By Joe Scalzo
Pavlik didn’t agree to the fight until Sunday night.
YOUNGSTOWN — Kelly Pavlik is hoping to end a year of frustration on a good note.
The WBC and WBO middleweight champion will make his first title defense since February when he meets Miguel Espino on Dec. 19 at Youngstown State University’s Beeghly Center.
The fight was arranged quickly — Pavlik’s camp didn’t hear about the fight until a few days ago — and Pavlik didn’t agree to the fight until Sunday night. He announced the bout Monday at the Curbstone Coaches weekly noon luncheon and signed the contract soon afterward.
“Espino is a good fighter; someone who presents a real challenge,” Pavlik said at the luncheon. “I’m just ready to get back into the swing of things.”
A lingering staph infection in Pavlik’s left hand forced him to cancel two previous title fights — the first against Sergio Mora in the summer, then a Dec. 5 bout against Paul Williams.
Pavlik had planned to wait until January or February to get back in the ring.
But the two sanctioning bodies wanted to see their titles defended and threatened to strip Pavlik of the belts if he didn’t get back in the ring.
The Williams bout originally had been planned for October, then postponed to Dec. 5, then canceled altogether.
The Williams camp wasn’t willing to wait any longer to fight Pavlik, so Espino (20-2-1, 9 KOs) was picked as a replacement. Espino is the WBC’s No. 3 ranked contender.
“I talked with my dad, Jack [Loew, his trainer] and my manager [Cameron Dunkin] and we decided it’s not worth losing the title,” said Pavlik in a phone interview on Monday evening. “If I lose, I want to lose fighting.
“So, [Sunday], I told Cameron I want the fight.”
Although Espino, who starred on the first season of “The Contender,” isn’t as dangerous an opponent as Williams, the fight is still a risk. Pavlik’s hand is still not fully healed from two earlier surgeries — he still can’t make a fist — and his conditioning took a major hit with the long layoff.
Pavlik was unable to work out for two months while recovering, and a recent visit to the Ironman Warehouse only confirmed his fears.
“At the Ironman, I could see how much I lost,” said Pavlik, who is hoping to resume punching by the end of next week. “When you can’t pick up anything heavier than a gallon of milk for two months, it’s going to take a while to get back into it. But we’ll get there.”
According to ESPN.com, Pavlik will make just $500,000 for the Espino bout, which will be televised on Top Rank pay-per-view. That’s a far cry from the multimillion-dollar payday he would have earned for a Williams bout, but the Pavlik camp is hoping to use the December bout to prepare for a spring bout against Williams.
Beeghly Center, which seats at least 6,500 people, was chosen because the 7,500-seat Covelli Centre is booked for Disney On Ice from Dec. 17-20.
“This is an awesome feeling as I am ready to get back into the ring,” Pavlik said at the luncheon. “I really appreciate the many local fans that have traveled to my fights, so to be able to stay at home to defend my title is absolutely special.
“A jam-packed, smaller arena gets your adrenaline going. The fans are there to have fun but also root you on so this is going to be a special night for everyone.”
Loew made the call to postpone the Williams bout and has said he won’t let Pavlik fight unless he’s 100 percent. At Monday’s luncheon, he said he was happy with the bout.
“This is absolutely great news,” he said. “It’s always great to fight at home and after being off so long and suffering through a frustrating 2009, it will be great for Kelly to get back on his feet and into the ring.
“On top of that, it will be at home.”
Loew felt Pavlik needed a couple of more weeks in order for his hand, which had been diagnosed with MRSA staph, to properly heal and for him to be in top physical shape.
The Williams camp gave thumbs down to that request, and he will now fight Sergio Martinez on that date in Atlantic City.
“Everything works out for as reason,” Loew said. “We felt we needed the extra time so Kelly could bend his hand.
“Now, [Williams] will be fighting Sergio Martinez in a 3,500-seat ballroom and we’ll be fighting at home. That tells you who the draw is.”
XVindicator correspondent Greg Gulas contributed to this report.