IT was the night Atlantic City discovered life after Arturo Gatti. On September 29, 2007, Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor played rock ‘em sock ‘em with each other’s faces in the most cartoonishly brilliant middleweight title fight in years. A little more than two years after Bernard Hopkins’ age of austerity was ended, Pavlik and Taylor turned back the clock to produce a fight straight out of the eighties.
That was a time when “the matches themselves transcended the squalor of the business side of the sport and focused only on the men who fought”, as Pete Hamill wrote in the foreword to George Kimball’s Four Kings. And given the squalid aftermath of Taylor’s wins over Hopkins, when the then-41-year-old Hopkins went from calling his loss “a robbery” to “a rape”, Taylor’s fight with Pavlik was a necessary balm. Hopkins had taken to calling Taylor the corporate champion before their second fight, but there was nothing corporate about this. Forget the business of boxing: under the electric blue of the Boardwalk Hall’s barrel chest ceiling, this had all the gorgeous severity of a bloodsport at its best.
Taylor and Pavlik had crossed paths some years before in the trials for the 2000 US Olympic team. Kelly Pavlik, then a gangly 17-year-old, lost narrowly, turning professional a short time after on the bottom of a card in California. Taylor went on to claim the bronze in Sydney. When they met again in 2007, Taylor was the middleweight champion with an exclusive deal to fight on HBO, while Pavlik, fresh from savage stoppages of Jose Luis Zertuche and Edison Miranda, was the division’s likeliest contender. Expectations were high.