Thursday, February 5, 2009

Youngstown Prepares for a Hero’s Welcome

All of the tickets have been sold, the arena is ready and Kelly Pavlik along with trainer Jack Loew are busy formulating their game plan and getting in shape to turn back the challenge of Mexico’s Marco Antonio Rubio on Feb. 21st.

The fight is a big event in this old Ohio steel town and it’s a well needed ‘winter pick me-up’ for a region that has been pummeled by the crisis in the American automobile industry. The area is home to several General Motors plants and many people have lost their jobs, had their hours reduced and are facing an uncertain future.

However, the Pavlik vs. Rubio fight for the recognized middleweight championship of the world, which will be contested inside Youngstown’s 7,100 seat Chevrolet Centre, may prove to be just the jolt the Mahoning Valley needs.

Adding to all of the hype and fanfare will be the fact that former lightweight champ Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini will be back in his old hometown to lend a hand in promoting the match. Mancini will be arriving the day before the fight takes place and he told the Youngstown Vindicator newspaper, “I’ll be available to shake hands, kiss babies, take pictures ... whatever they need,” he said, chuckling. “It’s the easiest part of the job.”

Pavlik and Loew have been training inside the new Southside Boxing Club on Market Street. It is a much larger and better equipped facility than the cramped gym with the same name where the two plied their trade for years before hitting it big with a knockout win over former champ Jermain Taylor.

Pavlik opened training camp in Youngstown on Jan.5th and he is currently in the thick of his preparations in the cool temperatures this Ohio winter has brought. He and Loew have both moved on since the shock loss to Bernard Hopkins back in October and Loew told this reporter they have put the defeat out of their minds.

“We’re both very positive,” said Loew. “We haven’t talked about Bernard Hopkins at all. For us, that’s in the rearview mirror. Our attention is not on Bernard, it’s on beating Rubio.”

Once a bustling steel town, Youngstown has fallen on hard times as the steel mills gradually shut down and now General Motors is imploding.

The entire city, from politicians to business owners to the average man on the street is excited about the event that will bring a large number of visitors to fill hotel rooms, eat at local restaurants and shop in local stores.

Youngstown has produced a long line of former world boxing champs that includes Mancini (WBA Lightweight) Harry Arroyo (IBF Lightweight), Greg Richardson (WBC Bantamweight) and Jeff Lampkin (IBF Cruiserweight).

Pavlik’s homecoming title defense against Rubio will mark the first championship fight to be held in the city in nearly a quarter century. The last title bout in the former boxing hotbed was when then IBF lightweight champ Harry Arroyo stopped Charlie ‘White Lightning’ Brown in the eighth round at Struthers High School in September 1984.

February 2009

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