Until midway through his last match up — a 10-round majority decision over Alfonso Lopez in May — Kelly Pavlik had appeared to be fighting like a ghost of his former self.
That assertion came from the former middleweight champ's career-long trainer, Jack Loew, who longed to see the Pavlik who scored consecutive seventh-round stoppages over hard-punching Edison Miranda and Jermaine Taylor, respectively, in May and September of 2007.
What Loew saw instead was a fighter who still was adjusting to life after being dethroned by Sergio Martinez dethroned 13 months earlier.
"What I saw that night is that we had a whole lot more timing and rust to knock off than I thought," said Loew of a man whose ring nickname is, in fact, ‘The Ghost.’ "I thought that the ninth and 10th rounds showed that the old Kelly Pavlik is still in there somewhere. We just have to bring that out."
That's what Loew is hoping for on Aug. 6, when the 29-year-old veteran (36-2, 32 knockouts) meets southpaw Darryl Cunningham (23-2, 10 KOs), of Detroit, at the Covelli Center in Pavlik's native Youngstown, Ohio.
The bout marks Pavlik's fourth appearance in his hometown, where he has stopped all three previous opponents, and his first there since earning a fifth-round knockout of Miguel Espino in December of 2009.
It will also mark Pavlik's second appearance at super middleweight. And from his training observations, Loew is encouraged by Pavlik's improvement since having vanquished Lopez (21-1, 16 KOs).
"Kelly is definitely a whole lot sharper than he was against Alfonso. What I wanted to see in training was whether or not we could pick up from that point on or whether or not we would have to work some more rust off," said Loew.
"Even before we started sparring, just with the hand pad work, I think that with this camp, that the rust is definitely gone. I saw a whole lot more of the old Kelly back. That's what I needed to see. We needed to pick up from the ninth and 10th round on and not struggle like we did in the early rounds."
In rising to super middleweight, Pavlik is chasing a November bout with Canada-based IBF beltholder Lucian Bute (28-0, 23 KOs).
To this day, Loew believes that Pavlik's middleweight title loss is as much a result of extreme weight loss as it was Martinez's skills.
"I feel that wholeheartedly the weight is what cost us in the Martinez fight. We're not going to have to kill ourselves to make weight and you're going to see a fresh Kelly Pavlik in there," said Loew.
"Weight is not going to be an issue. The weight is fine. Kelly's in the low 170s right now. We won't have to struggle like we did against Sergio Martinez for this fight."
And if Loew has his way, Cunningham won't have a ghost of a chance.
"Against Cunningham, I told him that you have to beat this kid like we beat Miranda. We have to go balls to the wall and push him backward and we have to force our will on him and we have to back this kid up and fight him," said Loew.
"Before the Bute fight, it's got to be like the Taylor fight. It has to be. That's the way that we're planning on doing it. We're going to go a week or two off before the Bute fight and then we'll be right back in camp. But if we don't train and fight the way that we did for Edison Miranda and Jermaine Taylor, then we're not going to beat Bute."