YOUNGSTOWN -- For many reasons middleweight Kelly Pavlik feels his most important fight as a professional will take place July 30 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
As part of a Top Rank-promoted pay per view package, Pavlik will meet Fulgencio Zuniga of Barranquila, Colombia, in a 10-round bout.
For the 6-foot-3 Pavlik (25-0, 22 knockouts) this could be his most difficult challenge, as the 5-10 Zuniga brings in a 17-1-1 record, which includes 16 wins by knockout.
Zuniga's only loss was in Bayamon, Puerto Rico in June 2003, a unanimous decision to Daniel Santos in a battle for the WBO light middleweight championship.
On Jan. 6, in Tucson, Ariz., Zuniga won the IBA middleweight championship when he stopped David Alfonso Lopez in the 12th round.
Pavlik feels this is his biggest fight to date, especially after 26-year-old Jermain Taylor took the middleweight title away from Bernard Hopkins with a split decision last Saturday.
"Jermain proved it is time for the young bloods of this sport to move up and no one feels that way as much as I do," said Pavlik, who has trained hard with a lot of running and sparring at Southside Boxing Club under the watchful eye of trainer Jack Loew.
Pavlik has been sparring four days a week with Zack Page, Jose Spearman and Billy Lyell. Today, Stephon Pryor, the son of former world champion Aaron Pryor, is scheduled to begin workouts with Pavlik.
Pavlik and Loew will fly to Las Vegas next Tuesday.
"Right now Kelly looks very sharp and is totally focused," said Loew.
Pavlik sized up his opponent.
"Zuniga is a tough kid who takes a good shot and always stays busy," he said. "He has good hand speed and exceptional power which I feel definitely makes this the toughest fight for me yet."
Pavlik admitted that his 5-inch height advantage should favor him.
"[Zuniga] can hit and he can take a shot," added Loew. "He is very durable, but he leaves himself wide open because he always comes at you in a very aggressive mode."
With the attention Taylor's win over Hopkins brought to the middleweight division this is a definite impact bout for both Pavlik and Zuniga.
The main event will have Christy Martin (46-3, 31 KOs) from Orlando, Fla., in a 12-round lightweight fight with Lucia Rijker (17-0, 14 KOs) from Amsterdam.
Jorge Arce from Mexico and Angelo Priola from Cordoba will be in an interim WBC flyweight title 12-rounder, and Eric Ortiz from Mexico City will battle Brian Viloria from Honolulu in a 12-rounder for the WBC light flyweight title. Viloria is 17-0 with 11 knockouts.