Being back in the Fight Capital of the World, where Pavlik has never lost, adds to comfort level
By Andy Samuelson
It’s only been three years since Kelly Pavlik last fought in Las Vegas, but it probably feels like a lifetime ago.
“It feels great to be back in Las Vegas, even though the circumstances are quite different this time,” Pavlik said with a slight smile.
Youngstown’s famous boxing son was on top of the world on Feb. 16, 2008, the night he defeated Jermain Taylor at the MGM Grand — the same fighter he had taken the WBC and WBO middleweight titles from five months earlier in Atlantic City.
This weekend Pavlik returns to the MGM Grand, but the circumstances are nowhere close to those championship days.
The 29-year-old hasn’t boxed in more than a year, and the one-time headliner is the co-co-main event of the Showtime pay-per-view card.
Pavlik’s career — which was derailed by his first loss to Bernard Hopkins in October 2008 and more recently when he lost his belts to Sergio Martinez via unanimous decision in April 2010 — has also been more defined by his documented battle with alcoholism.
But Pavlik doesn’t want to discuss those issues anymore.
“I’m not talking about that,” he says quietly and politely. “I’m here to fight, let’s talk about the fight.”
The story of the fight itself is a good one, with a few similarities to the path Pavlik paved for himself.
Pavlik’s opponent, Alfonzo Lopez, is 10 days shy of his 29th birthday. His career record is a sparkling 21-0 with 16 KOs. All that seems to be missing is a signature win for the Cowboy-hat wearing Texan from the town of Cut and Shoot.
“It’s a great opportunity. Pavlik is a former world champion,” Lopez said Thursday.
“I did what I had to do in the gym. I’m here to win and I can’t wait for Saturday night.”
But neither can Pavlik, who says he is ready to finally put all the rehab and outside the ring talk to rest and get back to performing as a high-level boxer.
“It’s probably the best I’ve felt in my whole entire career, and I’m looking forward to putting on a show on Saturday and show the world of boxing we’re back,” said Pavlik (36-2, 32 KOs), who will jump up eight pounds to super middleweight for this bout.
“I can’t begin to say how pumped I am. How enthused I am about the energy of training camp, the way everything has been going lately.”
While things might have taken a different turn in the three years since he last appeared in Sin City, Pavlik’s fight record in Las Vegas is perfect.
“I don’t plan on that changing either,” said Pavlik, who is undefeated in 10 Vegas fights, seven of those wins coming by knockout.
“I’ve always liked fighting in this town. It’s definitely a little more special being in the Fight Capital of the World, and also being on such a huge card with [Manny] Pacquiao.”
Pavlik’s longtime trainer Jack Loew has seen the renewed since of pride in his prot g and says Pavlik doesn’t feel any sense of extra pressure to come out in perform in a way he’s not accustomed to.
“I don’t think it’s extra pressure. I think it is what it is, just a huge fight for us,” Loew said. “But he’s ready, you can tell there’s some extra energy in him for this one.
“I’m not taking anything away from Lopez. He’s a big strong kid, who in my opinion who really only knows how to fight one way.”