Kelly Pavlik steps into The Doghouse - Exclusive Interview
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Kelly Pavlik steps into The Doghouse - Exclusive Interview
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Sept 22, 2014)

Kelly Pavlik
Kelly Pavlik
This writer has been a fan of Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik inside and outside of the ring from the first time I saw him fight and get interviewed. When his fight with Sergio Martinez was announced I tried reaching him and did an article on the upcoming fight. I felt he was being sold down the river by both his manager and promoter possibly due to his behavior with alcohol abuse.

I finally contacted Pavlik via telephone Wednesday after tracking him down for four years thanks to amateur boxing judge Jane Scholl having his number. He was everything I thought he was and then some. He gave me insight of his career and only on one item pertaining to a contract signing he wanted left out of the interview due to not being 100% sure on all the facts. That is the kind of man Pavlik is. I made it clear I was going to ask questions regarding his boxing career and not outside the ring.

Pavlik worked his way to the title. “I started at age 9 with Jack Lowe as my trainer at the South Side Boy’s Club in Youngstown, OH, winning the National Junior PAL championship at welterweight in 1998 along with the National Junior Golden Gloves".

In 1999 Pavlik won the US National under-19 championship earning his way to the Olympic Trials at age 17. “I beat Darryl Williamson but lost to Anthony Hanshaw (1998 National Golden Gloves welterweight & 2000 US National light middleweight champion) and later to Jermain Taylor (eventual winner),” said Pavlik.

Pavlik was approached by both Cameron Dunkin bringing with him Top Rank and Lou Duva and his group. He would sign with Dunkin and Top Rank. He turned professional in June of 2000 winning his first 14 fights by knockout. He was 20-0 when he met Pedro Ortega, 30-13-1, over ESPN in July of 2004. Ortega had split with unbeaten Eric Regan, 22-0, before losing the rubber match.

KEN HISSNER: How tough of a fight was it with Ortega?

I went into that fight with a bad right hand that I probably connected with four times. I used my left hand the whole fight (stopped Ortega in six).

In October of 2005 Pavlik defeated Fulgencio Zuniga, 17-1-1, for the vacant NABF middleweight title stopping him in nine rounds in Las Vegas, NV.

KEN HISSNER: Zuniga’s only loss was in a world title fight with Daniel Santos for the WBO light middleweight title in 2003 in Puerto Rico. How tough a fight was that?

It was one of my toughest fights. Being from Colombia his skin was very dark and I smelled blood but didn’t know whose it was, his or mine. When I got back to the corner Jack Lowe wiped me down and couldn’t find any cuts so we knew it was Zuniga’s blood.

Pavlik would go onto stop former WBO light middleweight champion Bronco McKart, 48-6, in six rounds in July of 2006. McKart was knocked down twice and upon getting up the referee waved it off at the 2:45 mark of the sixth round with McKart walking to his corner without argument. It was Pavlik’s first NABF title defense.

KEN HISSNER: You were 27-0 at the time and McKart though past his prime was still a smart fighter. Is that how you found him to be?

In growing up Bronco was one of my favorites watching him on USA cable. We shared a car ride prior to the fight and I wanted to ask him for his autograph. He was very humble and a good skilled veteran.

Several fight’s later Pavlik would knockout the No. 1 contender in Jose Luis Zertuche, 19-3-2, in eight rounds in his second NABF title defense. Pavlik had Zertuche down in the seventh. In the eighth a devastating straight right hand to the chin of Zertuche had him out on his feet. As he started to fall forward Pavlik hit him with another right to end it at 1:48 of the eighth round.

KEN HISSNER: Did you think a win over Zertuche would earn you a title fight?

Yes I did until they told me I would have to fight Edison Miranda, 28-1 (24) in “another” elimination bout.

Pavlik would defeat the hard punching Edison Miranda stopping him in 7 rounds in a WBC eliminator to earn a title shot at Jermain Taylor for his WBC & WBO middleweight titles in Atlantic City, NJ, in September of 2007. This bout was held at the FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN.

KEN HISSNER: Miranda’s only loss was in a title fight to IBF champion Arthur Abraham in Germany. He then stopped Willie Gibbs, 20-1 and beat Allan Green, 23-0. He was some puncher wasn’t he?

I thought Miranda was beating Abraham. It would be a gut check for me. He would hurt you with a jab. I knew the only way to beat him was to back him into the ropes. If you boxed him he would hit you with those wide punches. You couldn’t let him get his feet set so I pushed him into the ropes and eventually stopped him.

Pavlik had Miranda down twice in the sixth round. The corner almost didn’t allow Miranda out. His right eye was near closed. In the seventh round Pavlik dropped Miranda for the third time causing referee Steve Smoger to wisely halt the fight. Like Pavlik has said “I’m a good finisher!” Merchant questioned Smoger’s taking too much time in the sixth round before allowing Miranda to go on but Pavlik told him “he spit his mouth piece out. The ref did a good job”.

Pavlik was 30-0 when he met WBC/WBO champion Jermain Taylor, 27-1-1, in Atlantic City, NJ. Taylor had defeated Bernard Hopkins to win the titles, then defeated him again with his first defense and was coming off a win over IBF light middleweight champion Cory Spinks. Pavlik was behind (58-55 twice and 59-54) coming into the seventh round. Taylor was interviewed in the dressing room after the fight and he said he ran out of gas. The interviewer asked “then who put all those lumps on your face?”

KEN HISSNER: You were behind after six rounds and were dropped in the second round. How did you ever recover from that knockdown?

I wasn’t hurt but my equilibrium (hit on left ear) affected my legs. I was able to get up and hold onto Taylor to get through the round. Steve Smoger was the referee and in the pre-fight instructions he told me (“I told Kelly and Jermain I will only intervene if I feel they are not capable of defending themselves. I told them that their individual safety and welfare was my main concern,” said Smoger) he doesn’t like to stop fights early but if he feels a fighter is in bad trouble he would stop it. I hurt him around the fourth round with a right hand body shot and he twitched. I knew he was wearing down and I would get him in time. Every dream I ever had in boxing came true that night.

During the after fight ring interview by Larry Merchant Pavlik thanked the Lord and referred to his daughter and when he was asked how he felt after the second round knockdown Pavlik said “we got up” showing he is a “team player” and not all about him. He acknowledged Taylor hit like “a mule” and that it was an accumulation of punches that took Taylor down at the end. This was a “rematch” from the 2000 Olympic trials when the 21 year-old Taylor defeated the 17 year-old Pavlik 11-5 and to go onto represent the USA winning a Bronze medal at the games in Sydney, Australia.

KEN HISSNER: Even though he couldn’t make the weight you were good enough to give him a re-match right?

I knew he would fight the same kind of fight though be a little smarter. In June of 2008 I covered his fight with Gary Lockett, 30-1, from the UK in Atlantic City, NJ, scoring a stoppage in 3 rounds.

Next up for Pavlik to the surprise of many four months later in October of 2008 Top Rank would bring in former champion Bernard Hopkins in a catch weight of 170. Pavlik could not get off that night. It seemed Hopkins was one step ahead of him at all times winning a decision.

KEN HISSNER: After the fight Pavlik came out with his promoter Bob Arum asking for a unification bout next. Paul Williams was mentioned as an opponent but Arum had other ideas in matching you with Bernard Hopkins, the former champion now a light heavyweight with a 170 agreement but he was 185 at fight time and you were 176. How did you feel about that?

He was a light heavyweight and I was coming up from middleweight. I hate to make excuses but since I will never fight again I’d like to speak out about that fight. I had bursitis in my left elbow and was only able to spar three times. I knew I shouldn’t fight but when I start something I like to finish it. I heard rumors I didn’t want to fight Williams but I would have rather fought him than move up in weight and fight Hopkins. I can say this now but didn’t want to make excuses back then and I don’t want to sound arrogant but I believe if I was 80% of myself I would have beaten both Hopkins and (Sergio) Martinez.

Just four months later Pavlik stopped Marco Antonio Rubio, 43-4-1, in nine rounds at the Chevrolet Centre in Youngstown, OH. All three judges had Pavlik in front by 90-81. Rubio and his corner called referee Frank Garza over and advised him they could not continue.

Pavlik would suffer with a staph infection after this bout on the knuckle of his left hand. It would be ten months before he fought again and back in Youngstown this time at the Beeghly Center stopping Miguel Angel Espino, 20-2-1, in five rounds. Espino was down twice in the fourth and once in the fifth rounds. All three judges had Pavlik in front 40-33.

KEN HISSNER: You were having your battles outside of the ring (with alcohol abuse) and when your manager Cameron Dunkin and promoter Bob Arum set you up to meet the top light middleweight contender Sergio Martinez, 44-2-2, I thought they were trying to get you out of the picture. I felt if you couldn’t hit Hopkins how would you ever hit the elusive Martinez? Why Martinez? He just lost to Paul Williams in his previous fight and drew with Kermit Cintron before that. A pair of light middleweights and on top of that two Spanish judges and you’re the champ?

I thought in spite of not being medically right I thought I was beating him on the score cards (He was behind 115-112, 115-111, 116-111). I had a staph infection on the knuckle on my left hand and was treated with an antibiotic (cortisone injection) that I was allergic too. It was serious enough I thought I could die. I had MRSA, a sometimes fatal strain of staph that resists broad-spectrum antibiotics. My wife diddn’t want me to fight but to cancel. She isn’t a materialistic person and felt I had made enough money up until then to live on. One of the commission members came to see me in my room prior to the fight and I was hooked up to IV’s and said he would allow the fight to go on. I was in no condition to fight. My jab was slow and my feet felt like they were in quick sand. I needed more than eighteen hours to re-coup after making weight.

It would be thirteen months before Pavlik would fight again when he took on young unbeaten Alfonso Lopez, 31-0. Pavlik came in at 170 and scored a majority decision. This was in May of 2011 and the only fight he would have in that year.

Pavlik was to fight in August against southpaw Darryl Cunningham, 23-2, as a “tune-up” for southpaw IBF super middleweight champion Lucian Bute in Montreal in November.

KEN HISSNER: What happened with you calling off the Cunningham fight a week prior to its happening?

My people were all out there selling tickets and for some reason I was never told how much I would get even fighting in my hometown. When I was told it would only be for $25,000 and on Sho-Box I turned it down. I had made $375,000 for the Miranda fight before winning the title. I made 2.5 million for the Taylor rematch, and the same for the Gary Lockett fight. I made three million for Hopkins, 1.1 million for Rubio, five hundred thousand for Espino, 2.5 million for Martinez and $275,000 for Lopez. Would you expect more than $25,000? (Was to get one million for Bute.)

Ten months later he had a new trainer in Robert Garcia in California and stopped Aaron Jaco, 15-2, in the 2nd round in San Antonio, TX.

“My manager Cameron Dunkin never liked Jack Lowe. Now that Jack has Willie Nelson they are buddies again. Believe me Cameron made me a lot of money. Top Rank told us to go to California and Garcia would be my new trainer. He was a good trainer.

It would be three months later when he stopped Scott Sigmon, 22-3, in seven rounds in Las Vegas.

KEN HISSNER: It was less than a month after defeating Sigmon you were put in with Will Rosinsky, 16-2, in July of 2012. Why so soon?

My manager Cameron Duncan came to be a week before the fight and said you are fighting in a week on HBO. I wasn’t ready for that and I knew Rosinsky was a good fighter and would find out he was also a good guy. (Pavlik had Rosinsky on the canvas in the second and went on to win a decision and it would be Pavlik’s last fight in July 2012).

KEN HISSNER: After your victory over Lockett from inside the ring you were pointing to four former world champions referring all being from Youngstown saying “home of champions like Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini (WBA lightweight champion also from the South Side of Youngstown), Harry Arroyo (IBF lightweight champion), Jeff Lampkin (IBF cruiserweight champion) and Greg “The Flea” Richardson (WBC bantamweight champion from the East Side). It wasn’t about him but a town he was proud to be from and the champions it produced.

I could never understand Mancini. When I tried to get all the champs together he was the only one that didn’t show up. It seemed the only time he came back to Youngstown was when he wanted something. I’d like to ask him about that someday. Few people know that his brother Lennie was better than Ray (but not dedicated like Ray).

KEN HISSNER: I met Mancini at an exhibit in King of Prussia, PA, when cut-man & promoter Joey Eye introduced him to me at the “Southpaw Wine” exhibition.

I had been the one approached about that but my dad Mike thought it would be a bad idea being what I had been going through (with alcohol). Mancini jumped right after it when I rejected it.

KEN HISSNER: I met Alexis Arguello in Easton, PA, at the office of Larry Holmes. He told me at the weigh-in he was sitting in a chair alone with his legs extended and pushing through the double doors were Mancini and his entourage like “here I am”. Arguello said he never moved an inch. Just took notice what was going on.

He carried Mancini because he knew how much Ray liked him prior to the fight. Who did he ever beat? Even Kim had brain injuries prior to their fight. Greg Haugen ended his career and said he never liked Mancini which made it that more special.

In January of this year Pavlik suffered a seizure. It wasn’t the first time he had a seizure. In July of 2013 he suffered one after he and his wife had taken his grandma to a nursing home. Fortunately there was an ambulance on site.

KEN HISSNER: Do you and your wife have any children?

My wife and I have two children, daughter Sydney is 8 and son Kelly Casper is 5. You know Casper the friendly ghost.

With a nickname like “The Ghost” could there be another on the risen called “Casper”?

Pavlik is only thirty-two and has had his up’s and downs but only lost two of forty-two fights and in last July it was two years since he last fought. He should be a shoo-in for the IBHOF in three years. He sounds like there will be no more boxing in his future. As a fan I hope he sticks to his plans, though I miss seeing him in the ring. He was always humble and willing to let the “other guys” share the limelight.

Long live “the Ghost”!

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