For boxing fans, May 7 marks the biggest fight card that 2011 has to offer as 8 division world champion Manny Pacquiao takes on future hall-of-famer “Sugar” Shane Mosley in a 12-round welterweight title showdown. As the world tunes in to see the outcome of the main event, residents of Youngstown, Ohio will share just as much interest as their hometown hero, Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik, returns to the ring after facing more than his share of trials and tribulations both in and out of the squared circle.
After losing the World Middleweight Championship to Argentina's Sergio Gabriel Martinez just over a year ago, Kelly also acknowledged losing the bout with alcoholism in his personal life. A year removed from the second professional loss of his career, Pavlik has cleaned up his act and looks to turn things around professionally as well.
On May 7 in front of a sell out crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena as well as millions tuning in from all over the globe, Pavlik will stand opposite of undefeated Texas native Alfonso Lopez in a 10-round super middleweight contest.
Late last week the fighting pride of Youngstown took some time out of his training schedule, along with trainer Jack Loew and promoter Bob Arum, to candidly answer questions from the media during a national conference call regarding life both in and out of the ring.
Highlights from the teleconference are as follows:
BOB ARUM: “We really anticipate May 7, one because Pacquiao-Mosley, we believe, is going to be a great fight, great event, and secondly because it marks the return to boxing after an absence of Kelly Pavlik —we’ve never had as easy a time getting this many rounds. My camp is going really good now, it’s really smooth. We don’t have to focus on going to 15 different gyms to make weight, we can focus on boxing and I think that’s going to make a big difference in this fight.”
JACK LOEW: “Like Kelly said, we wanted to train like a fighter again, instead of training five times a day, four times a day, and four of them being about just trying to get the weight or keep the weight down. It’s great just getting our running in and our physical conditioning in and going to the gym and spending more time working on boxing. We had more rounds sparring for a 10-round fight than when we fought a title fight because he’s had so much energy. His step is back and it’s just the old Kelly back. It feels good and it’s a very comfortable weight for him. And I think that’s a huge key for him.”
Jack, are you surprised at how good Kelly is looking in the gym coming off of this long layoff?
LOEW: “No, I don’t think I’m surprised at all. We can train again as a normal athlete and we’re doing the right thing. Nobody can go through what we put him through, working him out so many different times a day. What we put him, through there’s not an athlete out there that could have done that and it finally caught up to him. I’m not surprised at all. He looks great and everything is back to normal.”
What is the impact of the layoff?
PAVLIK: “You know what, it’s surprising because I expected it to be that way and if was that way I wasn’t going to be frustrated, but everything fell right back into place quickly. I kept myself in shape, too. The last time I had a year off it was a different situation. There was a staph infection and then we had the reaction to it. I really wasn’t able to do anything constantly being on antibiotics. That wasn’t really a rest or my idea of taking a break or a year off. This time, it’s totally different. I come back now and my energy level is just totally different than what it’s been in the past. I’m able to do things in the gym now where before it was a struggle. Everything came back and it’s been very fluent. Granted, in the beginning in the first couple of times of sparring, some of the timing was off. But that’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. But it all came back pretty quick this time and everything is going good right now.”
Where you able to do physical exercises during the time you were away in rehab?
PAVLIK: “Very little in the time that I had. When I did I just lifted weights and did some other exercises that I would do at the boxing gym because there wasn’t much else to do. I kept myself moving. I wasn’t rusty or falling apart — I didn’t have a big belly or anything else. I was pretty healthy.”
Is super middleweight your division long term? And do you see your power being the same there as middleweight?
PAVLIK: “I see it being the same. Actually, I see it being even better. It’s not like I’m moving up to go to 168 and I’m adding weight on. I still have to lose a considerable amount of weight to make 168. When you walk around 195 that’s still walking around pretty heavy for a super middleweight or a light heavyweight. I don’t see the strength being an issue or power-punching.
“I think our strength and everything is going to be great at that weight class. It will be the same, if not better.”
There are a lot of super middleweights out there. When do you think you’ll be able to get in the ring with someone like Lucian Bute or someone from the Super Six?
ARUM: “Kelly is ready but the guy he’s fighting on May 7 is no pushover. He has a lot of knockouts, he’s a Texas kid, and that’s a tough chore. We’ll see how he does in that fight and then we’ll talk it over with the team and see who comes next. The super middleweight division is rich with talent and Kelly, I hope and believe, fits right in with all of them.
“You have to understand that there are a lot of great fighters out there in the super middleweight division, but with the exception of Bute in Canada , they’re not particularly big attractions in terms of ticket sales. In order for them to make a big ticket fight they have to have Kelly Pavlik. It’s not a question of who Kelly is going to go after, it’s a question of who the team wants Kelly to fight. These fighters in order to have a big fight have to fight Kelly Pavlik.”
Kelly, can you talk about some of the changes you’ve made in your lifestyle since entering rehab?
PAVLIK: “I’m not one to make any excuses to say that’s what hurt my career because I wasn’t doing it while I was training. I can easily make it a great excuse, but in my opinion I don’t see it as that. But as of now I think the big difference is I’m able to focus more clearly on my career and take everything serious. I think that’s going to be the big difference now when compared to the past.
“I do everything the same. The only difference is I don’t drink. I don’t believe in changing a lifestyle or doing stuff to keep yourself even more unhappy, that leads to even worse problems. My regular day is still the same—I still enjoy everything I do. I’m having a blast doing what I’m doing and I don’t need a bottle to keep myself happy. I think that’s the big thing. I go to the same stores, I play with my kid the same way, I call people on the phone the same way, nothing has changed. “
Jack, how concerned were you that when he returned to the gym you’d have a completely different person to train?
LOEW: “Every time Kelly came to the gym he worked hard. That’s one thing I never had to worry about no matter what was going on outside of the ring. Kelly was always, always a hard worker in the gym no matter what we did. No matter what we put him through he always gave me 100 percent in the gym. Just like Kelly said, I knew I had a more clear-headed kid coming into the gym and it’s all worked out.”
What have you seen in Lopez’s style?
PAVLIK: “He’s a tough kid. He’ll try to box in there and he’ll try to move a little bit. The danger I see is he’s a hungry fighter and this is a golden opportunity for him. He’s no spring chicken in the sport and he’s getting the opportunity of a lifetime. He has a very good record so I think right now he’s coming in hungry for this fight like it’s going to be his last chance. Anytime you get a fighter like that you always have to be on your toes and ready for him. We’ve been watching him on film —he’s always in good shape, so we know that. He can go 12 hard rounds or 10 hard rounds. More so, from what I’ve seen, the kid comes to fight. Nothing phenomenal, but he’s a kid that you can’t take likely and you’ve got to be in shape to fight for 10 rounds.”
Are you going for the knockout?
PAVLIK: “I’m going to go in there and do what I always do. It’s what got me to where I’m at today. I’m going to go in there and just fight the way I fight. If I feel like I need to pick the pace up as the fight goes I’ll do that.
“We’ll see. It all depends. That’s the good thing about boxing, you have to have backup plans and you have to be able to think quick in that ring because it doesn’t always go the way that you want it to go. I’ve had the experience on the big stage and I think that’s going to be to my advantage.”
Are your techniques or timing a little rusty?
PAVLIK: “Everything is coming back really nice. You’re going to have days in sparring where you’re like, ‘damn, I’m off a little bit today.’ That’s granted, nobody in the world can go through a training camp and just be sharp every time. But, for the most part, the timing is back, the rust is gone—that’s been gone—and we’re feeling really good.”
What are you working on now to improve?
PAVLIK: “Right now, we have more time to focus on things. Right now, I’m pretty much just working on the hand speed, the movement, getting back to kind of the basics. The power is there so we don’t have to work on the power—fortunately, I’ve been blessed with natural power. So we’re working on the fundamentals and getting back to the boxing aspect of it.”
Kelly, you mentioned that you don’t have to have a bottle to be happy. Have you figured out what led to your rehab situation?
PAVLIK: “It’s not always that you have to be unhappy. Pretty much what happened is I got caught up in the partying part. Of course, when you get caught up in that you’re going to have the stress and everything with your home life and everything else that comes along with it. It’s pretty much just getting caught up with everything involved; I guess the word to use is the partying. What I mean by I don’t need to pick up a bottle, I mean that if I can’t drink anymore it’s not going to make me unhappy. I’m not going to be a miserable person because I can’t drink. But as far as what was making me unhappy or what drove me to the bottle, it wasn’t a case of that. It was just the fact that I got caught up in a lifestyle of going out and partying and needing a kick in the ass before it got too late.
“For me, it was just the fact that I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to end back up in a situation where I was at, especially now with my kids and everything else. It’s not worth it. I’m not missing anything. I’ve seen enough in my lifetime of only 29 years than most people will in three lifetimes. There’s not much I’m going to miss out on, so that’s how I look at it.”
You mentioned this is a chance of a lifetime for Lopez. Do you see this as a fight where you have to rebuild your credibility as a champion caliber fighter?
PAVLIK: “I definitely do think this is a very, very important fight. I think it’s a fight where I have to go out there and look good. Unfortunately, in most situations, most fighters with four or five losses can get away with a year-and-a-half layoff and people will say they look good after a year-and-a-half off. Even if I have three years off, if I don’t come back and perform at the top of the top it’s going to be brutal. So I think this fight is very important for me to get back out there and cement my name out there again. That’s why we’re taking this fight so seriously. I think this is one of the most important fights of my career, believe it or not.”
When you compare yourself now to the person who was going through these past two or three years, what would you say is different?
PAVLIK: “I’m a more mature person now, overall, just in all aspects of life and my career. More mature. What I mean by that is I know what has to be done; I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m able to lay things out better and see the big picture better and start focusing on different parts of life—the future, the present, everything that goes on instead of just flipping out and not thinking about the things that are important to think about. I think now I see things with a better approach and a more mature approach than I would have done in the past.”
Kelly do you think you tried to be too many things to too many people? Were you maybe too nice of a guy?
PAVLIK: “That’s a good point. It did at some points become overwhelming. Again, I’m not a person to make an excuse, I’m not going to use the pressure of being pulled, but it had a little bit of a help to it. You could easily notice with the staph infection, we had to bring all these people to Cleveland to see that I actually had a staff infection. I got beat up for that. I’m walking around with my IV bag and I’m trying to defend myself at the same time.
“There was a certain amount of time there where we were going at a very fast pace with everything and it just became a little overwhelming. But, the thing is now, we just got to learn how to say no and get ourselves back on track and take care of what’s important.”
Can you talk about your loyalty to Jack?
PAVLIK: “It’s a simple thing. We got to the point in our career where a lot of fighters don’t get to. It goes deeper than, ‘you have two losses so now it’s the time do that (change trainers).’ In my opinion, fighters change trainers but they’re not always successful when that happens. More times than not they end up losing one of their fights. I think the main thing is once you get a clear head and you can focus on what you have to focus on and make the right decisions in your career. Even as far as the weight issue. Jack Loew had his say, ‘you know what, we don’t want to but we have to move up in weight class because it ain’t going to work at 160—it’s totally impossible.’ Simple things like that, those type of decisions make a big difference in your career.”
LOEW: “Obviously Kelly has been extremely loyal to me. And, obviously, he’s been attempted to be pulled in many different ways. We lost to two great fighters, our record speaks for itself. I think if Kelly was not getting any better or at a stand-still then maybe we could be concerned. But we’re not. Everything is going the way we want it to go. We moved up in weight class. I think a lot of people are going to see a more complete Kelly. Going off the two losses that we had, that’s complete ridiculous. A lot of people don’t know the circumstances we had. To blame anybody I think the whole camp would have to take blame for a lot of things that went on in those fights. We just got to go out there and prove ourselves and I need to continue to do a good job with Kelly. We need to take care of business against Lopez and go from there.
“It was his decision to quit drinking. People have to realize that. We didn’t put a gun to his head and make him go to California. He did that. He’s trying to make himself a better person and I don’t think people are giving him as much credit as he deserves. I think everybody involved in this is going to benefit from what Kelly did—not from what we had Kelly do, but what he did. I think everyone is going to see a whole different fighter come May 7.”
Is this like a second chance? Are you relieved not to be in the main event?
PAVLIK: “It’s definitely a second chance. As far as not being the main event on a Manny Pacquiao card, I have no complaints with that. Even after being off for a year-and-a-half to be on the undercard is a pleasure of mine and an honor. It’s going to be more of a great experience to be a part of this card on May 7. I’m just worried about getting back in there and performing and moving on with my career.
“I’ve never done anything to offend anyone. I didn’t do anything for them to jump off the bandwagon. Fighters lose; even great, great champions have a lot of losses. As far as going back out there and trying to win people back, I’ll never do that again. When I get back on top, the ones that jumped off I don’t even want them back. I want the people who have been there and supported me and been with me through thick and thin. That’s the only ones that I’ll be fighting for on May 7 in Vegas.”
Did you have any moment where you realized you needed to change?
PAVLIK: “No, not at all. More or less what it was just the route that it was going. It wasn’t one experience or it wasn’t a life threatening experience or anything like that. It was just the point where it came to, ‘hey, it’s got to stop.’
“It wasn’t me getting roughed up or shooting somebody or robbing somebody to get alcohol or vice-versa, it wasn’t that extreme. But it came to a point where it was like, ‘let’s get our head out of our ass and move on here and let’s get back on track.’”
Bob, was there a time where you thought about you couldn’t count on Kelly?
ARUM: “The staph infection was real and serious and indeed can be life threatening. People don’t understand that if you get a certain type of infection you don’t cure it by iodine. If you don’t undergo the extensive medical treatment you could lose your life. It is something very, very serious. So many of the media said Kelly was drinking and there was nothing wrong with him. They sent people to Youngstown to see the kid. That was unfortunate. Then of course the addiction and the problems he had with alcohol, nobody could have solved that except one person, and that’s Kelly Pavlik. So I think Kelly is a hero and I think he’s a real hero for even talking about it because it’s very, very personal. So I give him a lot of credit and I think he’s going to get his career righted again and he’s going to end up better than he ever was and people will look up to what he did and he’ll be a great example to people who suffer from addiction.”
What was your sobriety date?
PAVLIK: “November 1st or 2nd of this year. Everything has been going fine. There’s no concern with me right now. That’s the least on my mind. There are so many other things out there and everything is going as smooth as possible. It would just take a bonehead to go out there and ruin any situation or opportunity that I have right now.
“I think I treated my (alcoholism) at an early stage. It didn’t get to the point where I couldn’t function without alcohol. It just got to the point where I got in the party mode and it kept escalating. When things didn’t go my way I got mad and I kept doing what I was doing. That’s exactly what happened. I just needed to kick it in the ass before things started going bad—to where I started losing my money, to where I started losing my family, losing my house and things like that. Unfortunately that’s one of the horrible things that come with the consequences that come with addiction. I didn’t want it to get that far. I worked too hard in my life to get where I am now that I didn’t want it to get out of control to that point.
“Boxing has been a very big part of my life since I was 9 years old, alcohol isn’t."
ARUM: “I want to really congratulate Kelly on how he handled this call. Questions that were asked of him, they were appropriate questions, but they were deeply personal in nature and Kelly handled it with candor and dignity and showed what a real man he is. I would, for one, look forward to his appearance in the ring on the Pacquiao-Mosley card and I’m sure all of you are looking forward to that.”
Alright Bleacher Bums, stay tuned for a recap of yesterday's media teleconference with "Sugar" Shane Mosley, trainer Nazim Richardson and event promoter Bob Arum.
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