By Joe Scalzo
Fight No. 1
DATE: JUNE 16, 2000
SITE: FANTASY SPRINGS CASINO, INDIO, CALIF.
RESULT: PAVLIK TKO, 3RD
June 16, 2000 was a sweltering hot day in Indio, Calif., a perfect day to sit inside the air conditioned Fantasy Springs Casino popping nickels into a slot machine and a not-so-perfect day to watch a middling lightweight title fight outdoors, much less an undercard bout between two anonymous junior middleweights.
Kelly Pavlik, an 18-year-old from Youngstown who had graduated from Lowellville High School two weeks earlier, was making his professional debut as a swing bout on ESPN2, which meant it may or may get televised, depending on how much time is left in the broadcast.
He was originally scheduled to fight a four-round, 156-pound bout against Leo DeLara, a welterweight with from Colton, Calif. But DeLara had fought his second pro bout a week earlier, so he was replaced by a 28-year-old light middleweight from Los Angeles named Eric Benito Tzand.
Tzand had made his pro debut in 1997, earning a decision against Ronny Daniels. He then took three years off, fought to a draw with Miguel Angel Barraza in March of 2000 and didn’t even make it to the weigh-in the day before his fight with Pavlik.
Pavlik weighed in at 154 pounds. Tzand supposedly weighed 159.
“I remember it was hotter than hot,” said Pavlik. “It was probably 110 degrees and we were sitting outside because our tents were outside and the fight was outside.”
Pavlik was coming off a terrific amateur career in which he went 68-9 with 33 KOs, won four Cleveland Golden Glove titles, three regional titles and three national crowns. He had qualified for the Olympic Trials in Tampa, Fla., in February of that year, losing decisions to future bronze medalist Jermain Taylor (who would play a slight more prominent role in Pavlik’s career a few years later) and to Warren native Anthony Hanshaw.
Pavlik decided to turn pro soon after and signed a five-figure bonus with Top Rank Boxing. It was the largest signing bonus ever for a local amateur.
His bout with Tzand was on the undercard of a IBA lightweight championship bout between Omar Gabriel Weis and Antonio Diaz, which Diaz via a 12-round unanimous decision.
“We were sitting there with a bucket of ice trying to stay cool and the bucket of ice melted in like five minutes,” said Pavlik.
Pavlik was nervous. He’d never fought without headgear, he wasn’t sure when he would be fighting (that was up to the whims of ESPN) and he had no idea who he would be fighting.
Pavlik wore black trunks with his familiar Ghost logo on the front and the word “Ghost” on the rear. He had a full head of hair, the Ghost logo tattoo on his shoulder and a wiry build.
Pavlik got his first look at Tzand when he came through the ropes.
“All of the sudden we see him walking out and I remember Kelly going, ‘Hey, who am I fighting?’” said Loew. “He looked like a miniature Mike Tyson.”
Like Tyson, Tzand wore solid black trunks, black shoes and black socks.
“He was cut, built just like Mike Tyson, but maybe 40 pounds lighter, if that,” said Pavlik.
“I know he wasn’t 154 pounds,” Loew said. “He was big, believe me. I would have loved to know what he weighed.”
If you were a betting man and you didn’t know anything about either fighter, you would have put a wad of bills on Tzand. He was 10 years older, he was 10 pounds heavier and he was 10 times more intimidating. But, as Pavlik would prove repeatedly over the next eight years, looks don’t mean much.
Pavlik jumped on Tzand from the start, throwing 98 punches in the first round and 99 in the second, landing a total of 45. (Tzand landed nine out of 120.).
Pavlik threw combinations. He threw flurries. He hit Tzand in the head, the face and the body. Tzand’s only break came just before the start of the second round, when the gusting wind blew off a corner pad and the fight was held up for a few seconds.
Just past the two-minute mark of the third round, Pavlik backed Tzand into the corner, Tzand covered his face with both gloves and Pavlik landed a straight right into his gut.
Tzand went down, referee Jon Schorle began the count and Tzand — wearing a weary, stunned look on his face — never made it more than halfway up.
When Schorle waved his arms, Pavlik lifted his and got a hug in the middle of the ring from Loew.
“He was a game fighter,” recalled Pavlik. “He threw some good punches but our toll just took it on him and our hand speed took over.”
Pavlik would eventually knock out 29 more fighters — including Taylor for the middleweight title in September of 2007 — while Tzand stopped fighting about a year after losing to Pavlik. He finished with a 2-5-1 mark.
“It was a good fight,” said Pavlik.
The first of many.