It's been a while since I last wrote a boxing preview, so it's great to get back to doing it again! --HD
It is perhaps only fitting that with only two weeks until Halloween we have a match-up between a "Ghost" and an "Executioner". The former, Kelly Pavlik, is the current king of the middleweight division, coming off of two consecutive wins over Jermain Taylor and an easy ousting of mandatory challenger Gary Lockett. It is the morass circumstance of taking on "mandatories" deemed by the title organizing bodies and the lack of a viable opponent that has sent Pavlik north to take on the former undisputed champion at middleweight, who now resides in the light heavyweight division. That person, Bernard Hopkins, is at the end of his illustrious career, with age finally catching up with him and having lost to Joe Calzaghe earlier in the year. Both are at a crossroads of sorts, but in different capacities.
Pavlik has some name recognition from his KO and decision victories over Taylor, but the buyrates and ratings for his fights have been significantly low, even for one new to the spotlight and possessing a crowd-pleasing style and personality. Hopkins, on the other hand, is still in the "championship rounds" with Father Time and does not want to completely admit that he is starting to fall behind late. His relative lack of inactivity in recent fights could be seen when he fought Winky Wright and Calzaghe, and though he'd like everyone to think that he has won in those matches he lost (Taylor, Calzaghe) because he fought them the way he wanted to, it is perhaps this late-starting technique which he has increasingly used more as a crutch than a plan to win fights that has exposed his age and the need for him to start wrapping it up. For Pavlik, a win (especially a KO) over a proven name would be big and help him become more of a household name, but for Hopkins, it would be a statement win of his vitality and further his legacy by taking down a powerful younger opponent (and one that iced the youngster that beat him twice--Taylor).
One knows that it would be hard for an "Executioner" to execute a "Ghost", though there are also a number of considerations to take in. Pavlik is very strong at middleweight, having knocked out the likes of Edison Miranda and, as mentioned, Jermain Taylor, so a well-planned move up in weight could help him retain that power and maybe even add additional zip to his punches. Hopkins' own transition to fight Antonio Tarver was a prime example, having utilized the same services that got Roy Jones, Jr. in proper form to take the heavyweight belt off of John Ruiz. Both Hopkins and Jones easily won their fights, and respective belts, so it is very important for Pavlik to pack on the pounds the right way (his promoter and training staff don't want to ruin their commodity, so I doubt they'll botch it). On the other hand, it is arguable that with a move up in weight, you will invariably lose power, as the kind of punch that could take down a middleweight wouldn't necessarily hurt someone at a higher weight. Hopkins, though, isn't a natural light heavyweight, so perhaps it will not be an issue.
What will be, though, and one of the more talked-about aspects of the fight, is whether Hopkins stands a good chance at getting knocked out--something which has never befallen him (he was last on the canvas in 1994, in his first bout against Segundo Mercado). Taking his age and Pavlik's power into consideration, those prospects are quite higher than at any time in his profession, maybe more so than in the Felix Trinidad and Tarver fights. To his credit, Hopkins has a sturdy chin and great defensive skills, so Pavlik will have to hope to wear Hopkins down as the fight goes on (which, conversely, is when the other becomes more dangerous and starts to ratchet things up). Pavlik isn't a slouch himself, and battling him will not be the same as battling Taylor, as he possesses some very good boxing skills and smarts, decent hand speed, and a gruel-it-out, "killer" mentality to go along with that aforementioned power. Pavlik has also been on the brink of disaster (second round in first fight with Taylor) before and knocked down, so that bit of experience should help him should he ever find himself in a tough spot against the far-more experienced Hopkins. In all, it will come down to "The Ghost's" power, considerable skills, and youth to the "The Executioner's" defensive stylings, veteran experience, and masterful skills.
Prediction: Pavlik, Unanimous Decision. (I was originally going to say that Pavlik would win by KO late, but I would have to wonder if Hopkins isn't aware of that strong possibility already and wouldn't plan on at least tying him up constantly or utilize a tight defense to protect himself. In addition, Pavlik should mindful not to give away his height, as he has tended to do intermittently during bouts. However, there is too much going against Hopkins this time around, as he is fighting someone that is a more powerful, much better fighter than Taylor, and one that has not shown to be prone to roughhousing tactics. The fight will probably be a slower-paced, more technical "action" one, with a feeling-out period and Pavlik looking to take the fight to Hopkins. Hopkins, on cue, will most likely turn it on in the mid-to-latter rounds and try to out-muscle and tie up Pavlik. As long as Pavlik is the smart aggressor, keeps his chin tucked, and moves around, he should be able to get by with a unanimous decision (or if Hopkins gets too lethargic and Pavlik nails him with a good shot, then a KO is very possible). In turn, if Pavlik pulls a "Sam Peter" and forgets to "show up", or just takes him lightly, Hopkins will embarrass him with absolute glee to a UD (if he looks really off, then a KO wouldn't be out of the question, either).)
Outcome: Hopkins, UD. Boy, was I ever off! Judging by the reports, it sounded more like the Hopkins of old rather than an old Hopkins in the ring, with Pavlik getting the Trinidad/Tarver treatment and getting throughly schooled. I gave him a lot of credit (I guess too much, now) that he would take it hard to him and make his statement...only instead, it was the wrong kind. I forewarned that Pavlik would need to have gained weight "the right way", "show up", and not let Hopkins off the hook in order to win (which I fully expected him to do given past results), yet it seems like he did the opposite. Of course, the same can be said about Hopkins, who appears to have dictated the action from the opening bell (!) and played the formerly undefeated Pavlik like a fiddle in a faster-paced fight than what I predicted. The latter apparently was flat and his power wasn't a factor (both a sign of ill preparation and not adjusting well to the weight gain), as he was being outgunned throughout the match, while Hopkins only increased his legend by beating (literally) a dangerous young opponent that many, including myself, thought stood a very good chance at knocking him out. I guess he's not the #1 P4P-fighter-of-the-decade on HardDoor's list for nothing...
Lesson Learned: Convince your (often younger) opponent to move up in weight to fight you, then begin to tear into their slower selves once the bell rings. Certain victory is assured. Almost...