slower… 10-9 Pavlik.
RD 3: Espino charge, throws a low right, a left hook upstairs. Pavlik paws both blows. The difference in the size of the fighters is startling, Pavlik standing tall and the shorter Espino already starting to crouch a bit… which will be a very telling detail in a round or two… Espino comes forward, Pavlik hit with a long combo on the inside, Espino landing four consecutive shots as Pavlik is a step behind in this quick exchange, his head rattled by a darting right. I note that Pavlik looks a half-step slower than he usually does, a touch weary. Espino lands a BIG left to the body, Pavlik wincing. On the inside, Pavlik cannot land cleanly. He steps to the side, Espino still coming forward. It seems like Pavlik cannot find his true range. Pavlik lands a light flurry as Espino continues to move forward. Espino throws low, too low. No huge punches here. The round is about even in my book. Pavlik snuck in a few clean shots, but Espino is more active. Round closes with Pavlik missing a combo, Espino returning fire with many short punches, Pavlik bobbing under a huge left hook. I note this is the first time I’ve consistently seen Pavlik going backwards, or at least not going forward… 10-9, Espino.
RD 4: Bell rings and Pavlik looks slightly winded. The fighters immediately get close, Pavlik landing a left hook. His face just looks tired, big bags under his eyes. Pavlik lands two lead rights on the ropes, awkward angle as he turns to the side. Espino is too close to him, not giving him any space. Espino is leaning more forward now, perhaps a result of the thudding body blows, but he keeps active, throwing choppy punches from close range. Pavlik lands a BIG right uppercut on the inside, and Espino just crumples to his knee. The building erupts in chaotic cheers. Espino takes the full 9 seconds, get up. Fight resumes, and Pavlik has the adrenaline shot – seems much faster, motivated to finish Espino. Espino may be hurt, but he continues to throw. Pavlik lands ANOTHER right uppercut, and this has become the key punch because of Miguel’s stance and posture. Espino throws a wild left, misses. He nails Pavlik with a right, and Pavlik covers up. Espino steps in and is hit by a HUGE right uppercut, crumples again to his knee. He looks to his corner, saying, “I’m alright.” He looks weary, gets up. Definitely tired, definitely hurt. When Smoger restarts the action, Espino barks, “C’mon!” to Pavlik. Crowd is going to blow the roof off this place, smelling thick blood. “PAVLIK PAVLIK PAVLIK PAVLIK PAVLIK PAVLIK!!!” Espino is still crouched over a touch, not making the adjustment. Pavlik steps in with two hard rights. Where is the uppercut? THERE IT IS, Pavlik landing another one. Espino is saved by the bell. 10-7, Pavlik.
RD 5: Espino is clearly tired… As Larry Merchant once told me, getting hit is exhausting! However, Espino’s coming forward. Pavlik is just too big for this kid. Pavlik lands a hard left to the body, and Espino lunges forward, clinches. Espino elbows Pavlik with harsh intensity on the inside. This kid is tough… Pavlik ducks under a big right. They lock up. A left from Espino glances off the back of Pavlik’s head. Espino is hunched over a bit, just open for that uppercut. Espino continues to swarm, giving Kelly no space. Pavlik throws a few uppercuts, then lands a HUGE right that staggers Espino. Another RIGHT. Fight could be over, Pavlik’s punches not rippling through this kid, going right through him. But… Espino comes right back, stepping forward. I hear from another writer, “Damn, this kid’s got heart.” Just then another uppercut lands clean, Espino on the mat for the third time… He says he’s okay to his corner, to the ref, but then Espino’s corner throws in the towel…
At the post-fight press conference, Espino said, “I fought a good fight, but once I got hit, the fight plan went out the window.” Espino chuckled, as did the press, an acknowledgement that Pavlik was just too big for a smaller fighter like Espino to brawl with. “The plan was not to go toe-to-toe, move to my right, stay relaxed. It was surprising that Kelly wasn’t able to back me up, and that gave me confidence. I really didn’t feel his power until the third round.” He also went on to say that Pavlik wasn’t the hardest hitter he’s faced, but he noted Kelly wasn’t at 100%. Espino felt he hurt Pavlik several times and is confident he’ll be back for another title shot, becoming middleweight champion of the world.
Miguel’s trainer, John Bray: “We had a definite game plan and we tried to stick with it. But Miguel Espino is a warrior, and when Kelly Pavlik started connecting, Miguel went to war.”
Kelly Pavlik: “Good fight for me. It wasn’t one of my best performances, I’ll be honest. I had a bit of ring rust, of course. The kid came to fight. He put a lot of pressure on me. He fought with everything that he had. It was hard for me to find my jab, didn’t really work for me that well tonight. I did start finding my range, popping my right pretty good. The uppercut on the inside started finding its mark. In the end, I got the win. With the way he fought, coming with everything, it was certainly a gut check. The hand felt great, it’s a little tight right now but nothing a little ice can’t cure.”
Kelly noted he wants a huge 2010, will take 3 weeks off and will immediately return to the gym. Pavlik noted he loved fighting in Youngstown. “How many times can the middleweight champion of the world defend in his hometown? And with the Williams fight, if he takes the fight, it will most likely be in Vegas or A.C. Being back in Youngstown was enjoyable and awesome.”
On his next fight: “I do want Sturm. But Williams is the bigger fight. It’s the fight the fans want to see, it’s the fight that I want. It’s the fight I’ve wanted since I fought Hopkins two weight classes above because the Williams camp pulled out. If we can’t get Williams, Sturm is the other big name out there.”
After the press conference, Bob Arum told me he’s looking at April 17 for Pavlik-Williams in Atlantic City. Williams is recovering from serious cuts sustained from the Martinez bout, so April is the likely time this bout will take place.
I spoke with Freddie Roach before the fight. Roach is currently training Felix Sturm, and he said there was already an offer for the Pavlik-Sturm unification, and Freddie told me he definitely feels Sturm has a chance… He watched the Pavlik fight with eager interest – I eyed him just behind me, and he was paying astute attention…
So 2010 should be interesting, with Pavlik looking to fight Sturm or Williams – or BOTH.