Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kelly Pavlik, Welcome to the Grand Delusion

Photo: AP/Seth Wenig

As boxing stumbles its way through attempts at catching up with the saner parts of the sports world, becoming more computerized and automated, fans and media become more privy to behind-the-scenes aspects of the fight game that they'd never known before. 

In kinder eras of the sport, fights not getting made was usually just as simple as branding a guy a "coward" or "afraid." But as we learn more and negotiation processes and contracts, we learn it's sometimes more complicated than that.  

Occasionally though, it really does come down to some good old fashioned sinful pride.

Kelly Pavlik's diva-like premature evacuation from his fight against Darryl Cunningham last week carried with it a stench of delusional hubris. 

And with the bailout, Pavlik may have depleted one of Youngstown, Ohio's last resources.


As of early last week, Kelly was still in the relative good graces of his team and the sport in general, even if only due to curiosity surrounding his latest comeback attempt, despite recent behavior that has been erratic at best. 

Pavlik seemed to embody the "blue collar" spirit of an old steeling city early in his career, just like fellow Youngstown champs Jeff Lampkin, Greg "The Flea" Richardson and Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini. 

The young man transformed from local hopeful to prospect, then from prospect to contender, and did so with moxy - Pavlik frequently got bloodied or marked up in easier wins, eager to walk through a few to dish out hurt.

But he kept winning, and the wins got more fun as the opposition got better.

His ascent was slow-ish in terms of the quality of his opposition, despite regularly fighting in opener bouts for guys like Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Wladimir Klitschko and Rafa Marquez.

Whatever the reason for Top Rank's decision to bring him along gradually, Kelly's 6th and 7th years as a pro had him engaging in entertaining scraps with a trio of bangers, Jose Luis Zertuche, Fulgencio Zuñiga and Edison Miranda, and winning all three after the midpoint of the fight, taking some lumps and bumps along the way. 

As the Miranda fight was an eliminator for a belt that champion Jermain Taylor held, the two warred in a memorable battle in September of 2007 that saw Pavlik taste canvas early, but rise to batter Taylor into submission in the 7th, passing a torch many felt Taylor never truly earned.

Most seemed to like him, and the way media fawned over him, how could they not? He was like Tom Joad with a nasty right hand.

In the aftermath of his dramatic arrival to the world class, Pavlik became a celebrity in Youngstown. It was apparently around this time that he began to drink heavily. 

Regardless, Kelly won a decision from Taylor in the February, 2009 rematch, and parlayed his new-found fame into an a TKO3 in an HBO Championship Boxing main event over unheralded Welchman Gary Lockett, who hasn't fought since. 

Yes. Main event. 

The cliches spilled forth, and Pavlik was pegged "The American Dream," and considered by many to be the future of boxing, with Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s future in boxing unclear at the time. 

Bernard Hopkins, in true Bernard Hopkins fashion, tossed a bit of water on the smoking hyperbole in their October, 2008 non-title matchup, and possibly setting the full-blown breakdown into motion, in retrospect. 

Kelly retreated to Youngstown for his next bout against Marco Antonio Rubio in February of 2009, looking fairly ho-hum until the last few rounds, where he seemed to overwhelm Rubio for a RTD9 verdict. 

When exactly Pavlik delved into Shakespearean madness isn't clear, but rumors crept out of Youngstown as early as spring of 2009 that he was frequenting local drinking holes with his dad (and co-manager) Mike and brother Michael.

Top Rank began negotiating for a fight against then-hot Paul Williams in early summer, and after an agreement had been reached in early August for a bout in October, Pavlik pulled out in late August, initially citing a nagging knuckle injury on his left hand that wound up being staph infection. 

The fight was pushed back to early December, but what began as a routine postponement turned into a bit of an incident as conflicting reports from Pavlik's camp suggested he'd missed several doctor's appointments for his hand, while Kelly maintained he was having a bad reaction to antibiotics and had to be hospitalized. Pavlik-Williams was then scrapped to a chorus of boos in late October. 

Little did most of the boxing world know, Kelly had heavily invested in a bar and club called "Kelly Pavlik's The 13th Round" not far from home, and the new joint had just opened in early September. 

Somehow he found his way onto a December 19th Top Rank PPV against Miguel Espino, his staph infection magically all clear just in time. Pavlik looked sloppy stopping Espino in five.

In January, Kelly's behavior lead him to his family's first "intervention" for him, immediately after which he agreed to go to Betty Ford in Rancho Mirage, CA. He lasted 20 of the 30 days, going home and admittedly hitting the sauce before a bout against Sergio Martinez was penned for April, 2010. 

In March, though, his nightclub tanked, closed, and was taken over by a Mexican restaurant.

According to trainer Jack Loew, Kelly dropped a lot of weight in a short period of time before the Martinez bout, explaining the ease with which Martinez missiled shots at Kelly's face and split it open in the late rounds. 

And with the frustrating loss, Pavlik was no longer the middleweight champ.

Kelly himself said he took the loss hard and, while stopping short of conceding a serious problem with alcohol, said he frequently "went out with friends," and control slipped through his fingers once more. 

His family staged a second intervention in September, and Kelly canceled a scheduled meeting with Brian Vera on the undercard of Pacquiao vs. Margarito two weeks before the fight, then went to rehab, this time at The Ranch Recovery Center, located in Desert Hot Springs, CA.

This time he stayed a full 60 days, but the pattern may have already embedded itself.

He looked rusty in drudging through a majority decision win over Texan Alfonso Lopez in May, but had the ShoBox date against Cunningham for this past weekend, and a likely showdown with Montreal-based super middleweight Lucien Bute in November, set shortly after winning. 

The last thing we knew, Pavlik was on the comeback trail, back to his focused, no-nonsense self, shaking out the cobwebs in the gym. 

In early-ish July, boxing news sites around the web released reports that Kelly was involved in a physical altercation with his brother Michael, during which the former dragged the latter through a window, prompting a call to local police. 

The next week or so was spent doing damage control as Kelly repeatedly stated the incident had nothing to do with alcohol, despite initial reports that it had. 

Then, on August 2nd, the pull-out heard 'round the world happened, resulting from a conversation or two supposedly about what Kelly was to get paid for his two upcoming bouts.

How exactly that conversation went varies depending on who's asked, but the heart of the issue was Pavlik feeling unhappy with the way he was supposedly cut out of negotiations, and dissatisfied with the $50,000 he was to make against Cunningham, and the $1.3 million for the Bute fight. 

It's kinda just gotten uglier from there.

As with any boxing soap opera chronicling a pride-induced fall, the initial backlash is then backlashed upon itself with claims of extenuating circumstances, or calls for better understanding of these "all too human" characters.

In this case, the understanding approach may have merit. 

The going rates fighters expect when scheduled for a cable appearance have become absurd, to put it nicely. HBO in particular has created a system where it essentially bids against itself time and again, overpaying guys many times over, and setting unrealistic expectations that don't jibe with their earning power or even potential. 

It's a climate where a guy like Floyd Mayweather Jr., pre-stardom, raked in $4 million to prance, make football predictions, and take his time in stopping Henry Bruseles on HBO.

Needless to say, HBO specifically has had a tendency of throwing a lot of its eggs in whatever basket it has at the moment. Still, it doesn't excuse Pavlik's issues with simply being dependable, and especially not in this case. 

Ironically, Kelly was scheduled to fight this weekend on the exact same Showtime program ShoBox, a show geared towards prospects and fledgling contenders, that featured him in his first significant step-up bout against Dorian Beaupierre in March, 2005. 

One of the few details we've managed to make out of the mess between Kelly Pavlik, his co-manager Cameron Dunkin and his trainer Jack Loew, is Kelly heard from someone that popular Danish super middleweight Mikkel Kessler was offered over $3 million to fight Bute, and called his contract "bullshit," claiming he had no idea he was getting paid so little to fight either Bute or Cunningham. 

In addition to pulling out the fight, Kelly's spun around and snapped at he hand that fed him for so long, accusing Top Rank of "cashing him out" against Bute. 

But why he's wrong, is that Top Rank was essentially doing Kelly a favor by putting extra scratch in his pockets with the Cunningham fight. Reports of terrible ticket sales don't help his cause, and neither does the fact that ShoBox's show-by-show budget doesn't exceed the $50K that he would have taken in. 

The fact that Top Rank was even able to convince a cable outlet to schedule him to fight a huge attraction like Bute six months in advance, given his recent history, was nothing short of miraculous. 

Past that, why wouldn't they want to cash him out? This latest stunt marks Kelly's fifth "exit stage left" maneuver, and may have cost him whatever fans were foolish enough to cop tickets to the Cunningham bout. 

Disappointing ticket sales in general for his last two fights in Youngstown mean that he's likely not the regional draw that Top Rank felt they could fall back on, never mind betting on whether or not he shows up. The admirable, Youngstown thing to do would've been to go through with this fight, whatever the purse, just as a "thank you" to all the locals who had his back over the years.

To channel the aforementioned "Pretty Boy" Floyd, even in facing Bute for such reprehensible slave wages, there would have existed the opportunity to springboard his name back into discussions with the winner of the Showtime Super Six. 


Kelly has asserted on various occasions that alcohol has never had anything to do with in-ring shortcomings. Most of the folks around him disagree, including Jack Loew, who may be one of the closest people to him.

Now, Loew and Dunkin are in a bit of a tattling match, both accusing each other of being in Kelly's ear too much. Regardless of who's telling the truth, or if they're both being lied to by Pavlik, both have seemed loyal to a fault - both sticking by Kelly through stints in rehab, rough losses in the ring, and personal drama, both appearing to be genuinely concerned about Pavlik's behavior. 


This latest incident could serve as the proverbial nail in the coffin of Pavlik's career, and Kelly seems to be just fine with that. 

Loew's interviews from as early as 2009 now read like a guy dropping hints that his fighter is burned out and distracted. In a talk with Sports Illustrated in February 2011, Loew said the 2007 version of Kelly Pavlik definitely would not have pulled out of the Vera fight with a rib injury, and suggested it was a way for Kelly to back away from the sport altogether, even if only just temporarily.

Doubtfully a case of "too much, too soon," Kelly is perhaps just a guy with no use for a town full of fans. His latest claims suggest he's done with the sport, financially comfortable, and content to stay where he is. 

Forgotten are the apologies to folks like Loew and Cunningham, who did nothing but their jobs leading up to this nonsense, and so ignored may be the regrets down the road that stem from leading on fans and supporters, who believed he had a bit more character and sense than what he's shown as of late. 

As it stands, this boxing breakup could serve to be the best thing for all involved.


Click Here to "Like" Beloved Onslaught on Facebook - or follow Patrick on Twitter: @Integrital

No comments:

Post a Comment