By Jake Donovan
There’s two ways of viewing Kelly Pavlik’s latest ring return: it’s either a mighty fall from grace that he’s forced to serve as the co-feature of a card airing on Azteca America (Saturday, 10PM ET), or that he’s still enough of a name to bring relevance to a card that otherwise flies under the radar.
The combination of the two statements says that Pavlik’s comeback tour is right on course.
The former middleweight titlist made weight for Saturday night’s co-feature versus Aaron Jaco (15-2, 5KO), which airs live from the Illusions Theatre in San Antonio. Pavlik (37-2, 32KO) weighed in at 169.2 lb, slightly less than Jaco, who hit the scales at 169.4 lb for their scheduled 10-round super middleweight bout.
Unbeaten featherweight Evgeny Gradovich – who trains with Pavlik under red-hot corernman Robert Garcia in Oxnard, Calif. – headlines the show as he faces Francisco Leal. Both fighters came in under the featherweight limit – Gradovich (12-0, 6KO) weighed 125.6, while Leal (16-5-3, 10KO) was 125.6 lb. for their 10-round main event.
Pavlik fights for just the second time since his lineal middleweight reign came to an end in April 2010. The run lasted more than 2 ½ years, beginning with a sensational off-the-canvas stoppage of Jermain Taylor in an instant classic.
High expectations were placed on Pavlik, whose all-action style and ability to bring a posse of fans from his economically devastated hometown of Youngstown, OH were believed to be the formula for the sport’s next budding star. Instead, his reign was littered with disinteresting matchups, injuries, postponements and a lopsided points loss to Bernard Hopkins in a non-title catchweight bout in Oct. ’08.
The reign concluded with a points loss to Sergio Martinez nearly two years ago; Pavlik has struggled to since pick up the pieces. His lone bout was a lethargic points win over Alfonso Lopez last May, a bout that was lost in a sea of bad press surrounding career low points for the Ohioan. The letdowns included stints in rehab for alcohol abuse and a well-documented withdrawal of a scheduled summer Showtime appearance in his hometown, pulling out of a scheduled bout with Daryl Cunningham during what was supposed to be fight week.
Pavlik has since made amends with promoter Top Rank and has headed west, relocating to California and enlisting the services of Garcia. Saturday’s bout will mark their first together.
As far as opponents go, Jaco appears as safe a choice as they come. The Floridian boasts no wins of note, was knocked out in both of his losses, coming against mediocre opposition before stepping away from the ring in 2006. Jaco returned late last year after a five-year break, scoring a first round knockout in a local club show.
Full card (Michael Campbell at the scales):
Francisco Leal 125.4 lb vs. Evgeny Gradovich 125.6 lb
Kelly Pavlik 169.2 lb vs. Aaron Jaco 169.4 lb
Ivan Najera 132 lb vs. James Lester 131.8 lb
Luis Zarazua 125 lb vs. Victor Sanchez 124.4 lb
Adam Lopez 119 lb vs. Ramon Bayala 119 lb
Eduardo Alicea 173.4 lb vs. Edwynn Jones 169.6 lb
Saul Rodriguez 127 lb vs. Ricardo Valencia 126.8 lb
Bryant Perrella 151 lb vs. Arturo Lopez 155 lb
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter:@JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com