Middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik will put a lot more on the line against Sergio Martinez than his championship belts
Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik knows he had a bad 2009. And the end of 2008 wasn’t so hot either.
So for his first fight in 2010, Saturday (April 17) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City against Sergio Martinez, there’s more on the line than his middleweight championship belts. For Pavlik the fight is about redemption, respect and, most importantly, his future as a fighter.
“This is a dangerous fight for us,” Pavlik said in a conference call with the media last week. “And it’s proving to people and myself that I’m taking the dangerous fight. I never shied away from the big fight. Not when I’m 100 percent healthy.”
It’s a statement that a fighter like Pavlik, who rocketed up the fighting ranks and to boxing stardom after knocking out Jermain Taylor, would never have had to say three years ago. But then things started to spin on Pavlik.
First came a loss to Bernard Hopkins in a 12-round decision in October 2008, which he fought at light heavyweight. Then came some not well-respected defenses against middleweights such as Marco Antonio Rubio and Miguel Angel Espino, even though they were the highest ranked contenders for his WBC/WBO titles.
That was followed by a serious staph infection to his hand that sidelined him for months. Cancelled fights against Paul Williams and Sergio Mora early this year left many wondering if he was exaggerating the extent of the infection and ducking serious challengers.
Pavlik saw boxing fans turn on him, and turn quickly.
But Pavlik and his camp say that will change when he steps into the ring against Martinez, who is reigning junior middleweight champ and coming off an impressive showing, albeit a loss, against Williams.
“I think this fight is going to be one of the most important middleweight championship fights in a long time,” says promoter Bob Arum. “I think people saw Martinez’s last fight with Paul Williams and I think a lot of people thought he won the fight. In any event, he gave a hell of accounting of himself. Kelly has his hands full with Martinez, but it should be a tremendous, tremendous fight.”
Jack Loew, Pavlik’s trainer, also says the old Pavlik will be back at Boardwalk Hall.
“I’ve probably never seen Kelly looking so good,” Loew says. “We’re really excited to get in there. We know what’s in front of us. This is a very serious fight for us. And I think people are finally going to see the best Kelly Pavlik that they’ve seen in a long time.
For Pavlik, however, it’s a chance to put the infection behind him, which started as a small cut on the knuckles after the Rubio fight. While playing basketball, he noticed the cut was oozing pus.
Pavlik went on antibiotics and was even bedridden, he says.
“It wasn’t really a question of whether I would ever be able to fight again, because an infection will eventually heal,” he says. “But it was a frustrating 2009 because there just wasn’t much we could do about it.”
But Pavlik says the infection is beaten now and so, he hopes, is the speculation of ducking good fighters.
“It was kind of frustrating, not so much what people were saying, because I could care less what people who didn’t know what was going on were saying. Overall, the whole thing was I wanted to fight Williams. But it is what it is — the staph infection; people saying I was lying; having to get doctors to prove I wasn’t lying — and we couldn’t make the fight happen. So the next best fight out there was Martinez, who a lot of people think beat Paul Williams. That’s the biggest name right now in the division and the biggest fight for me to take.”
In Martinez, he may be fighting a fighter on the verge of breaking out himself. Though he lost the decision to Williams, almost universally the boxing world thought Martinez in fact won. He comes to town on a high.
“The preparation has been excellent; I feel it’s been the best training camp of my career and it’ll show on April 17,” Martinez told fightnews.com. “With the preparation I’ve had I don’t think Pavlik will be able to keep up. I feel great.”
Pavlik says he has a lot of respect for Martinez, but notes that he too saw the Williams fight.
“I thought he won the fight too, to be honest with you,” Pavlik says. “I had him by a round or two and if he had finished strong it might have been a different decision. I was impressed, but at the same time I wasn’t impressed. He got hit — took a lot of punches. If Williams had a little more pop, that would have been a different fight.”
Many fight insiders feel that Martinez is a better mover than Pavlik, a weakness Hopkins exploited in defeating Pavlik.
“He does a lot of good and a lot of bad,” Pavlik says of his opponent. “The thing is that his good can also be his bad. What I mean is that he’s awkward and punches from a lot of different angles. That sometime helps him, but sometimes that can leave him wide open or get him caught coming in. Still he’s definitely someone you’ve got to respect and you just can’t go face first trying to hit him.”
He also feels that judging him on the Hopkins fight is a mistake. “Sure [Martinez’s speed] is something we’ve worked on,” he says. “But not so much because of the Hopkins fight. That was just a bad fight. And it wasn’t even really that Hopkins had speed. I was just so lethargic in that fight that he didn’t have to move.”
Pavlik admits he was a little worried about how his hand would hold up during training and Loew acknowledged that his fighter was carrying a little more weight than usual. But the weight is coming off on schedule and Pavlik says he feels the best he has entering a fight in a long time.
Arum says he expects his star to be reborn. “I am convinced we’re going to see the old Kelly Pavlik against Martinez,” says Arum. “And when the public sees that, he’ll be right back on top and people will be clamoring for his next fight.”
Kelly Pavlik vs. Sergio Martinez
Where: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
When: Saturday, April 17; doors open 6pm
How Much: $50-$350
On Friday (April 16), one day before Kelly Pavlik faces off with Sergio Martinez, Atlantic City will pause for a moment and remember another fighter, Arturo Gatti, on what would have been the day after his birthday. The city will proclaim Friday Arturo Gatti day. A special ceremony will be held at 4pm in front of Boardwalk Hall.
Gatti, who died last July, became Atlantic City’s own and is credited by many as keeping Atlantic City alive in the big fight game. Gatti fought in Atlantic City 23 times including his last nine years before retiring. Fans would pack his fights and chant his name. He became Atlantic City’s favorite fighter and he embraced it, saying he never wanted to fight anywhere else.
It might seem hard to replace Gatti, but Kelly Pavlik may certainly be following him. Though Pavlik has fought in Atlantic City only a few times, his biggest win (his title winning knockout of Jermain Taylor) and his biggest loss (to Bernard Hopkins) have come at Boardwalk Hall. A tough knockout fighter that brings big matches to the resort, Pavlik has begun to get a loyal following in Atlantic City.
Pavlik says he’s honored to follow Gatti as A.C.’s favorite fighter.
“First, it’s great to find a fan base this close to home,” Pavlik, of Youngstown Ohio says. “People thought Gatti was a great fighter — a blood and guts fighter. To me it’s an honor to be thought of as the guy who’s going to fill his spot. It’s a great thing to be put in that spot, but it is a lot for me to try and live up to.
“But it’s great being in Boardwalk Hall,” he says. “The fan support I get here, and of course winning the title here. It’s just a great atmosphere and a great fight city. I love it a lot.”
This article is the first of four to be published this month on ‘haunted houses’ and ghosts in the Atlantic City region, written by Amanda Hopkins.
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