12 and a half months ago, Kelly Pavlik stood in the ring in Atlantic City after 12 rounds of action in a very good fight against Sergio Martinez. Pavlik, bloodied and at times during the fight bewildered, was waiting only for the formality of the scores being announced.
115-112. 115-111. 116-111. All in favor of Martinez, who was then crowned the new middleweight champion of the world.
Fast forward seven months later. Pavlik was scheduled to face tough but limited Brian Vera on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao's big fight at Cowboys Stadium against Antonio Margarito. For Youngstown's "Ghost," the fight would be his first on what you could truly call one of boxing's very grandest stages. Though he'd headlined and won the middleweight championship of the world, he had never seen the overwhelming atmosphere of a true media event, and this fight, though he wouldn't be headlining, was specifically designed to showcase a renewed Pavlik to a major audience. Surely, he would have too much firepower for Vera, look good, and start getting right back into the main event picture.
Instead, Pavlik pulled out of the fight in October claiming injury, and then on November 4, checked into the Betty Ford Center in California. His camp, which had spent years helping the fighter dismiss reports out of his hometown as mere "rumors" from the jealous, finally admitted that Pavlik had some issues with alcohol.
In 2009 and 2010, Pavlik had a total of seven scheduled fights and actually went through with three of the dates. I admit that, as much as I was fighting it, I was worried about the prospect of Pavlik, who says he's 100% clean and sober, pulling out of tomorrow's fight as well.
But he hasn't. Pavlik has given time to the press. He's reportedly had an excellent camp and feels better than ever. And this week he showed up to both Thursday's undercard press conference and Friday's weigh-in looking fit, happy, and re-energized. At first glance, he looked like the Kelly Pavlik that I remember becoming such a fan of in the first place, the fighter whose 2007 knockout of Jermain Taylor inspired so much praise. For the first time since 2007, Pavlik looked like the kind of guy who goes back to his corner after being knocked down, smiles, and assures his trainer, "I'm good."
Whether he's really back or not may or may not be learned tomorrow. His opponent, Alfonso Lopez (21-0, 16 KO) out of Cut and Shot, Texas, has not been signed on for this fight to be competitive, but merely to help Pavlik (36-2, 32 KO) shake the rust off and get back into the fight game to stay. After this, perhaps there will be bigger fish to fry.
Pavlik, though, doesn't need to look ahead. With his style, his fanbase, and his credentials, he won't have trouble finding big fights if he wants them, whenever he wants them. The focus should be on Lopez. Because Pavlik, despite his still standing in a higher echelon than Lopez, cannot afford a loss on Saturday night, and he needs to look good.
He knows that. And with no offense meant to Lopez, I hope Pavlik comes through.