LAS VEGAS – Kelly Pavlik has fallen hard from the pinnacle of the sport.
Only a few years ago, after two victories over then-highly regarded Jermain Taylor, the big puncher from Youngstown, Ohio, was the middleweight champion of the world and one of the most-popular fighters in the United States and beyond.
Then everything unraveled. He was stunned by ageless Bernard Hopkins in a light heavyweight fight and less than a year later lost a decision and his titles to Sergio Martinez.
On top of that, a staph infection in his left hand not only scuttled plans to fight Paul Williams but also potentially threatened his life. And if that weren’t enough, a self-acknowledged drinking problem led him to a long stint in rehab.
Today, Pavlik said, all the travails are behind him and he’s poised to reclaim his place among the best fighters in the world.
He faces Alfonso Lopez in a 10-round super middleweight bout on the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight Saturday at the MGM Grand, his first fight since April of last year.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt this good before a fight,” Pavlik said at a news conference on Thursday.
Pavlik,29, said earlier that the hand is fully healed, which resolved one significant problem.
And he said he no longer drinks, which relieves him of a demon that was taking him in a dangerous direction. Now he spends his time with his family and in the gym, he said, not in a bar. And he seems to embrace his new routine.
“I’ve matured, both in my life and in my career,” he said.
Of course, we’ll believe the latter when we see it in this new phase of Pavlik’s career.
He said he feels great at 168 pounds, no longer having to struggle to make 160. He feels a bounce in his step he hasn’t felt in a long time and a crisp snap in his punches.
Longtime trainer Jack Loew said the bulk of his fighter’s energy was spent on maintaining weight in past training camps. Now, he said, they’ve been able to focus on boxing and his opponent.
And Pavlik said he Loew have gone back to basics, working on head movement and other fundamental skills that might’ve faded out of his arsenal. One thing they haven’t had to work on is the power.
“That’ll always be there,” Pavlik said.
Pavlik knows he must prove himself in the ring.
The last time we saw him he lost to Martinez. And the memory of his one-sided setback against Hopkins lingers. The victories over Taylor took place only three years ago but it seems like an eternity.
Pavlik not only has to beat Lopez, he has to look good doing it.
“This is a very important opportunity to cement my name back out there with the public,” he said. “That’s why I’m taking this fight so seriously.”
Bump in the road: Mosley and trainer Naazim Richardson got into a dispute early in their relationship that demonstrated they would be able to work together and Mosley’s maturity.
“It was the first time I wanted to wrap his hands (during training),” Richardson said. “Shane thought he was fighting in the bare-knuckle era. He wrapped his own hands (haphazardly) and said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ I said, ‘You’re gonna fight this kid Margarito and you’re gonna break your hands. You have to protect them. They’re your tools.'
“He said, ‘I like to feel it [the punches].’ I said, ‘You’re not going into the fight with that light gauze on your hands.’ We got an understanding, we compromised. We got it done. Sometimes fighters want to be right just because they want to be right.”
Mosley doesn’t have to be right.
Big money: Pacquaio has a purse of $6 million but also is guaranteed another estimated $14 million of the pay-per-view revenue, bringing his payday to a minimum of $20 million.
Mosley’s purse is $3.95 million but also is guaranteed another $2 million and could make even more.
Pavlik has a $270,000 guarantee. Lopez is guaranteed $40,000.