Please update your flash player...

Spotlight On: Kelly Pavlik

The city of Youngstown has two legacies. For much of the 20th Century, the Ohio town was known as one of the world's major producers of steel. Today, that heritage is long gone. The only steel Youngstown can brag about now lies in the fists of its boxers.

Like the city he is from, Kelly Pavlik is known for his power production. The 24-year-old middleweight has won all 29 of his fights, and more significantly to the folks back home, he did it their way, pounding out 26 of his victories by knockout.

Pavlik, who will fight Saturday night on HBO's "Boxing After Dark," is the latest in an impressive line of Youngstown bangers, tracing back to the early 1980s. For a city of only 80,000 people, Youngstown has produced four world champions, three of which were knockout artists - Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, Harry Arroyo and Jeff Lampkin. And although Earnie Shavers, one of the hardest punchers in boxing history, grew up in Warren, 16 miles away, he fought out of Youngstown,

"Typical of most fighters from that area, Kelly comes to fight and takes no prisoners," said Bruce Trampler, chief matchmaker for Top Rank the past 24 years.

It is ironic that just as the last of the Youngstown steel companies were all but down for the count in 1979, the following year saw Mancini, Arroyo and Lampkin all make their pro debuts, by knockout naturally. Over the course of their careers, the three Youngstown boxers -- and Shavers -- left in their wake a tremendous percentage of knockout victims. Consider the numbers.

Mancini fought from 1980 to 1992, won 29 times with 23 by KO. Arroyo (1980-93), although more of a finesse fighter than banger, still earned 30 of his 40 victories by stoppage. Lampkin (1980-97) racked up 34 knockouts in 39 victories. Shavers, whom Muhammad Ali has said hit him harder than any man he had ever fought, including George Foreman, was a wrecking machine, pounding out 68 of his 74 victories by stoppage.

The combined number of victories the four fighters won by knockout was 155 out of 182, a stunning 91 percent. The only other Youngstown champion was bantamweight Greg Richardson, whose alias, "The Flea" sums up nicely why he only shows a pitiful five KOs among his 31 wins.

"Youngstown barely has 80,000 people now, but we have four world champions and I'm going to be the fifth," Pavlik said proudly.

Pavlik, who first stepped into Jack Lowe's Southside Gym to box when he was 10, is not only well aware of his city's boxing tradition, but is friends with Mancini and Arroyo, the latter of whom he used to spar with as a teenager.

"I've known Mancini since the beginning of my career, when he expressed some interest in managing me," Pavlik said. "We talk all the time. He's friends with my trainer, Jack Lowe, so he'll stop in the gym from time to time and help out."

Pavlik first met Arroyo in the gym. "When I was 15, I sparred with Arroyo (41 at the time and retired). He wouldn't go full out, but he was full of tricks, and you could see he had so much experience."

A student of the game, Pavlik has studied Mancini and Arroyo fights on DVD.

"Mancini was a hard-nosed, straight ahead fighter. Harry was different, he was slicker," Pavlik said. "I swear he (Arroyo) must have had the slowest upper cut to the body I ever saw, but he always landed when he threw it, same with his jab. Their careers are an inspiration to me to win a world title."

Although Pavlik has not demonstrated it much as a pro, he has some pretty slick boxing moves of his own.

"When I was an amateur (89-9 record), I had good boxing skills, with a lot of hand speed. I was out-boxing people, and I was hard to hit. That's why friends on my amateur team nicknamed me 'The Ghost,'" Pavlik said. It is an alias he still uses today, although Kelly Pavlik is no ghost. His victims know right where to find him -- up in their faces slinging leather.

Pavlik and his trainer have been working at utilizing his boxing skills more in his last two fights, but it is unlikely that his opponent Saturday night, Jose Luis Zertuche (19-3-2, 14 KOs), will see much in the way of finesse.

"Being on HBO should really help my career. It's very important to me to be impressive, so I have been training very hard," Pavlik said.

Translated, that means Pavlik is gunning for another KO notch.

About the only opponent who has given Pavlik trouble is his own hands. Since 2002, he has been plagued by hand problems, which led to a frustrating medical journey for the young fighter.

"Our plan is to win a middleweight title, then move up to 168 pounds. It's easier moving up when you have a title, because then you don't have to start over in the rankings. It is getting harder to make middleweight, so I am definitely going up."

"We went from doctor to doctor, and I had X-rays and MRIs, and they couldn't find anything," Pavlik said. "I felt like people thought I was a big sissy, and I started to think maybe I should just ignore the pain. Then a year and a half ago, we went to another doctor and he diagnosed it as post trauma arthritis, which he said was very painful if you were a fighter. So now I go to him for ultra sound treatment and other therapies. I have not had one problem with it sparring and banging it up like crazy. I don't even have to put ice or heat on."

Good news for Pavlik, bad for his opponents.

While 29-0, Pavlik's resume is not overly impressive when it comes to the quality of his opponents. Some have criticized Top Rank and Pavlik's manager, Cameron Dunkin, of bringing him along too carefully, although matchmaker Trampler does not agree.

"It's not that anyone is bringing him along slowly, it's more a case of what was the hurry to get him where he is," Trampler said. "We at Top Rank believe in building solid foundations, so that the house doesn't crumble. Pavlik was a good all-around high school athlete, but is a late bloomer physically. When he came to us, he was like a gangly colt who took some time to get his legs under him."

Like most young fighters, however, Pavlik wanted to come out of the gate running. "It's been a little frustrating for me," Pavlik said. "I've been a pro for seven years, and that's kind of a long time without a title shot. Usually guys fight four or five years and then get a shot."

In July of 2006, Pavlik made a strong case that he is ready to face top caliber middleweights. In taking on former world champion Bronco McKart, then 34 with a 48-6 record, Pavlik was in with a boxer whose losses largely came at the hands of champion-caliber fighters. McKart was defeated by Winky Wright three times, once to former world champion Verno Phillips and also to unbeaten Travis Simms, current junior middleweight champion.

What made Pavlik's victory over McKart particularly impressive, is that he won on a sixth round TKO. It was the first time in 55 career fights that McKart was stopped.

To move up to the next level, there has been subtle pressure on Pavlik to switch from Lowe, the only trainer he has known, to someone more accustomed to conditioning champions. Pavlik has remained loyal to Lowe, however, and while he has permitted other trainers to work with them on occasion, his teenage mentor is still the Man.

"I've seen a lot of guys leave a trainer and it didn't work out well," Pavlik said. "Look at Jermain Taylor. I don't think he has improved at all under Manny Steward, and he's the best trainer in the world. I have been with Jack since I was 10, he owns the gym, and he's my trainer."

The only "blemish" on Pavlik's record came outside the ring. In December of 2005, he got into an altercation of much-disputed description with an off-duty sheriff outside Shenanigan's bar in Youngstown. Initially he was charged with felonious assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Pavlik's account, and that of his friends, differs sharply from the sheriff's, but the boxer decided to accept a pleas agreement in which the felonious assault charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and the resisting and disorderly charges, both misdemeanors, were dismissed. He received probation and community service. Pavlik felt like contesting the charge, but chose not to in order to keep his career on track. "I had a fight coming up, so I didn't want to get hung up in court fighting it," Pavlik said.

The chief assistant city prosecutor, Anthony Farris, went out of his way afterwards to make it clear that Pavlik was not the type to brawl at bars.

"He's not a guy who's been in trouble," Farris was quoted as saying. "I've been prosecuting cases here for 10 years and I've never heard anything bad about him. He's not a troublemaker. In fact, we're all proud of him. We want him to become champ."

Trampler feels Pavlik will get that chance this year. "If he beats Zertuche, just by process of elimination he should earn a title shot in '07," Trampler said. At nearly 6'-3, Pavlik is significantly taller than all the best middleweights in the division, including Taylor (6'-1), Wright (5'-10 1/2), Edison Miranda (6'-0) and Arthur Abraham (5'-10). As such, Pavlik will make a good fit at super middleweight.

"Our plan is to win a middleweight title, then move up to 168 pounds. It's easier moving up when you have a title, because then you don't have to start over in the rankings. It is getting harder to make middleweight, so I am definitely going up." And undoubtedly leaving more people on the canvas along the way, in the best Youngstown tradition.

"I've seen a lot of guys leave a trainer and it didn't work out well," Pavlik said. "Look at Jermain Taylor. I don't think he has improved at all under Manny Steward, and he's the best trainer in the world. I have been with Jack since I was 10, he owns the gym, and he's my trainer."

Posted 12:00 AM | Jan 27, 2007

Jorge Arce vs. Julio Ler

HBO Boxing After Dark - Jan. 27, 2007

Pavlik vs Zertuche

Related Media

`