Call Him Kelly Balboa
KELLY PAVLIK revived an essential stereotype for boxing when he knocked out Jermain Taylor for the middleweight title on Sept. 29. Palookas and lugs, and otherwise overmatched overachievers, had not been faring so well in recent years (or, really, ever), but the unsung Pavlik, out of Youngstown, Ohio, reminded us of the sport's most engaging myth, that just about anybody, regardless of pedigree, can punch his way to that Rocky moment. Pavlik had it all going on—a trainer who spread asphalt by day, a fan base that shut down the local General Motors plant for the fight and an opponent with Olympic glitter and huge-money prospects. Yo, Adrian!
Heavies Stay Lite
EVERYBODY AGREES this was a comeback year for a beleaguered sport, with top fighters committing to dangerous and, not so accidentally, entertaining fights. Yet the casual fan might be hard-pressed to note any progress at all, because the heavyweight division remains in limbo. This is partly a matter of national chauvinism, with fighters from Eastern Europe and Russia in possession of three of the four titles, but it's also a matter of constancy. They come and go, with one no more intimidating or inspiring than the other. Can you name even one current heavyweight champ? Not really watercooler talk, is it?
Oscar Gets Hosed
OSCAR DE LA HOYA made $50 million boxing in 2007, but at 34 he promotes more big fights than he wins lately. And with all the time he spends in well-cut business suits, we've become accustomed to seeing him out of his satin trunks. Still, it was a shock to behold tabloid pictures of the former Golden Boy in fishnet stockings, especially when they were displayed on national television. Leaving aside the question of just what De La Hoya was doing in a hotel room with a woman not his wife as well as his publicist-issued denials ("These pictures are obvious fabrications"), the images—presumably Photo Shopped—garnered headlines and were mocked by stand-ups. Boxers rarely get so much attention. Hey, if cross-dressing is what's going to mainstream this sport, maybe more fighters should embrace their feminine sides.
A Feel-Good Derby
THE KENTUCKY DERBY again delivered a stirring contest and a heartwarming story on the one day that the sport has the nation's full attention. Jockey Calvin Borel, who learned to ride horses fearlessly as a boy on the hellacious Louisiana bush-track circuit, bravely gunned Street Sense to the lead along the rail at Churchill Downs and gave trainer Carl Nafzger his second Derby triumph and owner James Tafel, 83, his first. Street Sense became the first winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile race to capture the Derby.