Kelly Pavlik’s decision: The reason Pavlik gave for pulling out of his fight against Darryl Cunningham on Saturday night was plausible; he wouldn’t be the first well-paid athlete to feel cheated by those who pay him. And those who attributed his actions to some alcohol-induced meltdown might’ve been presumptuous. The bottom line is this, though: He blew it. Pavlik was due to make $50,000-plus to fight Cunningham and $1.35 million to fight Lucain Bute next. That’s fair pay given his losses to Bernard Hopkins and Sergio Martinez and personal problems – a serious hand infection and treatment for excessive drinking – that have hindered his career. He is no longer the hard-punching middleweight phenomenon who once terrorized the division. He’s a fighter trying to rebuild what he once had. He should've fought Cunningham, which probably wouldn’t have been a difficult fight, and then upset Bute to state loudly and clearly, “I’m back.” Then he would have the leverage to demand the money he feels he deserves.
Pavlik’s decision: Showtime months ago made Pavlik its star attraction on its broadcast this past Saturday, which involved a considerable investment in time and money. The network had to cancel the show when Pavlik pulled out the week of the fight. Will Showtime ever feature Pavlik again? Highly doubtful. And HBO officials obviously were paying attention. They’d be nuts to schedule Pavlik in one of their main events at this point. Friday Night Fights on ESPN2? Not enough money for Pavlik, who apparently has an inflated view of his value as a commodity. So where does he go? Good question. Bob Arum, his promoter, might have enough influence to get Pavlik on the undercard of a Showtime or HBO broadcast if the fighter apologizes and promises to behave. However, Pavlik has alienated Arum too. The promoter must decide whether Pavlik is worth the headaches. Even Jack Loew, Pavlik’s trainer and friend, seems to be fed up. Pavlik would be wise to hire a good public relations firm right about now for some major damage control. His career is a mess.
Lucian Bute: The assumption many knowledgeable observers have made is that Pavlik would’ve lost to the unbeaten IBF super middleweight titleholder. I’m not so sure. I like what I’ve seen from Bute, one dominating performance after another by a complete boxer-puncher. I have to ask, though: Who has he beaten? Librado Andrade? Edison Miranda? Brian Magee? He has beaten only second-tier 168-pounders almost exclusively in his adopted home region of Quebec. He is largely untested. I won’t be shocked if he’s successful on the next level; I think that much of him. I also won’t be shocked if he fails. Of course, we don’t know which Pavlik would’ve shown up to fight him – the old, fearsome Pavlik or the more-recent version who might’ve struggled. I can say this: A good version of Pavlik, a first-tier Pavlik, would’ve been Bute’s most-challenging opponent to date. And it would’ve been interesting to watch.
BEST OPPONENT FOR BUTE
Andre Dirrell: Bute has some good options for his next fight. Glen Johnson is eager to fight the Romanian-born Canadian. Johnson is a big-name opponent who probably would provide a legitimate test even though he’s 42 and coming off a loss to Carl Froch. A better, more-compelling (although possibly less entertaining) choice would be another well-known 168 pounder: Andre Dirrell. The former Super Six World Boxing Classic participant hasn’t fought since he suffered a head injury against Arthur Abraham in March of last year but reportedly is due to return against Sebastian Demers sometime next month. If things go well, he’d be an ideal foil for Bute before the end of the year. Dirrell is a superb boxer and a tremendous athlete, as he proved in a split-decision loss to Froch and a DQ victory over Abraham. If Bute can beat Dirrell, it would be very difficult to criticize him. And he would gain considerable momentum going into a fight against the winner of the Super Six tournament, Andre Ward or Froch.
Vernon Paris: Paris was known as much for being the victim of two violent attacks on the rough streets of Detroit in the past five years as his accomplishments in the ring. However, after his performance against Tim Coleman on Friday night on national TV, he’ll be recognized from now on as all fighter. Paris had some trouble early against his capable opponent but began to take charge in the fourth and fifth rounds, landing some fearsome three-, four- and five-punch combinations. In the sixth, he hurt Coleman early in the round with several hard shots to head. That set up the spectacular conclusion to a surprisingly entertaining fight. Paris forced Coleman to take a knee three times with vicious lefts to the gut, the last one prompting referee Dan Stell to end the fight and save Coleman from further punishment. The first thought that popped into my head as Stell waved his arms was, “Damn, that dude is scary.” The top140-pounders are on notice.
Tim Coleman: The danger of incessant pre-fight trash talk is that you look foolish if you lose. That was Coleman’s fate on Friday night. Coleman took some vicious verbal shots at Paris’ ability during a sometimes-ugly exchange of trash talk leading up to their fight. And then he got his ass kicked. Coleman did well for several rounds – even putting Paris down in the second – but ultimately collapsed under the weight of the three hellacious body blows. Coleman obviously was in great pain after each of the punches, although that probably dissipated in a few minutes. The pain of shooting off his mouth and failing to back it up as boxing fans across the country looked on undoubtedly will linger a bit longer. On the positive side, Coleman demonstrated that he’s a good boxer for about half the fight. He’ll be back. He might just want to be more careful about what he says next time.
Cristobal Cruz: The gritty Mexican evolved from solid journeyman to IBF featherweight titleholder late in his career, a remarkable run that included four successful title defenses. Things haven’t gone well lately, though. The 34-year-old had to settle for a second-round technical draw when he was cut by an accidental clash of heads in his title defense against Ricardo Castillo in December 2009. He then lost the title in May of last year to Orlando Salido, the man he beat to win the belt in 2008. And, on the Paris-Coleman undercard, he seemed to be outworking unbeaten Art Hovhannesyan – certainly landing the bigger blows – when the fight was stopped in the fourth round after he was cut again by an accidental head butt. He should’ve been awarded the decision but had to settle for another draw. Cruz is 34, nearing the end of his career. Still, if he keeps plugging away, I have a feeling good things will happen again.
Sergio Mora: Those who have had the chance to speak to Sergio Mora know he is among the most-articulate fighters around. Now the world knows. The former junior middleweight titleholder filled in for Teddy Atlas as Joe Tessitore’s analyst on Friday Night Fights – as he will for the remainder of the season — and did a splendid job. He knows boxing and has the ability to express it clearly and concisely, which is not common. It was a pleasure to listen to him. Mora is only 30, which means his career as an active fighter isn’t over. He made that clear on the broadcast. However, when it’s time for him step out of the ring, a second career will be awaiting him. Atlas has taken a leave to train Alexander Povetkin, who fights Ruslan Chagaev on Aug. 27 in Germany.
BEST OPPONENT FOR KHAN
Khan vs. Morales-Matthysse winner: Amir Khan has many options before him. The Briton holds the IBF and WBA versions of the junior welterweight titles, with mandatory defenses against Lamont Peterson (IBF) and the winner of Robert Guerrero-Marcos Maidana (WBA) coming up. He also could pursue a third belt against the winner of Erik Morales-Lucas Matthysse, which is for the vacant WBC title. The best choice? Probably the Morales-Matthysse winner – if Tim Bradley is out of the picture — because he could claim a third belt. Khan-Morales would be the biggest-possible fight because of the Mexican’s reputation. Matthysse not as much. Khan-Guerrero would be an excellent matchup given that both would’ve beaten Maidana. Khan-Maidana? Been there, done that. Khan should go that direction only if he must to defend his belt. Same with Khan-Peterson, which would be relatively difficult to sell.
Bob Arum, on Kelly Pavlik’s decision to pull out of Saturday’s fight: “I consider the actions that he has taken at this point to be very, very bizarre.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at email@example.com