by David P. Greisman
Nearly everyone has left a relationship that once was great but had since become no longer as good as it should have been — and never could get better. Some of us have still stuck around too long, fooling ourselves into reminiscing about the past rather than recognizing the present.
Too many boxers fail to extricate themselves from their dependent relationship with this Sweet Science, a relationship fueled by adrenaline and testosterone, by the gamble of taking more punches in order to receive more paychecks.
That is why it was surprising yet refreshing to hear Kelly Pavlik’s reasons for retiring. If those reasons are genuine, then his announcement made late last week was a good decision, an exception in a sport where bad decisions tend to be the rule.
"When you stay in the sport too long you have health problems. That's a big, big thing for me," Pavlik told Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. "I'm not talking about now. I'm talking about in the future. I'm talking about when I'm 55 or 60. What's gonna happen to me then? Why take any more chances, especially in that sport. It's a brutal sport, and you never know what can happen. I won the world title, I defended my title, I was champ for three years and I made good money. Why take the chance of medical problems?
“I also don't think the drive is there anymore. I'm moving on to a new chapter in my life,” he told Rafael. “I've been a pro for 13 years and doing this since I was 9. I go away for two or three months at a time [to train], and I'm tired of leaving my family. It comes to a point where you just don't want to do that anymore.”
Pavlik is approaching 31, relatively young in a sport where some fighters his age are still in their prime. But his prime time was brief.
He made his HBO debut just six years ago in January 2007, won the lineal middleweight championship just eight months after that, and lost it in his fourth defense just two and a half years later, in April 2010. In the nearly three years since Sergio Martinez defeated him, Pavlik had fought just four times.
Much of that is his fault. He confronted alcohol abuse issues, then further sabotaged himself by pulling out of a proposed fight with super middleweight Lucian Bute over money. Instead of potentially resuscitating his career in a Showtime main event, Pavlik would have to rebuild himself more deliberately, with appearances last year on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” and in an HBO “Boxing After Dark” undercard bout.
He still had his name, though, and while it was now less valuable, it was still marketable. It was his name, and not the victories over Alfonso Lopez, Aaron Jaco, Scott Sigmon and Will Rosinsky, that landed him what very well could have been his last chance. It was his past, and not his present, that got him a shot at super middleweight champion Andre Ward.
It’s best for Pavlik that the Ward fight never happened.
Ward ascended to the top of the 168-pound division more than three years ago when he beat Mikkel Kessler, and he has gotten even better since then, putting forth his best performance yet with a dominating stoppage this past September of light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson.
Pavlik, meanwhile, has never looked anywhere near as good at super middleweight as he did at middleweight. Despite his lanky frame, the move up in weight only seemed to slow him and sap him of his power. A bout with Ward was presumed to be a complete mismatch. Ward suffering a shoulder injury in training camp that required surgery probably prevented a complete demolition.
Pavlik told Rafael that he had been considering retiring even while he was middleweight champion, but that the thought truly took hold last year.
"I was contemplating it even before the last fight,” he said. "Then they came up with the Andre Ward fight, and I guess I got the motivation back. But I had been thinking about retiring, and when the Ward fight fell out, that was icing on the cake for me."
“I put my money away and then with the Ward fight being canceled, well, health and time with my family is more important at this stage, especially with no guaranteed big fight or date," Pavlik was quoted as saying.
Too many boxers continue fighting despite their diminishing ability, fooled by their hearts or their egos into believing they can still compete at the same level. Others, meanwhile, know they cannot — yet show up in body but not spirit, going through the motions for the sake of making more money.
Kelly Pavlik recognized that he did not have one more run in him, that while he could get himself up for a fight against one of the best boxers in the world, he could not necessarily do so for an undetermined number of interim bouts while he awaited the possibility of another big opportunity.
As surprising as his retirement was, there will be no surprise if he returns. Boxers’ careers truly begin long before they turn pro, when they are kids who dedicate themselves to years of training and tournaments. The sport has defined Kelly Pavlik for more than two-thirds of his life. It’s only natural for him to be burned out. It would also be natural for him to be drawn back in.
It’s best that he doesn’t.
He’s declined physically. He’s detached mentally. This is the right time, then, to get out from a relationship that was no longer as good as it once was — to break up from boxing before boxing breaks him down.
The 10 Count
1. Kelly Pavlik’s first pro fight was on June 16, 2000. He announced his retirement on Jan. 19, 2013, putting the length of his career at 12 years, 7 months and 3 days.
Juan Diaz’s first pro fight was on June 23, 2000. He announced his retirement on June 13, 2011, putting the length of his career at 10 years, 11 months and 21 days.
Pavlik and Diaz, combined, fought pro for 23 years, 6 months and 24 days.
That’s less than Roy Jones, whose first pro fight was on May 6, 1989, putting the length of his pro career so far at 23 years, 8 months and 15 days — and still going.
2. And still going, indeed: Roy Jones is apparently discussing a fight with a ghost of super middleweight past, Steve Collins, who last fought in 1997, retiring while a titleholder at 168 pounds. Collins also won a belt at 160.
Jones and Collins had overlapping reigns in the super middleweight division; Jones went up to light heavyweight in late 1996.
“I’ve spoken to Steve, and I said ‘I don’t duck or dive nobody,’ so it’s a very big possibility,” Jones was quoted as saying to BBC Sport. “I wasn’t looking for him, but when he said he wanted to fight me I was like, ‘OK.’ I don’t know where the animosity came from, but if that’s what he wants, he can get it.”
Collins is 48. Jones just turned 44 last week.
They wouldn’t be the oldest recent combination in the ring. Evander Holyfield was 48 when he fought Brian Nielsen in 2011, while Nielsen was 46. Azumah Nelson had spent a decade away from the sport and was nearly 50 when he fought Jeff Fenech for the third time; Fenech, meanwhile, was 44.
Collins has been retired for more than 15 years. Then again, Henry Maske had a decade between when he’d hung up his gloves and when he came back to defeat a still active but otherwise aged Virgil Hill.
3. Look on the bright side: Roy Jones vs. Steve Collins can’t be any worse than the Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones rematch.
Or so we hope…
4. Let’s turn our attention away from nostalgia and to more contemporary combatants.
Mikey Garcia had the performance he needed to cement his arrival as a top featherweight — but while his win over Orlando Salido began with a bang, it ended with less excitement.
Garcia knocked Salido down twice in the first round, then once each in the third and fourth stanzas. He looked too young, too fast and too strong, while Salido looked lost at the outset and then looked labored as he tried to battle back. Salido is a gritty, capable fighter, but sometimes the consequences of a long career will surface at the least opportune moment.
Garcia was making Salido look old, and he was en route to hearing himself announced as “the new.” But then a Salido head butt broke Garcia’s nose, and Garcia’s corner seemed too quick to point out that their fighter couldn’t continue.
Garcia was comfortably ahead on the scorecards and would be the victor. It was too abrupt a conclusion, however, an abbreviation when Garcia would have benefited from punctuation. It’s hard to second guess an injured fighter — Israel Vazquez quitting with a broken nose in his first fight against Rafael Marquez remains the prime example of it sometimes being the proper choice not to go forward.
Garcia got the win by technical decision. There would be even more buzz, though, had he been allowed to close the show with a technical knockout.
5. Mikey Garcia’s nose was more crooked than boxing…
6. How funny was it, by the way, to hear HBO’s commentary team ask guest analyst Andre Ward, of all people, whether he thought Salido’s head butt was intentional or accidental?
7. We won’t see Gennady Golovkin face Sergio Martinez just yet, not with Martinez defending the middleweight championship against Martin Murray this April and then, should he win, having a rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. later this year.
We likely won’t see Golovkin given Chavez yet either, considering that Chavez will be serving out the remainder of a presumed-to-be-coming suspension for his testing positive for marijuana metabolites, and then would likely take a tune-up before meeting Martinez again.
We won’t see Golovkin against Peter Quillin, not with Golovkin being the latest HBO darling and Quillin being with a promoter and adviser whose fighters are mostly appearing on Showtime.
Perhaps Golovkin could go overseas; much of the talent at 160 pounds is outside of the United States, and it was only this past September that he had his first fight on American soil.
My guess, though, is that HBO will pay for another foreign fighter to come to the States — perhaps Dmitry Pirog or Felix Sturm.
Or maybe Andy Lee will be trotted out for sacrifice once again.
My dreams, however, have Golovkin in against Alfredo Angulo or James Kirkland. I doubt that Golden Boy would put Angulo in with Golovkin, though, and Kirkland remains stuck in a limbo caused by career mismanagement self-sabotage.
8. Of all the talk about Gennady Golovkin's power, the punch that most hurt Gabriel Rosado’s chances this past Saturday was the jab that cut him so badly above the eye.
9. Great work by HBO’s production team, by the way, in capturing the moment at which Rosado’s trainer, Billy Briscoe, emotionally told Rosado’s father that the fight needed to be stopped.
It’s those little details — which come from the foresight of having a camera and a microphone on a trainer in the middle of a round — that can add so much to a story.
I still wish networks would do more to capture the noise of the crowd during fights. The venues often sound far too quiet on television. Go back and watch the first fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, for example, and listen to the fans — what we hear of the atmosphere in an arena can serve to amplify the excitement of what we’re seeing on-screen.
10. My new dream nickname match for 2013 involves two junior lightweights: Miguel Roman against Juan Carlos Burgos:
“Mickey” vs. “Mini.”
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]