By Todd Franko
The irony is startling.
This is my next-to-last column for 2009. While I’m finishing my third year as editor of The Vindicator, it’s just my first year of writing regularly.
(Years one and two were spent at “Valley School.”)
There, of course, was a first column Feb. 8. The topic?
Kelly Pavlik, and the headline was, “Have we forgotten how to celebrate a winner here in Youngstown?”
At the time of that writing, we were days away from the first title fight ever to come to Youngstown.
The Valley’s latest celebrated son brought to his hometown the eyes of the world. And the Valley responded with a sold-out Covelli Centre.
But from leading organizations of the Valley, there was little fanfare at the time. No big key to the city for Pavlik. No town-square festival. No welcome parade.
From our seat inside The Vindicator, it seemed that leaders were not just missing the boat, but missing the ocean liner. That first column implored leaders to get a little more excited about this once-in-a-lifetime event.
There was none of that this time regarding Pavlik’s fight Saturday night at, cough, YSU’s Beeghly Center (No offense intended, but for championship boxing, YSU is not Atlantic City, Vegas or even the Covelli).
Win or lose Saturday night, this was already a loss for Kelly. The night was an appropriate cap on Pavlik’s disastrous 2009 (Extend to me some creative license because I’m writing this on the afternoon before the fight).
Local Ghost Nation responded in kind Saturday, with just half the 7,300 seats filled — as of Saturday’s best guess. And “half” was generous at the time.
Team Pavlik should work hard to resist being judgmental on Ghost Nation, or me, or whoever else dared turn their nose at the event.
Because that’s all it was: an event, a charade, a placeholder.
It was not a championship fight that pitted the two best of the moment. It was a ham-handed sideshow right from the start.
It was launched with fumbled ticket sales via a facility that (a.) wouldn’t even open on the day tickets went on sale; and (b.) wouldn’t even accept cash purchases until Top Rank officials threw a fit Friday.
It continued through Friday when Top Rank boss Bob Arum yanked from local bars and restaurants the ability to show the fight on pay-per-view (Not Pavlik’s fault, but it will be part of Pavlik’s baggage).
Arum put up a bad fight on a bad weekend with bad planning.
But he put it in Pavlik’s hometown under the belief we’d be dumb enough to buy in.
Ghost Nation has already proved they’re loyal.
Now they’ve proved they’re not dumb — or blind.
If Pavlik won Saturday, he has a lot of ground to make up.
If Pavlik lost, he has an awful lot more ground to make up.
The one person who has seemed to say the right things the last few weeks was Pavlik. He recognized this fight for what it was and took whatever came along with it.
Now he has to do the right things in 2010 — those things he did not do in 2009.
Pavlik fatigue exists not just because of his nagging staph infection that became life-threatening. It exists because personally and professionally, he was not in 2009 what he was in 2008 and 2007.
Ghost Nation took measure of that.
They responded in kind with lackluster interest in his career.
The fan base wants a winner and will always be there to support a winner.
But they will not be there to support a mere performer.
Pavlik, assuming he got through his fight Saturday, will eventually not be champion at some point in the coming years.
If he loses the title displaying championlike qualities, he will be a Valley favored son for the rest of his life, like a Mancini or a Stoops.
If he loses the title displaying nonchampion qualities, it will mean a lifetime recalled for only what it could have been.
And that feeling will be as empty as those seats at the Beeghly Center.