It’s a fresh start with new chances for Youngstown, Ohio’s Kelly Pavlik.
Now training in Oxnard, California with noted trainer and former champ Robert Garcia (who also works with Nonito Donaire, Mikey Garcia, Brandon Rios, among others), the slugger known as “The Ghost” will make his return to the ring on March 31 on a Top Rank Live card in San Antonio, Texas in association with Jesse James Leija and Mike Battah Promotions. Pavlik (37-2, 32 KOs) will face Aaron Jaco (15-2, 5 KOs) in a ten-round bout in which he admittedly will shake off the ring rust that’s invariably set in after his last bout, a May 2011 victory over Alfonso Lopez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Before that win, his previous battle was an April 2010 defeat to Sergio Martinez.
In between this sporadic activity was a boatload of drama for the fighter including well-documented rehab stints, brushes with the law, and pulling out of fights. But the super middleweight and former WBC and WBO belt holder plans on coming back strong–promising to give it his 110% effort in his comeback fight over the less experienced Jaco. The pair will square off in the Illusions Theatre at the Alamodome.
I caught up with the ex-world titlist Saturday night at Thompson Boxing Promotions private boxing show and dinner gala at the Doubletree Hotel in Orange, California. Billed as “Night of Champions,” this exclusive event lived up to its expectations as Pavlik joined a huge group of fellow champs, legends and contenders at this annual boxing bash. Promoter Ken Thompson invited the Ohio boxer to sit ringside as he cheered on his fellow Youngstown pug, Jake “The Bull” Giuriceo, who was featured on the card. After Jake won his bout, I had time to chat with Kelly, who says the adjustment in changing trainers has been going well even though he misses his wife and kids, family and friends. And working with Robert has been a long-needed change, say his critics.
But will his fans still believe in him? Pavlik says he plans on gaining everyone’s trust again as he stays on the straight and narrow path while focused on boxing and having “no distractions” to derail his goals for the future. In speaking about the harsh glare of the spotlight in his hometown, Kelly says he’s felt very welcome in Southern California. Compared to the Youngstown ever-present press, Pavlik tells me the media on the West Coast are like “angels” in contrast to some reporters in Ohio that he says “point fingers, find things, and dig up things.”
Pavlik had been with former boxing coach Jack Loew since he was a little boy; change is never easy. But he and his team realized that change was necessary, thus the transition. “It’s easier than I thought, but it’s still hard,” the lanky fighter tells me. “I’ve been with Jack since I was nine years old. But being with Robert and the Oxnard gym has been really comfortable since ‘Day One’; I think I was in good hands since ‘Day One’!” Now in the sunny confines of Ventura County, Kelly’s built an instant camaraderie with the Garcia camp, where top-notch training and hardcore sparring is always the focus.
In our video interview, the Ohio puncher talks a lot about his focus with no distractions getting in the way. He says working with Garcia is fantastic. Keeping the same style, the team is fine-tuning what needs to be worked on including his combinations and counterpunching. In a stable that includes the spirited Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios, it’s been a great gym environment for him. Kelly told me he looks forward to running on the beaches around the city but says with a laugh that although they would want to, he can’t spar with the lightweight Rios because “Brandon is too little!”
But after his March 31 fight, Pavlik quickly mentioned four names after I asked the heavy hitter who he wants in the future. “Sergio Martinez, Lucian Bute, Carl Froch–and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr!” Kelly answered, eyes lighting up at the mention of facing any member of this foursome. He also told me that there’s a possibility he may fight again in June.
Of his return to the ring at the end of this month: “I will be a little rusty–but I will be sharp, hungry and on the ‘comeback trail’ always giving it my 110%!” He confirmed he’s on target with his weight, walking around at about 175 right now.
Pavlik, who will turn 30 on April 4, became a fan favorite for his first clash against Jermain Taylor. Coming from a tough, blue-collar town, this gutsy and gritty prizefighter really captured worldwide attention with hordes of fans following his career.
During Thompson Boxing’s weekend festivities, Kelly signed gloves and posed for his many fans, who said they will all be watching March 31. I watched him sign autographs as a lefty and asked him if he ever fought as a southpaw while an amateur. “I did switch back and forth as a kid,” he notes with a smile.
As his loyal fans surrounded him, Pavlik knows he has a lot to prove–but he is steadfast in his focus.
Plenty of new chances and for the former champ, who plans on winning another title in the future.
In relocating to SoCal Kelly Pavlik’s got a second chance–a new coach in a new city, and most importantly, a new lease on life.
Michele Chong has been involved in the sport of boxing for over a decade. Her “Chatter Box” column covers a variety of subjects in both professional and amateur boxing, and features exclusive one-on-one interviews, recaps of fight events, shows and tournaments, book/film reviews and much more.
Inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008, she is also a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame, Golden State Boxer’s Association and the Burbank Boxing Club. Michele is also involved in many non-profit and charitable organizations.