LAS VEGAS -- Although you wouldn't know it from Kelly Pavlik's history of dynamite knockouts, patience is among the middleweight champion's greatest virtues.
Pavlik waited seven years for his first title shot against Jermain Taylor last year, and didn't waste it. In the rematch Saturday night, Pavlik persisted until the late rounds, when he finally landed the big punches that kept him perfect.
With a strong finish to a bout with more tactics than theatrics, the pride of Youngstown, Ohio, beat Taylor on Saturday night for the second time in 4½ months, winning a unanimous decision.
Pavlik (33-0, 29 KOs) failed to knock out his opponent for the first time in his last 10 fights, but he threw far more punches and landed more memorable exchanges. Taylor (27-2-1) came up just short on all three judges' scorecards despite a markedly improved performance after getting his first career loss in their initial bout.
The fight could have gone either way until the 10th round, with both fighters using canny strategy to minimize their opponents' strengths. Pavlik finished tremendously, staggering Taylor in the 11th with the power that makes him a knockout artist -- but also the skill that could keep him on top for years to come.
"He was better tonight than the first fight, [but] I was better, too," Pavlik said. "It was a more tactical fight. ... From rounds 10 through 12, I was finally landing body shots," Pavlik said. "He was tired. I could hear him exhaling."
Pavlik stunned Taylor with a seventh-round knockout victory in Atlantic City last year, claiming Taylor's WBC title in one of the most scintillating bouts in recent middleweight history. Pavlik's belt wasn't at stake this time, with both fighters agreeing to a rematch at a catch weight of 166 pounds -- 6 pounds above the middleweight limit.
"We both did a better job tonight than the first fight," Pavlik said. "The key was inside pressure. My fight strategy was to put the pressure on him, back him up. My jab and punches landed more this time. Nothing will top the first victory over Jermain, but it was a great win tonight."
Judge Dave Moretti favored Pavlik 117-111 in the rematch, while Patricia Morse Jarman had it 115-113 and Glenn Trowbridge scored it 116-112. The Associated Press also scored it narrowly for Pavlik, 115-113.
Pavlik dominated the punch stats, throwing 845 total blows to Taylor's 456, with both landing a roughly equal percentage. Pavlik's jab was the difference, with 484 of them keeping Taylor at bay despite the Arkansas native's edge in power punches.
"I thought he was doing a pretty good job," Taylor said, after repeating "I lost, I lost," several times when well-wishers consoled him in the ring.
"I knew it was a close fight, but I guess he won the last couple of rounds," Taylor added. "He's a strong fighter, and I give him a lot of credit."
In their first meeting, Taylor knocked down Pavlik in the second round and was leading on all scorecards before Pavlik caught him with the first of several devastating right hands, eventually leaving Taylor defenseless against the corner ropes.
Both fought more deliberately in the rematch, staying away from the sensational exchanges near the ropes that made their first meeting so exciting. Taylor kept the early rounds in the middle of the ring, using his jab to prevent Pavlik from backing him into a corner and trading power shots.
Pavlik needed a few rounds to figure out how to counter Taylor's discipline, which hasn't always been Taylor's strongest attribute.
Though Pavlik was more active in nearly every round, Taylor conserved his energy and only got in trouble in the 11th. Taylor wrapped Pavlik in clinches until the round ended, snuffing either fighter's best chance at a knockout, but Pavlik won the 12th round on all three judges' scorecards to clinch the victory.
Taylor and Pavlik probably won't fight again at middleweight. Taylor plans to pursue a career at super middleweight while Pavlik defends his belt this summer against anyone from John Duddy or IBF champ Arthur Abraham to Felix Trinidad.
Fans of both fighters packed into the casino arena, with Pavlik's Ohio supporters roundly outnumbering Taylor's faithful from Arkansas, whose chants of "Whoo, pig! Sooie!" were drowned out by Pavlik cheers.
Pavlik's impressive back-to-back wins over Edison Miranda and Taylor made him a rising star and a hero in his native Youngstown. Fans embraced him as the heir to an outstanding boxing tradition including Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, who attended Pavlik's fight in support.
Pavlik made dozens of public appearances culminating in a pregame pep talk to the Ohio State football team before its game against Michigan, but he cut off the victory tour eight weeks ago -- about two weeks earlier than expected for his trainer, Jack Loew.
Though Pavlik was the 2-1 favorite in the rematch, he retained the humble habits that endear him to fans almost as much as his punishing punches. Pavlik slept on the couch in his palatial suite at the MGM Grand, and he joined his fans in the buffet line one night.