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King Without A Kingdom

Kelly Pavlik finds himself in the right place at the wrong time. He is champion in a division rich in history but one currently bankrupt in big name opponents. It is a situation that could get a boxer down, but Pavlik doesn't seem to mind. He just wants to fight.

They say every great fighter needs a great opponent to define him. Kelly Pavlik can look up, down and sideways through the middleweight division and not find anyone who remotely fits that description. The 10 fighters ranked below champion Pavlik in Ring Magazine are not exactly the usual suspects, but they sure come close.

Of the two other champions in Pavlik's division -- Arthur Abraham and Felix Sturm -- both are Europeans fighting almost exclusively out of Germany, and would have a hard time filling up your local movie theatre, let alone a major U.S. boxing venue.

Of the remaining eight fighters ranked by Ring, only 36-year-old Winky Wright has any name brand recognition, and he's coming off a loss to Bernard Hopkins and has never been much of a draw. The rest of the bunch is even less inspiring: Sebastian Sylvester, Amin Asikainen, Randy Griffin, Javier Castillejo, Raymond Joval, David Lopez and Giovanni Lorenzo. If you haven't heard of some or even all of them, don't feel bad. You've got plenty of company.

"The middleweight division is nowhere near as strong as it has been in the past," said Cameron Dunkin, Pavlik's manager. "Who is out there that would make a big fight? Abraham and Sturm are the other champions, but nobody here knows them, they are not big pay days."

When Dunkin looks down the ranks at the new wave of middleweight prospects, he is hardly encouraged. "There's nobody coming up that I can see now who is all that exciting," Dunkin says.

When 2008 started, the two most-hyped middleweight prospects were John Duddy and Andy Lee. But by the end of March, both had significantly lost the luster on their shining stars. Top Rank, which promotes Pavlik, had been targeting Duddy for a possible June fight in Madison Square Garden. But when Top Rank president Bob Arum went to the Garden on Feb. 23 to see Duddy fight, he came away disappointed.

Duddy (24-0, 17 KOs) was matched up with the proverbial "designated opponent," Walid Smichet (17-3-3). Yet not only did Duddy barely eke out a close majority decision while getting rocked repeatedly with right hands, but he sustained several cuts which required 23 stitches. Duddy has since changed trainers from the world class conditioner Don Turner to Pat Burns, who took Jermain Taylor to a championship, but it remains to be seen if it will make much of a difference.

Most of the hype on Lee was coming from his manager and Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward, who is certainly no stranger to great fighters. Steward trumpeted on more than one occasion last year and early in 2008 that, "Andy Lee is ready to fight Pavlik right now," and expected his young Irish boxer to be a champion by the end of the year.

But on March 21 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, the then-unbeaten Lee suffered a stunning seventh round TKO to unranked former Contender show graduate, Brian Vera and lost any momentum he had been building.

"Andy Lee was a guy who was really being pushed by everybody, and he'll probably get there. But he won't have the same push after that loss," Dunkin said.

Despite having his defensive flaws exposed by Smichet, Duddy remains on Dunkin's radar, if only for the considerable drawing power he has demonstrated in New York.

"Duddy is still a big fight," Dunkin said. "I know it would be a regional one, but in New York at the Garden it would be a huge fight. They'd pack the Garden. Kelly would bring 7,000 or 8,000 of his fans, and so would Duddy."

Even Arum did not rule out a Pavlik-Duddy fight when he said last month, "There is still a chance of Duddy meeting Pavlik for the belts later in the year or early in 2009." "However, let's see how he progresses in the meantime. He is still an exciting prospect with a big following, and the door is always open."

2008 06 07 Pavlik Lockett feature Gary Pavlik

For the moment, Pavlik (31-0, 29 KOs) is set to fight one of his mandatory challengers, 31-year-old Brit Gary Lockett (30-1, 21 KOs) on June 7 in Atlantic City. How the sanctioning body ranked the Enzo Calzaghe-trained Lockett as a number one challenger is anybody's guess. Lockett, who has fought only in the UK, is unranked by two other sanctioning bodies and is 20th with the other. The opponents Lockett beat in his last three fights hardly earned him a title shot: Kai Kauramaki (13-13), Lee Blundell (23-4-2) and Ayiteh Powers (11-4-1).

"Kelly is taking his mandatory and he is getting hammered for it," Dunkin said. "The writers think nothing of Lockett. But if Kelly doesn't fight Lockett he loses his WBO belt. He doesn't want to lose that belt. He loves those belts. People are saying, 'Why are you fighting this guy?' But who do you fight? Who is out there? Tell me the names of the people."

For now, Dunkin is resigned to the fact that in order to get a money fight for the 6'2 1/2 Pavlik he will have to go up in weight, where he has been mentioned by both Joe Calzaghe and Roy Jones Jr. as a possible opponent.

"Super middleweight is a whole different thing," Dunkin said. "You've got some big fights there, but those 168-pound guys are old. I am not sure that anyone at 168 would become a defining fight for Kelly."

Should Pavlik fight at super middleweight, it would not be a permanent move by any means. "Kelly is willing to bounce back and forth between 160 and 168, but he wants to keep his belts at 160," Dunkin said. "Kelly is a true middleweight. He has no problem making 160. In fact, last Friday (May 16) he was walking around at 163 1/2 pounds. We had to shut the gym down for the weekend to keep him from losing more weight. It's unfortunate that he has to change divisions just to make a fight."

While Dunkin, who was voted the 2007 Manager of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, is frustrated by the situation, he reports that Pavlik apparently is not.

"Kelly is training harder for this fight - and I know you hear this bullshit all the time - but Kelly is fired up to fight Lockett," Dunkin said. "He just loves to fight, loves the action, the event. I never have to worry about Kelly's interest lagging. He waited seven years for a title fight and never lost focus, never complained."

Throughout Pavlik's journey to the top he did not get the hype or publicity that Duddy and Lee had. "Nobody believed in him when he was coming up. They just saw him as this big, overprotected white kid," Dunkin said. "(Edison) Miranda was a sensational victory (2007) because nobody thought he could win. Why, I don't know. Miranda was a name only in the little boxing community, not someone the public would perceive as a big deal. If Kelly broke Abraham's jaw (4th round) like Miranda did, do you think he would run away from Abraham like Miranda? He would have taken him out.

"Then Kelly fights a sensational fight against Taylor, knocks him out. But after the fight they say Taylor no longer wants to do this, and it tarnished the victory. If Kelly fights Abraham or Sturm, so what? People will say they are just European fighters, who have they beaten?"

It is ironic that Calzaghe has prominently mentioned Pavlik as a possible next opponent, because the Welsh fighter was for many years in the same bag as the Youngstown, Ohio middleweight. The super middleweight division which Calzaghe has dominated for almost 11 years has been one lacking in quality opponents. The last time 168 had superstars was in the early 1990s, when Jones, James Toney, Nigel Benn, Iran Barkley, Michael Nunn and the man Calzaghe dethroned, Chris Eubank, were champions.

"In some way, Kelly is in the same boat that Calzaghe was," Dunkin said. "Calzaghe was criticized for his opponents. Before the Lacy fight, people thought he was a fraud, a white European fighter who would get destroyed by Jeff Lacy."

Despite the barren landscape that Pavlik finds himself in, Dunkin is confident that his fighter will secure his legacy one day.

"Kelly is just 25, and look what he has accomplished already. He wants to fight six or seven more years," Dunkin said. "Someone eventually will come along; there is always somebody who will emerge. Not every Andy Lee will fall through. I just wish a young Vargas was coming up, or a De La Hoya, a young Hopkins, a Toney or a Jones. But I'm not worried. Kelly is a throwback to the old-time fighters. He will fight anyone."

With no palace revolt on the horizon, King Pavlik will have to settle for ruling a domain populated by a long list of those "anyones."

"The middleweight division is nowhere near as strong as it has been in the past," said Cameron Dunkin, Pavlik's manager. "Who is out there that would make a big fight? Abraham and Sturm are the other champions, but nobody here knows them, they are not big pay days."

Posted 12:00 AM | May 27, 2008

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