Kelly Pavlik appears to be a man reborn entering his Aug. 6 bout with Darryl Cunningham in a match up that marks his second straight appearance at 168 pounds.
The 29-year-old former middleweight champ debuted as a super middleweight in May, scoring a 10-round majority decision over Alfonso Lopez (21-1, 16 knockouts) 13 months after Sergio Martinez dethroned him. Pavlik says he was weight depleted when he fought the talented southpaw.
“The day of the [Martinez] fight…I was laying on the couch with my wife,” Pavlik (36-2, 32 KOs) said during a recent media conference call. “I looked at her and I said, ‘I don’t have it.’ And she goes, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I go, ‘My legs — I don’t have it in my legs right now. I said, ‘They feel like they’re a thousand pounds.’
“It was a situation where we shouldn’t have actually taken the fight. Three weeks out, I couldn’t get below 170. That became a big issue in the fight. I hate doing this, and I’m not making any excuses, and I’m not taking anything away from Sergio Martinez, who is a great fighter.”
Pavlik said being in the higher weight class has allowed him to focus more on technique than on weight loss.
“Now that we’re in a different weight class and not worrying about making weight, you can step up your time on movement and head movement and get back to how it was in the early days when I first turned pro and how I fought back then,” said Pavlik. “I think that the brutal training regimen where you’re fighting with that natural strength, that cardio, that’s something that we’re getting back to. It’s the same regimen that we had against Edison Miranda and Jermain Taylor, and I think that’s how you get that anger and that hunger back.”
When Pavlik faces the Cunningham (23-2, 10 KOs), a 36-year-old southpaw from Detroit, at the Covelli Center in his native Youngstown, Ohio, it will be his fourth appearance in his hometown, where he has stopped all three previous opponents.
It will also be Pavlik’s first there since earning a fifth-round knockout of Miguel Espino in December of 2009.
“Earlier in my career, when I would come home to fight, there was a lot of pressure. But I think that I’ve had and the stages that I’ve fought and with the opponents that I’ve fought, I have the experience now, and I’ve been there and done that,” said Pavlik, whose seventh-round knockout dethroned undisputed champion Jermain Taylor in September of 2007 at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
“The good note is that you have your fans, and they sometimes act as your second wind. It gives you more motivation to go out and to put on a better show. You have that extra little drive in you. There’s always a plus to fighting at home.”
Pavlik is chasing a November bout with Canada-based IBF super middleweight beltholder Lucian Bute (28-0, 23 KOs), hence, the reason trainer Jack Loew and his camp members chose Cunningham.
“Cunningham isn’t so much a southpaw who looks like Bute as much as, after being off 13 months, if we wouldn’t have taken a fight like this, it would have been another six months before we got into the ring with somebody like Bute. I just didn’t feel that that was good,” said Loew. “The whole thing was to get Kelly in camp, train with a lefty for a lefty. So, absolutely, it was to look at the big picture down the road. Bute’s the whole package — good movement, goes upstairs and downstairs and side-to-side. We’re going to have to be 110 percent prepared for a guy like that. But we’ve done nothing but concentrate on Darryl Cunningham.”
Loew and Pavlik still blame extreme weight loss for the most recent setback of the fighter’s career, and a look back at the circumstances surrounding Martinez-Pavlik appears to support their assertion, at least, in part.
“Not only was he a great fighter out of a southpaw stance with great movement and skills, but there were a lot of issues. Mainly, you know, the weight,” said Pavlik. “You can’t run a total of 62 miles to lose weight before a fight and hope to win. That was the problem there.”
Prior to facing Martinez, Loew said Pavlik’s out-of-training weight was as high as 190. Loew admitted that making the limit “was tougher” this time than most — “probably the toughest since we fought [southpaw] Bronco McKart” in July of 2006.
Yet the day before the weigh-in, Pavlik told a reporter it was “Not a problem” that he still was five pounds over the 160-pound limit.
Even for the Friday afternoon weigh-in, Pavlik struggled to maintain similar confidence as he entered the Paladium Ballroom at Caesar’s Palace tinez before a room packed with nearly 500 or so partisan fans who chanted, “Kelly!, Kelly!”
In unison with the crowd’s screams, Pavlik removed his warm up top and pumped his left index finger into the air.
Loew stayed in character as well, saying that Pavlik was “100 percent, no injuries, the weights good,” and adding, “We had a great training camp, so there will be no excuses” for losing.”
During the post-weigh stare down, however, it was apparent that Martinez and his promoter, Lou DiBella, knew otherwise.
“Kelly looked like he just got out of a sauna. He looked kind of dried out,” said DiBella.
Within inches of Pavlik’s face, a confident Martinez gave the “throat-cutting gesture.”
“When I looked into his eyes, I saw that he was tired. I think that he had to lose too much weight for this fight,” said Martinez. “I really believe that he had a tough time with it, making the weight. And I think that, in the fight, that will come out.”
The next night, Pavlik exited the ring a dethroned champion who was a bloody mess, this, after Martinez had left the man nicknamed “The Ghost” looking more like a “Zombie.”
It appears, however, that being in the new weight class has breathed life back into Kelly Pavlik’s body.
“At this new weight class, we’re not killing ourselves to make weight. Making 160 was [not possible] any more. Still, to this day, it’s impossible. I’ll never be able to see 160 again,” said Pavlik.
“Training camp is not about making the weight, it’s about skill. In the past, it was all about making the weight scale. Now, as we’re getting ready, we can worry more about boxing and more about the opponent than how we’re going to make weight. I’m really happy with this weight class.”