When Kelly Pavlik entered the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Oxnard, Calif., in January, gym owner Robert Garcia knew the 30-year-old former undisputed middleweight champ would stand out in the crowd.
Having split with career-long trainer Jack Loew and left his native Youngstown, Ohio, to begin working with Garcia, Pavlik was going to be among the few caucasian boxers in a predominantly Mexican atmosphere.
“When he first came to us, we sat down and we talked,” said Garcia of Pavlik, who was nicknamed “The Ghost” for his pale skin by African-American rivals as an amateur.
“We knew he was going to be the only white guy in my gym and thought that it would make it harder. But it was really easy. He found himself at home. We gave him the same treatment and everything went well. He came in and became friendly with everyone, and everyone is friendly with him.”
And it appears that Pavlik (39-2, 34 knockouts) has revitalized his career as he pursues his third straight victory as a super middleweight when he meets New York’s Will Rosinsky (16-1, 9 KOs) on July 7 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
“Everybody in the gym was very welcoming. After the first day, I felt comfortable — like I had trained there for five years,” said Pavlik, who left behind some well-publicized troubles with alcohol in Ohio.
“The hunger was there when I made the move to go to California, but working with Robert, and learning again has made me hungry again. It made me want to keep boxing and fighting harder. It’s been easy to get along.”
After being dethroned as WBO and WBC middleweight titleholder by Sergio Martinez in April of 2010, Pavlik cited a rib injury as his reason for pulling out of a bout with Bryan Vera, which was scheduled for the undercard of Manny Pacquiao’s unanimous decision over Antonio Margarito in November of 2010.
Later that month, Pavlik entered the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., for a nearly two-month stay and treatment of a drinking problem.
In August of last year, Pavlik pulled out of a scheduled fight on Showtime, citing his disappointment over the offer of $50,000 to face Darryl Cunningham, followed by a $1.35 million minimum he was to get from Top Rank for a meeting with then-IBF titleholder Lucian Bute.
Pavlik said that he had heard that Denmark’s ex-titleholder Mikkel Kessler had turned down a larger amount for a matchup with Bute. The move by Pavlik forced Showtime to cancel the entire card that was be held in Pavlik’s hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
The change to Garcia, who also handles the careers of fighters such as Nonito Donaire, Brandon Rios and Mikey Garcia (who is Robert Garcia’s younger brother), was proposed by Dunkin, Pavlik’s father, Mike Pavlik, promoter and Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, and Top Rank Vice President Carl Moretti during an October meeting in New York while attending Donaire’s fight against Omar Narvaez.
“It was definitely important to come out to Oxnard to train. I’m not here to knock anybody or anything like that, but I wasn’t going any further where I was. We had a meeting in New York with Bob and Cameron and we had this conversation,” said Pavlik, who burst onto the scene with a seventh-round knockout of then-undisputed middleweight titleholder Jermain Taylor in September of 2007.
“A move had to happen, and it was very important. I am learning. I’m hungry and I’m rejuvenated to get back into it. You can never quit learning in this sport, and I’m learning again and that’s very important. On the personal part, when I get out here, I don’t have any distractions or headaches. I am able to focus on what I’m here to do.”
During the fighter’s last outting, a seventh-round knockout of Scott Sigmon on June 8, Dunkin said he noticed that Pavlik is no longer a “Ghost” of his former self.
“There were so many more skills in there than he had shown in the past. He was catching Sigmon’s punches and rolling with stuff,” said Dunkin.
“Kelly was moving his head, holding his hands up and working inside. Not every punch was loading up — he touched him, turned him and beat him down. And he was calm in there.”
Pavlik believes he is approaching a title shot opportunity, perhaps one against England’s Carl Froch (29-2, 21 KOs), who dethroned Bute (30-1, 24 KOs) by fifth-round stoppage last month.
“I would like to fight Carl Froch. That weight class is loaded, no matter which way you go. Any big fight at this stage. Whatever opens up, whatever opportunity presents itself, whatever sanctioning body. It doesn’t matter,” said Pavlik. “Some of those heated words and some things Froch said to me before hurt a little bit. I would like to fight Bute also. Any of those guys, I will fight.”
If Pavlik is successful against Rosinsky, Arum said he would like to bring Pavlik back to New York, where he could fight at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in October.
But Pavlik knows that he faces a significant test in Rosinsky, a winner of two straight since falling by unanimous decision to Edwin Rodriguez in October of last year.
“This kid is a good fighter — a very game fighter and he’s going to come to fight. He’s coming off of a fight, so he’s ready too. But people are going to see the best of me come out that night,” said Pavlik. “We’re still over a week out, but there are still some things we are fine-tuning right now. I feel really good in camp. Clear-headed and ready to go.”
Photos by Chris Farina, Top Rank
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com