By Andy Samuelson
Even Kelly Pavlik, the former middleweight champion who has headlined big boxing shows from his hometown to Atlantic City, couldn’t help but get caught up in the surreal scene that played out Friday afternoon inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
An announced crowd of 8,000 people piled into the casino on the famed Las Vegas Strip, 90-plus percent of the fans donning the fight gear of their favorite international hero Manny Pacquiao, who will square off tonight with Shane Mosley in a WBO welterweight title tilt shown on Showtime pay-per-view.
“Pretty crazy,” Pavlik said with a smile. “The fan base that I’ve seen here this week is amazing. It’s gonna be a great crowd and I think an awesome card.”
A card the Youngstown native hopes will lead him back to boxing relevancy.
“I’m feeling good, I’m ready to go put on a show,” said Pavlik (36-2, 32 KOs) who takes on undefeated Alfonso Lopez (21-0, 16 KOs) from Cut and Shoot, Texas.
While the majority of the massive crowd, which was probably closer to 5,000 people (several hundred fans were turned away 45-minutes prior to Friday’s weigh-in activities hosted by sports announcer James Brown), waited the better portion of the day to see 10-time champ “Pac-Man,” Pavlik had a few familiar faces that made the 2,000 mile trip from Ohio to Sin City.
“I think for the first time in a while, not only because of everything that was going outside the ring, Kelly has a clear head,” said childhood friend Mike Cefalde Jr., who made the trip to Las Vegas with his father and Pavlik’s godfather Mike Sr., mother, Jackie and good friend, Jeremy Simpson.
“He has a clear vision of what he wants to do and that is capture another world championship and regain some of the respect he might have lost.”
Obviously Pavlik won’t be able to bring any belts home this weekend’s as tonight’s contest is a 10-round, non-title fight set at a catch weight of 171 pounds, but still billed as a super middleweight bout, which has a 168-pound limit.
“I feel a lot better with the added weight, definitely stronger,” said Pavlik, who tipped the scales at a 170 pounds, while Lopez registered 169. “I have as much energy right now as I’ve ever had going into a fight.”
The large projection of people expected to watch the pay-per-view telecast has served as extra motivation for Pavlik, who earlier this week admitted he is ready to put to rest the talk of his recent rehabilitation trip to a Betty Ford clinic for alcoholism and ring rust from a year without a match.
“After being outside of the ring for a year honestly I would be satisfied with a victory. But I know from a media standpoint and also personally I want to come out and do something spectacular,” said Pavlik, who is 10-0 in his career in bouts based in Las Vegas — with his last victory coming via unanimous decision against Jermain Taylor in February 2008.
Pavlik’s dietician Dr. Gregory Blackman said “Ghost” fans should prepare to see a totally renewed and reenergized fighter.
“Like Kelly said this is the best he’s felt before a fight in his career. A lot of that comes from us keeping our weight so close and not having the difficulties associated with cutting so much in past camps,” Blackman said.
“I think you’re gonna see a more powerful Kelly Pavlik, one who is out to prove he’s the same, if not better fighter, than he ever was before.”
No matter what happens tonight, Mike Cefalde Sr. said he wouldn’t miss this fight for anything.
“We watched him grow up with my sons, I’m so excited to see him get back out there,” said Cefalde Sr., who went to high school with Pavlik’s father, Mike and estimates he’s watched 25 Pavlik fights in person.
“I’ve talk to him at camp and out here this weekend, and he said he’s feeling great. What I’ve seen he looks like the old Kelly, if not better. I think he’s gonna do something special.”