By Jake Donovan
Kelly Pavlik was staring at the boxing equivalent of a death sentence last summer. The former lineal middleweight champion – with already two rehab stints to his name – abruptly pulled out of a Shobox headliner during fight week. The move left everyone involved high and dry – Showtime, promoter Top Rank, his opponent Daryl Cunningham and not to mention his hometown fans in Youngstown, Ohio.
Along with all that came the decision to not proceed with plans for a showdown with Lucian Bute, which would have come last fall had he been successful against Cunningham. The move cost Pavlik a handsome seven-figure payday, not to mention any remaining credibility that still came with his once-celebrated name.
To his credit, Pavlik (39-2, 34KO) recognized the fact that he had completely bottomed out and knew that a career makeover was in order if he were to ever again be taken seriously as a prizefighter.
With that came the decision to leave behind his hometown and longtime trainer Jack Loew. Pavlik has since moved his training headquarters to Oxnard, Calif. under the watchful eye of red-hot boxing trainer and former champion Robert Garcia.
Thousands of miles, several months and two fights later, Pavlik’s career is in a better place than it’s been for the past two years. Enough positive changes have been made to where HBO has even agreed to get back in the Kelly Pavlik for the first time since his loss to Sergio Martinez in April ’10.
Pavlik returns to the network on July 7, when he faces Will Rosinsky (16-1, 9KO) at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The bout serves as the chief support to a bantamweight unification clash between Nonito Donaire and Jeffrey Mathebula. Both bouts air live on HBO.
The slot is a far cry from where Pavlik once was and had served for the better part of a 2 ½ year stretch as middleweight king. But he has since realized that each opportunity on the comeback trail leads him one step closer to reclaiming past glory, as well as restoring credibility. None of that happens if he never takes personal inventory and recognizes that he was heading nowhere fast.
“I wasn’t going any further where I was at,” Pavlik says of what had been a career spent in his hometown with the same team. “We had a conversation with Bob (Arum) and Cameron (Dunkin). I had to move out. I’m hungry and rejuvenated now. You can never quit learning in this sport.
“I’m learning again. I’m isolated out here. I don’t have any headaches or distractions. I’m able to focus on what I need to do.”
Doing what he needs to do includes accepting a fight on short notice which requires staying healthy enough to fight twice in the span of a month. Pavlik has managed to escape unscathed in each of his two knockout wins this year, including a 7th round stoppage over Scott Sigmon on ESPN2 earlier this month.
Making better choices in and out of the ring is already paying dividends, with the best still yet to come as long as he remains on the straight and narrow path. With each win, he will continue to win over his detractors – and more importantly, win back some of the fans and supporters he long ago lost.
“I think so. If not, oh well,” Pavlik states, matter-of-factly in accepting the way of the world. “No matter what happens there will always be doubters. I think what this shows is that I’m taking my career serious.”
For now, he’s won over those who are having an immediate impact on Kelly Pavlik version 2.0.
“Everyone at the gym was very welcoming,” Pavlik recalls of his first days in his new surroundings. “After the first day, I was comfortable like I was there for five years already. Getting to see how everyone trains and working with Robert, makes you hungry and makes you want to fight again. I feel rejuvenated. I’m learning. I’m staying active and these are big fights coming up now.”
Each win brings more opportunities for Pavlik, who believes he still has plenty left to offer the sport. That was the greatest motivating factor behind packing bags and heading west. It wasn’t to retire and pass along knowledge, but to rebuild and return to the top.
The change of scenery has provided just that for 30-year old, who recently celebrated a dozen years in the pro ranks.
“I didn’t come to Oxnard to train fighters and help Robert; I came win another world title,” Pavlik states. “It makes it fun because you’re getting out of your bad habits and moving into good ones.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]