By Jake Donovan
Fool me once…
The reaction was sharp and harsh when word first leaked out Tuesday afternoon of former middleweight king Kelly Pavlik abruptly pulling out of this weekend’s schedule tune-up against Darryl Cunningham.
The adjectives were endless in describing his actions, which resulted in the entire show being canceled and leaving Showtime without a boxing telecast to air this weekend.
Most of the responses came from the perspective of perhaps still believing that Pavlik had enough left to live up to past glory and promise. But one particular viewpoint was startingly overlooked:
The fact that it’s consistent with his past behavior.
It’s hardly the first time he’s pulled out of a fight and left everyone else standing in the cold.
It’s not even the first time he’s disrespected the folks at Showtime.
What it can possibly be is the last time he’s put in a position to let anyone down.
But what we have to ask ourselves is how he made it back to that point in the first place.
In an industry where there seem to be fewer stars with each passing generation, there exists the desperation to cling to past names, in hopes that they help bridge the gap while in search of the next “it” fighter.
With that in mind, Pavlik has been given as many free passes as a top fighter – formerly or otherwise – can be granted without actually earning such forgiveness.
It was along those lines in which we even gave a damn about what was billed as a ‘special edition of Showtime’s Shobox: The Next Generation.’ It was billed as a special edition, as is often the case when the headlining act strays from the spirit of the series, which normally focuses on rising young talent.
The label is often applied to a championship fight that’s deemed not quite fit for the network’s Showtime Championship Boxing flagship series, but still notable enough to where they feel compelled to invest a few extra bucks into the fight than would normally be the case for a Shobox card.
It was applied to this weekend’s card only because there was nothing “next generation” about a faded former ex-champion against a 36-year old career clubfighter.
What it was considered was an investment into the immediate future, a commercial for a big fight planned for this upcoming fall. Had Pavlik won, he would have been in line to face undefeated super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute.
Such a fight has been a couple of years in the making, especially since both fighters were excluded from Showtime’s original plans when the Super Six tournament was first put together. Their absence stood out almost as much as the six fighters who were actually included in the groundbreaking series.
Lost in the shuffle – at least at the time – was Pavlik’s response to not being involved or even invited.
““Why would I be in that tournament when I’m a middleweight?” was what Pavlik told his hometown newspaper The Vindicator before the tournament began in October 2009. “They never asked me and I never wanted to join. Let them beat each other up. Let them ruin their careers for peanuts. They’re going to burn their whole career and for what? Nobody watches Showtime.”
Those comments were made while Pavlik was hyping up his own bout with Paul Williams, one that was rescheduled on a number of occasions before the then-defending middleweight champ pulled out altogether.
A staph infection that never properly healed was the alibi offered, although several made note of the fact that his ring return – a title defense against undeserving Miguel Espino – came two weeks after the date in which he was supposed to face Williams, who instead went on to face Sergio Martinez in their unforgettable classic.
Completely forgettable was Pavlik’s bout against Espino, the second straight time he was forced to perform on the independent pay-per-view circuit, coming some ten months after his mandatory title defense against Marco Antonio Rubio earlier that year.
Forgettable, mainly because his viewing audience was limited due to the fact that both fights were not only viewed as mismatches, but neither warranting the surcharge that came with it.
Needless to say, greater visibility would’ve came about had he performed on Showtime.
Still, business is business, which means that even personal comments are swept under the rug and dismissed for the sake of the bigger picture. As has always been the case, the folks at Showtime came with a forgiving heart when the idea was presented to match together Pavlik and Bute as something of a dangling prize for the eventual winner of the Super Six.
The timing would’ve been perfect, since the fight would’ve coincided with the Super Six finals between Andre Ward and Carl Froch.
For his cooperation, Pavlik was granted the entire Shobox budget of $50,000 for this weekend’s card, with promoter Top Rank coming out of pocket to fund the rest of the show, including his opponent’s purse. A win on Saturday would’ve lead to a seven-figure day - well north of $1 million – for the showdown with Bute, one that was already generating industry-wide buzz thanks to an international media conference call held last week.
The show itself had only sold 1,000 or so tickets, but the event handlers and the Showtime brass recognized the difference between a loss and an investment.
Pavlik didn’t, nor does he seem to realize that it’s no longer 2007 and that any credit he gained with his thrilling off-the-canvas knockout win of Jermain Taylor has long ago maxed out.
His all-action style and ability to bounce back from adversity gave the industry a much needed shot in the arm at the time. That he was able to bring more than 5,000 folks from the Rust Belt to Atlantic City had some folks hailing him as the natural successor to Arturo Gatti, who owned the town but was a couple of months removed from his last ever bout.
Instead, his championship reign that followed – three successful defenses spray painted over 2 ½ years, none of which came against opponents that were in the slightest bit of demand – would go down as one of the most disappointing and disgraceful in the history of middleweight title lineage.
Not helping matters in the slightest was his poor showing in an October ’08 catchweight bout against Bernard Hopkins, one that resuscitated the aged veteran’s career while coming close to ruining Pavlik’s.
Forgiveness was once again granted, along with excuses galore – out of his weight class, feverishly sick going into the bout, etc. But two uninspiring title defenses and an eventual loss to Sergio Martinez last April helped put an end to a largely forgettable reign by the man once dubbed by HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley as “the face of American boxing.”
The Martinez fight would be his last for more than a year, as he decided to instead take control of his inner demons and check into a rehab facility for alcohol treatment.
However disappointing his stay at the top had been to that point, industry-wide respect was granted, not for what he accomplished in the ring, but for the character exuded beyond the ropes. Anyone can fall, but it takes a real man to dust himself off and move onward.
Still, even with a nation of supporters behind him, Pavlik still had to prove himself in the ring. As it was, he was already being steered towards a super middleweight title fight without doing anything to actually earn it. It certainly wasn’t the result of his ring return this past May, outpointing Alfonso Lopez in a bout that reeked of ring rust but at the very least came on the undercard of a Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view event (versus Shane Mosley, and produced and distributed by that same Showtime network that nobody watches) that sold in the neighborhood of 1.3 million units.
He wasn’t earning the fight with a win over the likes of Darryl Cunningham this weekend.
Simply, he was being given a last chance at a lasting impression, and perhaps even with a loss enough renewed credit to make one more run in 2012 on the network of his liking – Showtime, HBO or whoever will have him.
Once again, Pavlik managed to bite the hand that attempted to feed him. After weeks of knowing the score, he decided during fight week that the current roadmap for whatever future he has left wasn’t to his liking.
Once again, an entire industry is left to feel let down, rather than having come to expect this to be the case.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .