By Joe Scalzo
The boxing world is anxious to see how the champion rebounds from his first loss.
YOUNGSTOWN — Former heavyweight champion Joe Louis was 23-0 when he suffered his first loss to Max Schmeling in 1936.
He didn’t lose again for 14 years.
Former welterweight champ Vernon Forrest was 35-0 when he lost. He then lost two of his next seven fights.
“You always question the resiliency of a fighter after his first loss,” said noted boxing expert Bert Sugar. “Some learn from it and move on. Some get destroyed by it.”
Kelly Pavlik went 8-and-one-half years between his losses, dropping two bouts as an amateur during the Olympic Trials in February 2000 then running off 34 straight pro wins before losing a 12-round decision to Bernard Hopkins in October.
“Kelly is still a work in the making,” said Sugar. “I suspect Kelly, who is a smart person, will use that loss as a learning experience.”
Sugar, who counts himself as a fan of Pavlik both as a fighter and a person, believes Pavlik needs to stay at middleweight, where he can dominate the likes of Arthur Abraham, Felix Sturm and John Duddy.
“He owns it and he can continue to make his mark in it,” Sugar said. “Unless he gets offered massive money, he should stay there.
“Now that [Joe] Calzaghe is gone, the super middleweight division isn’t all that exciting.”
Freddie Roach, who has trained numerous world champions including Hopkins, Manny Pacquiao and Mike Tyson, thinks Pavlik made a mistake moving up to 170 pounds to fight Hopkins.
“I think 160 is a perfect weight for him,” Roach said. “He’s got a huge career [there].”
Roach thought Pavlik looked sluggish both against Hopkins and in his rematch with Jermain Taylor, which was held at 166 pounds.
He said Pavlik needs to improve his lateral movement — and his defense against boxers with good lateral movement — and get back to his boxing roots.
“He was a very good amateur,” Roach said. “He needs to go back to his fundamentals. He was put in his place [against] Hopkins but he’s still getting better and he still has a lot to learn about the pro game.
“Everyone loves a winner, so I’m sure he’s a little disappointed and his fans are disappointed. But he probably learned more losing that fight than he did winning the big fights.”
Teddy Atlas, a well-known trainer and commentator, believes Hopkins exposed flaws in Pavlik’s ability and said he views that fight as a “wake-up call.”
“His image in boxing isn’t as high as it has been, so I think you’ll have to see where he goes after this,” said Atlas. “You’re never as good as people say you are. Pavlik wasn’t as good as people were saying he was.
“He has flaws, and it’s not like those flaws hadn’t shown themselves. We — the media — just didn’t want to see them. And the opponents he was facing didn’t expose his flaws.”
Atlas believes if Pavlik were fighting in the 1930s to 1950s, he would face boxers capable of exposing those flaws. Some of the top middleweights from that era are Sugar Ray Robinson, Tony Zale, Rocky Graziano and Gene Fulmer.
“The boxing frontier is not exactly the stoutest right now,” Atlas said.
Atlas pointed to Pavlik’s bout with Hopkins as proof that he was susceptible against shifty counter-punchers, and he points to the Edison Miranda bout as proof he left himself too open to getting hit.
“They weren’t disguised punches, either,” Atlas said. “At the end of the day, because Kelly won the fight and because he has ability in certain areas, and because he’s tough and steady and reliable, he was able to persevere. We forget about the shortcomings.”
Atlas considers Pavlik a busy fighter with a good punch count, but fears he’s too predictable and doesn’t make adjustments. But, he said, there is still time to correct those flaws.
“He’s a decent puncher, not a great puncher no matter what people try to make him into,” he said. “He’s a good, solid workman.
“Now he has the opportunity to correct his flaws. Whether he makes those adjustments remains to be seen.”