Fans and media are seemingly giving former middleweight world champion Kelly Pavlik no chance when he faces super middleweight king Andre Ward on January 26 in Los Angeles, but Top Rank promoter Bob Arum and Ward's promoter Dan Goossen are both selling the fight as best they can, anyway.
Pavlik (40-2, 34 KO) went 3-0 this year, and more importantly, hooked up with trainer Robert Garcia and moved his boxing operations out to that misfit camp (I mean that in a good way) in Oxnard, California. Though Pavlik's wins over club fighters Aaron Jaco and Scott Sigmon, plus fringe contender Will Rosinsky, certainly can't be counted on to indicate that Pavlik is going to be competitive with Ward (26-0, 14 KO), Arum says he believes Pavlik will come ready:
"Kelly Pavlik has been determined to get back onto the top of the heap in boxing. I know he's ready to give it his all against one of the best champions today. I really believe this will be an exciting, competitive fight."
A year ago, Pavlik had a fight lined up with Lucian Bute, then balked at the money offered for a ShoBox tune-up against southpaw Darryl Cunningham. Knowing what we know now -- and hell, even then -- that whole situation was a huge mistake by Pavlik, but perhaps also a blessing in disguise.
One thing I wonder about now: Say Pavlik had fought Cunningham, won as easily as he would have, and then fought Bute? With hindsight -- such a valuable tool, as it takes into account things that have actually happened -- it's not terribly difficult to see a situation where Pavlik beats Bute last November, is it? Pavlik certainly wasn't in his best frame of mind, so you can argue Bute would have beaten him anyway, but the way Carl Froch annihilated Bute in May of this year, it now seems like some durable right-hand puncher was inevitably going to thrash Lucian. Could it have been Kelly Pavlik?
On the other hand, you have the fact that that entire blow-up and the fallout from it sort of forced Kelly Pavlik to reassess his career. He made an overdue trainer switch, going from Jack Loew -- a solid trainer and an honest, no-frills guy, but one who had taken Pavlik as far as he could, in my estimation -- to the red-hot Robert Garcia, who has become one of the most respected coaches in boxing over the past few years. That camp switch was necessary, and so was Pavlik getting a new outlook on the sport, training away from home, and rebuilding himself.
2012 was overall successful for Kelly, I think. He won a few fights, got himself back in the ring consistently, got settled in at his new camp, and now has landed the money fight that he's been wanting. He's as ready as he's going to get for it, too. At 30 and having competed at the highest levels of the sport, Pavlik wasn't going to get much out of a bridge fight between Rosinsky and Ward, probably; fighting Edwin Rodriguez wouldn't prepare him any better for Andre Ward than he already is.
Mentally, he'll have to be there to compete with Ward, one of the craftiest, smartest, and best fighters in the world today. Physically, he'll have to prove he can really compete at 168. Ward may not look like a physically intimidating foe, but he muscles guys and really beats on them. For a "technician," Ward is very much a bully fighter when he wants to be.
Ward has already gone on record stating that he doesn't see Pavlik as a shot fighter, and won't look past him. Promoter Dan Goossen says that the last thing Andre Ward will do is overlook an opponent, especially one with Pavlik's credentials:
"Pavlik is a big name, but he is also a formidable former world champion whose only losses have been to Bernard Hopkins and Sergio Martinez in 12-round decisions. It's the Pavliks of the world who have been to the top and want to get back there who are dangerous. You don't take anything for granted, and I know Andre isn't. He doesn't underestimate the challenge from Pavlik."
Promoters sell every fight, no matter how big the mismatch. Every foe is dangerous for every favored fighter, according to the guys trying to sell their overpriced tickets. But there is something to be said for a fighter in Pavlik's position being able to "get up" more for a fight with someone like Andre Ward than with the Sigmons, Jacos, and Rosinskys of the sport.
For Kelly Pavlik's sake, he better be able to, anyway. Otherwise, he's in a world of trouble on January 26.