Former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik was exposed Saturday night by junior middleweight titleholder Sergio Martinez, losing his title by unanimous decision in Atlantic City.
The pride of Youngstown, Ohio spent the last three rounds with his vision obscured by the streams of blood gushing from cuts under both eyes, prompted by probing jabs from the Argentinian southpaw. Martinez used his superior quickness and precise footwork to negate Pavlik’s advantage in size and reach, repeatedly penetrating the American’s defense before dancing away to avoid retribution.
Martinez employed his speed to keep Pavlik off guard for the first three rounds before “the Ghost” adjusted and began countering the former’s flurries with combinations of his own. Pavlik evened the scorecards in the seventh round with a solid right hand to the face of an off-balance Martinez that scored a knockdown.
He continued the pressure in the next two rounds before Martinez struck back in the ninth, opening a cut above Pavlik’s right eye that soon covered his face in crimson. The last three rounds were much of the same as Martinez pressed a dazed and feckless Pavlik.
Before his humbling loss to a 43 year-old Bernard Hopkins in October 2008, Pavlik was considered a rising star of the sport. But he looked ill-prepared for the smaller man’s speed, and, unless he can win a rematch, his days as a middleweight are likely over.
Of course, the road at 168-lbs looks no smoother: in the undercard Lucian Bute staked his claim as the top super middleweight by stopping Edison Miranda midway through the third round with a left-handed uppercut straight to the chin. The one-punch knockout from the Romanian import delighted the highly partisan crowd in his adopted hometown of Montreal.
With Martinez’ victory, he secures the WBO and WBC middleweight titles, as well as a measure of redemption for his controversial December loss to Paul Williams. The victory also means he must give up his 154-lb WBC belt, making a rematch with Williams the most attractive prospective fight.
But first he may have to defend his title against Pavlik, who is entitled to a rematch. Whether Pavlik chooses to exercise that option or attempts to secure a challenge against Bute or Andre Ward at 168 remains to be seen. Either way, as HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant observed after the fight, he’s a long way from where he was two years ago, when he was seen as a potential savior of boxing.