By Joe Scalzo
In early January, just after Kelly Pavlik moved to Oxnard, Calif., to train with Robert Garcia, the two talked about the adjustment.
Pavlik, a notorious homebody, would be in a new place, far away from his friends, his family and the comfortable training surroundings he used to become middleweight champion.
Oh, and one more thing.
“He was going to be the only white guy in my gym,” said Garcia, who primarily trains Hispanic fighters, including WBA lightweight champion Brandon Rios and WBO super bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire. “I thought it would make it harder but it was really easy.
“He found himself at home, and we made him do that. We gave him the same treatment [as the other fighters] and everything went well.”
Six months later, Pavlik is coming off two straight victories (albeit against lesser competition) and heads into Saturday’s bout with Will Rosinsky with some momentum for the first time in years.
“It was definitely important [to come out to Oxnard to train],” said Pavlik, who trained with Jack Loew at the Southside Boxing Club for his entire career until breaking away late last year. “I am not here to knock anybody or anything like that, but I wasn’t going any further where I was.
“I am learning, hungry and rejuvenated to get back into it. You can never quit learning in this sport, and I’m learning again and that’s very important. On the personal part, when I get out here I don’t have any distractions or headaches. I am able to focus on what I’m here to do and that’s been very important.”
Pavlik said Garcia has helped him evolve as a fighter, emphasizing three- and four-punch combinations, uppercuts and more reliance on his left hand.
“I knew I had a left hand my whole entire career, but I learned I could use it now,” said Pavlik, who grew increasingly reliant on left jabs and straight rights when his career went south. “That’s what we work on a lot, even on the mitts. A three-piece or four-piece combo — and it’s repetitious. It’s not once or twice in that round and you’re done. Your body gets in that habit — the motor reflex of throwing that combo.
“We don’t just do something then forget about it, we work on it round after round.”
Pavlik’s co-manager, Cameron Dunkin, who was critical of Loew in recent years and pushed hard for the change, called Garcia “no doubt the best trainer in the world” and expects to eventually see a “great Kelly Pavlik again — as good as or better than the first one.”
“[He has] so many more skills than he had shown in the past,” said Dunkin. “Robert has him doing so many different things. He’s turned into a really great fighter. I think he can box when he wants to box and move inside and move his head and like he said about the uppercuts. And he doesn’t have to load up on every punch. He can break them down and box. He can also get you out of there with a shot.”
In fairness, Loew has argued that his training was good enough to lead Pavlik to the middleweight championship and that it was Pavlik’s behavior outside the ring that led to his downfall, not Loew’s training.
Pavlik’s personal problems have been well-documented — when a reporter on a conference call this week asked if he’s 100 percent sober, Pavlik said, “That is a three-year-old question” — but he said moving to California has allowed him to escape the Youngstown microscope.
“Like I tell everyone, I live my life,” he said. “I do what keeps me happy and that’s what matters. Whatever keeps me happy in my personal life is the thing, and that is the motto that I follow and that I’m always going to follow. And I am happy right now.
“I have been coming out here to train and that has been going phenomenal. I isolate myself, mentally and physically out here and it helps also in my home life too. It keeps me grounded and keeps me going forward.”