Can Taylor overcome Pavlik’s psychological edge?

By Geoffrey Ciani: Prior to his title defense against undefeated challenger Kelly Pavlik, middleweight champion Jermain Taylor found himself in the midst of another battle—a battle for respect! Despite his undefeated record in the professional ranks, and the fact he made four successful defenses of his crown, Taylor was unable to garner any respect from the boxing community. This must have been especially frustrating for him when you consider he faced some top class opposition in Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright..

For Taylor, Kelly Pavlik represented an opportunity to gain respect. If he could beat Pavlik, and beat him convincingly, some of the criticisms aimed his way after lackluster affairs against Cory Spinks and Kassim Ouma may have been alleviated. Therefore, going into the bout, it was important for Taylor to make a statement, something both he and Hall of Fame trainer Manny Steward were well aware of.

Imagine, then, how great Taylor must have felt when he was seemingly on the verge of an early KO victory. There he was, pitted against an opponent known for his ferocious power-punching, who was sprawled out on the canvas in the second round of the contest. Pavlik was in some serious trouble, and Taylor knew it—so overcome by the desire to make a statement and gain the respect he believed he rightly deserved, Taylor pounced on him, unleashing a barrage of punches intended to make quick work of his injured foe. But somehow, someway, Pavlik managed to hang on for dear life and escaped to fight another round.

Of course, the rest is history. After working his way back into the fight by maintaining his composure and utilizing his jab, Pavlik proceeded to stop Taylor five rounds later via brutal knockout, capping off one of the most exciting middleweight bouts in the past twenty years. The victory was a testament to Pavlik’s championship character. After all, there is always something ‘magical’ about watching a fighter rise from the canvas only to comeback and knockout his opponent. For Pavlik, this was a storybook ending in which he was the hero. Unfortunately, every storybook ending also has a loser, and in this case, that loser was Jermain Taylor.

Psychologically, coming back from a devastating knockout is a daunting task for any fighter who has ever laced up the gloves. Many a great talent has had his career derailed after being viciously stopped inside the squared circle. This is especially true when a fighter tries to avenge a loss against a former conqueror. It is extremely rare for a fighter who lost via knockout to comeback and beat the man who beat him. It is, however, not impossible, and the most recent example of such that jumps to mind was when Lennox Lewis avenged his knockout loss against Hasim Rahman with a knockout victory of his own—but generally speaking, this is the exception, rather than the rule.

For Jermain Taylor, this loss was probably even more difficult to swallow than your typical KO loss because he had an opportunity to end things early. Had Taylor landed one more big punch in the midst of his onslaught, he may well have stopped Pavlik in the second, providing him with the type of win which would demand the respect he sought. Instead, the opportunity was wasted, and rather than holding on and regrouping, he tired out and faded before being leveled in the seventh. I imagine losing in this fashion would only amplify the psychological impact suffered by a fighter.

Can Jermain Taylor overcome the psychological impact of such a devastating loss?

Frankly, I am not so sure that he can. To me, Taylor has always come across as too much of a nice guy. He does not appear to have the type of “mean streak” required to overcome this sort of thing. Of course, this is only speculation, but I would not be surprised if this loss has been haunting Taylor ever since he was out on his feet when the two last met. In order to mount a successful reversal of the previous outcome, Taylor is going to need to forget all about what happened last time around and focus on the task at hand. To do this, he needs to exude confidence while possessing the utmost determination.

In addition to overcoming his own demons, Taylor will also have to deal with the flipside of this equation—the psychological edge for Pavlik.

Having already survived the best Taylor had to offer it is easy to imagine Pavlik will be entering the contest with the highest order of confidence. After all, he took everything Taylor could dish out, and despite being seriously hurt, he survived the onslaught before delivering the crushing blow which ended the contest. So not only does Pavlik know he has what it takes to absorb Taylor’s best shots, but he also knows he has the power to end this fight with a single punch at any given moment. This psychological advantage is something Pavlik undoubtedly senses, and I imagine it is something he will take advantage of in the stretch leading up to the fight. The more doubts he can arise in Taylor’s head, the greater his psychological impact will become on fight night.

In the end, I really do believe that Taylor mentally incapable of reversing the outcome of their previous showdown. All of the intangibles favor Pavlik, and barring some unlikely scenario whereby Pavlik becomes overconfident, I believe he will once again defeat Jermain Taylor. The reason overconfidence should be a non-issue is because the first fight was anything but easy—had it been a walk in the park for Pavlik, I can see him being a little cocky, but since had to overcome adversity, I expect him to be fully prepared, both mentally and physically.

Of course, one might argue I am overlooking the fact that Taylor is still a talented pugilist who is more than capable of making the subtle changes required to reverse the outcome. After all, he almost had Pavlik down and out last time—what makes me think he will not be able to do it this time? Sure, it is true that Taylor still has the physical tools to beat Pavlik, but boxing is more the accumulation of raw skills and physical talent, and psychologically, I do not believe Taylor has what it takes to regain his title. I believe Pavlik will again win by way of knockout, but perhaps Taylor can prove me wrong. We will know for certain soon enough!

To contact Ciani:

To read more by Ciani please visit The Mushroom Mag:

Article posted on 08.02.2008

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