by Paul Magno
Buried among the Pacquiao-Cotto-Mayweather headlines is the sad story of Kelly Pavlik and his decision to check into an alcohol rehabilitation center yesterday.
This piece of news is a fittingly sad ending to Pavlik’s wild 2-year ride from unknown Ohio toughman to unlikely world champion superstar to inactive and demoralized divisional “also ran.”
The Youngstown, Ohio native achieved his fame the old fashioned way: By fighting hard, fighting often and slowly working his way into the public eye.
Pavlik fought on every undercard imaginable- From Mexican fight cards on Telemundo to ESPN undercards to local televised boxing shows where there were probably more people at the live event than watching on TV. Wherever there was a show, Kelly Pavlik was willing to fight.
So, by the time he fought his way up to his first title eliminator bout against Edison Miranda on HBO, most hardcore fight fans had seen Pavlik at least a couple of times and were aware that this was a gutsy, blue collar fighter who came to hit hard and knock his opponents out.
“The Ghost” took the fight to the back alley brawler, Miranda, and eventually beat the tough Colombian down in an exciting encounter which stood out glowingly next to that card’s lackluster main event of Jermain Taylor vs. Cory Spinks.
Pavlik’s next fight was the high point of his career as he battled back from a hard knock down in the second round and went on to grab the WBO and WBC Middleweight Titles from Taylor via seventh round TKO.
Next came the career mismanagement that would cost Pavlik his undefeated record, his status as an upcoming superstar and, quite possibly, his very peace of mind.
Bob Arum and Top Rank, Pavlik’s promotional company, immediately took their developing star and put him on PPV in a non-title rematch against Jermain Taylor at Super Middleweight. The event sold moderately well, but it was not the move of someone looking after the long-term career success of their new star. Other than another notch on his record and a nice payday, Pavlik got very little from this bout that played out in front of a fraction of the audience that would’ve been available to him on HBO.
Next, came a mandatory defense against WBO #1 challenger, the hapless, Gary Lockett. Kelly disposed of the Brit in three lopsided rounds that did little to endear him to HBO fans who were looking to see their new hero in yet another war.
Then came one of the worst decisions ever made by a management team regarding a young, rising star. They decided to accept the challenge of the 43-year old legend, Bernard Hopkins.
“The Executioner” Hopkins was famous for taking fighters and literally turning them to mush by negating every weapon in their arsenal. Even in defeat, the veteran always managed to nullify his opponents’ best weapons and make them look horrible. Nobody since a prime Roy Jones Jr. in 1993 has looked good against Hopkins. Not only was the relatively one-dimensional Pavlik signed to fight the old pro, but he would do so at a catchweight of 170 lbs., two weight classes and ten pounds above his normal fighting weight.
By now everyone knows what happened: Hopkins twisted the kid up and schooled him over 12 one-sided rounds. And to add insult to injury, the PPVshow was a total bust and didn’t even reach 200,000 buys.
So, with a bruised ego and a refusal from HBO to air his next bout (another mandatory defense of the 160 lb. crown against Marco Antonio Rubio), Pavlik once again went to PPVin another poorly-received event that saw him share the bill with another rebounding star, Miguel Cotto.
Since then, his bout against The Contender’s Season One winner, Sergio Mora, originally proposed for the 27th of June, was postponed due to a staph infection, but very well could’ve been postponed due to Pavlik’s growing personal problems or the poor early reception of Sergio Mora as an opponent.
In about a period of two years, Pavlik has run the full gamut of boxing highs and lows.
Before the ill-conceived Hopkins bout, one could point to Pavlik’s career as an example of how careers used to be built; of how a career should be built. Pavlik’s rise to stardom was based on Free TV exposure against a wide range of opponents and packaged around a hard-working, likeable kid from a blue collar town that should not be producing stars.
Somewhere along the way, greed got mixed into the equation and Top Rank/Team Pavlik opted for the quick buck rather than the slow, but steady rise to superstardomthat would’ve resulted from increased exposure on “free” HBO.
Lost in the mix was a kid in his mid-20’s dealing with sudden stardom and immediate demoralization- all over the course of twenty four short months.
“The Ghost” is a fighter in every sense of the word, so there’s no doubt that he will be back.
But before Kelly Pavlik can regain his boxing mojo, he’ll have to fight the fight of his life, against the toughest opponent imagineable…himself.