ZERTUCHE crumpled Carlos Bojorquez. / Photo SUMIO YAMADA
Honda Center, ANAHAIM, CA, Jan. 27
Graham's Odds: 
Pavlik -500; Zertuche +350
Over 9.5 +120; under 9.5 -140

SATURDAY UPDATE: Undefeated Kelly Pavlik has been seeking an HBO date for a long time and finally gets one with Saturday’s 12-rounder on “Boxing After Dark" against Mexico’s Jose Luis Zertuche, a fight that is described as a semi-final eliminator for the WBC middleweight title.

Pavlik has won 29 consecutive bouts with 26 opponents stopped and he looked devastating in his last fight when demolishing Lenord Pierre in four rounds, while in his fight before that he impressively broke down veteran Bronco McKart to win in the sixth.

It would seem that Pavlik faces a longer, tougher fight on Saturday because Zertuche, a Mexican Olympic representative who turned pro at the late age of 27, has a reputation for being durable. Zertuche is also slow and easy to hit, however, although the fact that he had to drop a pound and a half to make weight is not, I am told, of any great significance. A source at the weigh-in on Friday told me that Zertuche shed the excess with no problem and was back on the scales at the right weight inside 20 minutes and looking very strong. "In fact everyone at the weigh-in remarked on how big and strong Zertuche looked," my source said.

Pavlik, the 24-year-old from Youngstown, OH, who lost to Jermain Taylor in the 2000 Olympic trials, was to have met Zertuche in January of last year on an HBO PPV show but he had to pull out with a hand injury. So, Pavlik is about a year behind schedule, although young enough for this not to matter too much. The important thing is that he makes the most of his big opportunity now that it is here.

Zertuche is in some ways made to order for Pavlik because he is so slow of hand and foot. Pavlik, a big 160-pounder at 6ft 2ins, has the clear advantages in speed and boxing ability.

The obvious risk for Pavlik is that he might get overly ambitious trying to win in exciting fashion and run into a heavy punch. One thing Zertuche can do is hit. In two fights with the Colombian Fulgencio Zuniga — a draw and a disputed loss — he had his durable opponent on the floor each time.

Pavlik knows all about Zuniga. He had his toughest fight against the Colombian in October, 2005, when a left hook dropped Pavlik in the opening round. Pavlik came back strongly and more or less dominated the fight until Zuniga was halted, due to cuts over both eyes, after nine rounds, but perhaps for the first time he had to dig deep.

The left hook is Zertuche’s best punch. He dropped Zuniga with a left hook counter while backed up on the ropes in their rematch, and he crumpled the normally sturdy veteran Carlos Bojorquez with a brutal left hook to the body in the eighth.

Zertuche can also whack with the overhand right, and sometimes he switches to a southpaw stance to land straight lefts. He is, then, capable of being somewhat dangerous, but his limitations were exposed — and rather cruelly at that — when he was soundly beaten by the more seasoned Danny Perez in a Telefutura fight in June 2004. He was completely outboxed by Perez, made to miss and hit by counters all night long, and this is more or less what I expect in Saturday’s fight. Still, I think it might behove Pavlik to be a bit careful, especially early.

Although Pavlik was able to overpower Bronco McKart and Lenord Pierre he was in the ring with fighters who could not match him physically: McKart was a veteran trying to make a comeback, Pierre looked like a welterweight against his towering opponent. Neither could hurt Pavlik or hold him off, and he was able to walk through them both. There is a greater risk involved with Zertuche.

I expect to see Pavlik, therefore, using his boxing ability and speed, moving around Zertuche, getting in and getting out. This is a 12-round fight. There is no hurry. If Pavlik is patient, focuses on being precise with his punches and keeps alert, he can break Zertuche down a little at a time, round after round, and then come on strongly in the later rounds when his opponent might be ready to be overwhelmed. He does not need to rush things.

Zertuche’s ambition is, to me, highly suspect. He has a happy-go-lucky type of attitude that sometimes carries over to his performances — not a lot of intensity. He was life and death against the worn Carlos Bojorquez, when Zertuche was in front by just one point on two of the judges’ scorecards before ending matters suddenly in the eighth — and I think Pavlik against Bojorquez would be a mismatch. That, I think, shows the gulf in class between the two boxers.

I think that winning means much more to Pavlik than it does to Zertuche, a feeling reinforced by the Mexican’s inability to make the weight at the first attempt. The longer the fight goes, the more Pavlik should dominate, and I expect him to win decisively. A stoppage for Pavlik any time after the seventh looks a real possibility, especially if a discouraged Zertuche stops fighting back. The Mexican’s pride and so-far reliable chin just might get him through to the final bell, but the more I think about it, the more I am inclined to the opinion that Pavlik will end the fight inside schedule — some time between the ninth and 12th rounds.

Updated with additional weigh-in information.

Last Updated: 
January 26, 2007 - 5:55pm