Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kelly Pavlik Must Shine Tonight

World middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik has a lot to fight for tonight in Atlantic City.

Make no mistake, as Al Bernstein might say, middleweight champion Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik from Youngstown, Ohio must win tonight – and look good in so doing – if he is to remain relevant in his chosen profession.

Pavlik will face off tonight in Atlantic City against Argentina's Sergio Martinez, who has flirted with top status over the past couple of years, but has never won the real big one.

Pavlik, on the other hand, has won the real big ones. His title winning effort in 2007 and subsequent rematch win over Jermain Taylor in 2008 ushered Pavlik into the top spot at 160 pounds. Pavlik was perceived to be one of the brightest young stars in the sport. He was the owner of an undefeated record, was from the same hometown as 80s lightweight king, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, and with the promotional power of Bob Arum's Top Rank behind him the sky was the limit for Pavlik who is still only 28-years-old.

But after a perfect knockout win over Gary Lockett in his second title defense, Pavlik was matched against Bernard Hopkins in an ill-fated over-the-weight bout at a catch weight of 170 pounds. Pavlik was humiliated and schooled over 12 rounds versus the more experienced Philadelphian and he lost a unanimous decision.

Since then, Pavlik's career has flat-lined.

After a so-so win at home over Marco Antonio Rubio in early 2009, Pavlik struggled throughout most of the year with a stubborn, life-threatening staph infection. It shelved plans for him to fight Paul Williams. There were also rumors that Pavlik was having difficulty in dealing with his newfound fame, wealth and the pressures of being a big fish in a small Youngstown pond.

If the fight is as colorful as the poster promoting it, boxing fans will be pleased.

He rebounded nicely near the end of 2009 with a confidence building win over Miguel Espino, again at home in Youngstown in front of a sparse crowd. But a loss against Hopkins, a stretch of inactivity and two wins over middle of the road opposition on Top Rank pay-per-views have kept Pavlik off the boxing radar.

Tonight, he gets his chance to get back in the picture. Atlantic City has become like a second home to Pavlik. It is the site of his greatest wins. It is where he won the title from Taylor and looked the best I have ever seen him look against Lockett. It also where he lost to Hopkins, but that's another story.

Pavlik must shine tonight against Martinez.

If he he does not, then the fickle boxing world moves on without him. Pavlik competes eight pounds below a scintillating super middleweight division that is in the midst of the Showtime network's Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament. It features fighters with names such as Andre Ward, Andre Dirrell, Alan Green, Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham. If Pavlik is not brilliant in victory tonight, they easily overshadow him.

Martinez is a handsome, tricky, experienced southpaw fighter with exquisite footwork and decent punching power. In a 13-year long professional career he has only lost convincingly once – to Antonio Margarito a decade ago. His other loss was a disputed decision to Paul Williams last December. In a fight prior to that, against Kermit Cintron, Martinez clearly won, but it was ruled a draw by the judging crew. As it stands, Martinez, at 35-years-old, has a record of 44-2-2 (24)KO, but he has never won a world championship.

Martinez (left) is always in supreme condition. He is a well-schooled and versatile fighter.

Bob Arum, Pavlik's promoter, understands the predicament that his young charge finds himself in.

“The public is very fickle,” says Arum. “They caught onto Kelly leading up to and including the Taylor fight. Then there has been a fall-off – his performance against Hopkins and the injury and so-forth. But I am convinced, beyond any measure, that we are going to see the old Kelly Pavlik against Martinez and as soon as we see that and as soon as the public sees that and thanks to HBO it will be a huge audience, he will be right back on top and people will be clamoring for his next fight whether it be against Paul Williams or Lucian Bute or somebody else…people love to see knockouts.”

But unless he wins tonight – and wins big – Pavlik will go back to Youngstown with a very uncertain future.

April 2010

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