You know Bill, at that moment it is kind of surreal. Everything is moving so fast. It didn’t sink in. I don’t think it really sunk in until I got back home.
Kelly Pavlik on winning the world middleweight championship
He hails from the great fighting city of Youngstown, Ohio. Tough and talented, Kelly Pavlik would turn pro in 2000 and by the time he retired, a dozen years later, he had a resume that boasted names like Jermain Taylor and Bernard Hopkins, he had 2 world title belts in his trophy case, an impressive record of 40-2, (with 34 KO’s), a great run as an HBO main event star, and a reputation as one of boxing’s most exciting, middleweight champions.
Speaking from his home in Youngstown, Ohio, the friendly, well-spoken Pavlik, a married father of 2 children, (14,11), took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with Maxboxing about his career.
Bill Tibbs: Hi Kelly. Thanks for taking a few minutes to chat.
Kelly Pavlik: Hey, no problem Billy.
BT: You started boxing around age 10 if I recall?
KP: Yeah, I started boxing about age 9, 10, around that age. I was also playing football and baseball as well. But, I was involved in sports and took up boxing. I really liked it and then about age 14, 15 is when I really started to focus on it full time and do better in tournaments, started to think about maybe fighting professionally. You know as a kid, you are kind of in the moment, you don’t think, ‘I definitely want to be a pro boxer one day’, it is more a case of enjoying it at the time, but like I said, I was in other sports as well. But, yeah, about age 15 I really started to focus on boxing.
BT: What age did you decide you were getting more serious about just boxing and maybe you’d take a run at the pro’s?
KP: I guess around age16, 17 I was real serious about training, sparring with pro’s and really thinking about it as a career. I started to do well in the Junior PAL, The Golden Gloves, won the National (Under-19) Championships, things started to really go well around this age. Then a year later I sign with Top Rank and turn pro; I was still in high school actually.
BT: You turn pro in 2000, start to really develop, racking up the KO’s; looking very good. By 2005, you have an NABF title and then over the next year you start a run of really tough fights. From the summer of 2006, until your title fight in 2007, you didn’t exactly get put in soft (laughs) - Bronco McCart, Lenord Pierre, Jose Zertuchi and Edison Miranda. You had been doing great up to that point, but I think after those wins you were really turning some heads.
KP: Yeah, those were some tough guys. McCart was a big win for me. Was I expected to win? Yeah, sure I was. But, I don’t think anyone expected me to take him out the way I did. Bronco was a tough, experienced guy who had never been stopped. Yeah, he was a bit later in his career, so I was getting him when he wasn’t at his peak, but he was still a very experienced guy who had been in with some great fighters. That was a big win for me. We’ve connected on social media and he is great guy, one of the nicest guys you could meet, and we became friends which is great. But, yeah, that was a big win for me at that time. Pierre was a very experienced guy, Zertuchi was a Mexican Olympian who was very strong; some real tough fights.
BT: Lucky they gave you an easy one at the end in Miranda (laughs). I’m obviously being sarcastic, but seriously, most promoters would have avoided a dangerous puncher like that when you were so close to a title shot.
KP: Well, I was a set for a title shot at that point and I was sure it was coming, and I was just waiting. I wanted a title shot; I didn’t care who. I was ready to fight any of the champions. But, there were delays and I get the call from my manger Cameron (Duncan) and he says, “we’re not getting a title shot just yet but we’ve got Edison Miranda”. It wasn’t a question; he was just telling me (laughs). I was like, ‘Ok, here we go, I guess; Edison Miranda it is’.
BT: It was such an impressive win in the way that you beat him. You beat him at his own game and really handled him physically.
KP: He was a strong guy, and he could hit, but we were sure if we could back him up, we could get to him as he didn’t like to fight backing up. So, my plan was to be on him and force the fight, right from the start, and we got the stoppage.
BT: Next is your title shot. That was such an exciting night. Not only do you win the title you beat a very well-respected fighter doing it. I mean this is a guy with a deep resume – Winky Wright, Bernard Hopkins, Raul Marquez, to name just a few. You beat a very good fighter, and impressively! You went on to stop him, but you were hurt in that second round. What was going through your mind when he dropped you?
KP: It’s funny because there are different reactions to getting caught with a shot. Sometimes your legs are gone but your head is very clear. Other times you’re feeling strong but get buzzed and you can’t get your head sorted out. I was very clear as to what was going on. In fact, I could hear certain people, and I could name specifically who it was, who were yelling certain things at me at that time. My legs were gone a bit, but my head was very clear. The referee told me he wouldn’t stop it if either of us were hurt if we could show that we were aware of what was going on and could still defend ourselves. When the fight resumed, I tied him up and got my legs back and then I got out of the round. Then, the next round I really came on and took it to him again. I think he was surprised how hard I came back the very next round.
BT: I think the fight, and Taylor, both changed dramatically in the third round when you came back so hard after he hurt you. Your corner told you he was going to come at you, but you went right at him, took control, backed him up and took over again. That must have really demoralized him mentally – Like, ‘What do I have to do to stop this guy?’ (laughs).
KP: Exactly. I think I took over again and pretty much controlled him until I stopped him in the seventh. I think I gave him the fifth round but other than that I felt I controlled the fight. I was very surprised when they told me he was ahead at the time of the stoppage. But, in the end, I was obviously just thrilled to have my first world title.
BT: Every boxer dreams of a world title and now you are standing there getting the world title put around your waist. What were you feeling at that exact moment?
KP: You know Bill, at that moment it is kind of surreal. Everything is moving so fast. It didn’t sink in. I don’t think it really sunk in until I got back home. But, everything kind of changed in the blink of an eye. I’m involved with charities, endorsements, it is busy, your time is taken up with new commitments. It is great, and it is what you dream of, but it is kind of surreal and at times it’s a bit crazy. My wife was good about helping me keep it together because once you win the title, in a city that isn’t that big, it gets real busy and everything changes really fast. Everything was moving so fast all the time.
BT: I was going to say when you go back to Youngstown a world champion, I’m sure you were somewhat well known around town before that, but it must have gone to a new level.
KP: Yes, I was known a bit around town, especially after the Miranda fight and getting closer to the title. But, after you wrap that strap around your waist, things do change. It is a whole new level when you can call yourself a world champion. The city was great. I will say this, that there are no better fans in boxing than Youngstown fans. The way they supported my fights, it was crazy. They’d load up the buses and come to my fights in Atlantic City and they were louder than the British fans for Ricky Hatton. And, if you can out yell them you are loud (laughs). But, yeah, Youngstown fans are really the best boxing fans out there.
BT: You win the title in the fall of 2007 and there is a rematch in February of 2008. And, you beat him at his own game. You banged him out of there the first time and then look very impressive outboxing him in the second fight.
KP: The second win, my first title defense, was a very satisfying win because I showed my boxing skills and beat him that way. People knew I could punch but I was glad I was able to show my boxing skills and beat him the second time that way. People could see that I was more than just a puncher, so it was good to have a fight where I really showcased my boxing skills as well.
BT: You have a great win in your second title defense against a strong British fighter, Gary Lockett, four months later. Then four months after that you finish the year with your first loss as a pro to Bernard Hopkins. What do you recall about that night?
KP: I’m not going to lie to you, it was not my night. But, no excuses, he beat me fair and square. I was fighting a lot above my natural weight and taking him in a non-title fight. But, the money was very good and when you get a chance to fight a legend like Hopkins you take it. I always wanted the big fights, and he was as big as it gets. He was a very awkward guy. His moves are very subtle. The big thing with him was the foot work. People don’t necessarily think of footwork when you think of Hopkins, but his feet and body movements make him very hard to hit. Slight little turns, small shoulder rolls that just throw you off, throw your rhythm off. A very talented guy and a hard guy to fight. When I am working with some of the young fighters I work with now, when we talk about footwork, you better believe it is Bernard Hopkins I’ll have them look at. But, overall, looking back it was good money and a chance to fight a legend. I am a competitive guy, so I hate to lose, but it was a learning experience and look at who I lost to. Maybe one of the best middleweights of all time, I lost to a legend. He’s not flashy, he’s very slick and subtle in his moves and he makes it hard to fight him. Bernard’s a great fighter.
BT: Over 2009, a couple of great title defences, and in Youngstown. That must have been fun to fight in your hometown.
KP: It was great to be able to have some title defences at home as like I said the fans were always so great about supporting me fighting away from home, so it was nice to fight there. Like I said, Youngstown fans are the best fans out there.
BT: Then in the spring of 2010, you drop a decision to Sergio Martinez. What do you remember about that fight?
KP: Yeah, I must admit at that time I didn’t have the hunger 100%. I have to say that weight was a big issue in the fight. the commentators even mentioned that in the fight. I mean when you think about it, I was making the same weight I made as a teenager a decade earlier. But, that’s not an excuse. I had won the title, had made some title defenses and maybe I was just didn’t have the desire at that particular time I needed. I had to get something to get me going again. I was in my late 20’s and always said I’d be retired by age 30. I don’t know what it was. But, with Martinez, you know, a great fighter, not my best night, but he had my number that night.
BT: The age (30) number, was that for health reasons?
KP: Absolutely. You can’t stay too long in boxing because you can end up hurt. I always kind of had that in mind that I wasn’t going to stay in boxing too long and I’d be out by age 30. That’s why I always wanted the biggest fights I could get because I knew I wasn’t going to be fighting for a real long career that just goes on and on. I always had that age, 30, as a sort of a time to look at retiring from boxing. It’s a rough sport and you have to get out at the right time.
BT: After the Martinez bout, you decide a change is needed and you decide to head out west to California to work with Robert Garcia?
KP: Like I said, after the loss to Martinez, I must admit the fire was missing a bit. Top Rank had been talking to me about getting a new trainer, maybe hearing a new voice, get in a new atmosphere, might light the fires. I think Top Rank was thinking that they could see I was losing my focus I had before, and they wanted me to try to change things up. The move out west was something that I did because I thought it might help get me motivated. It had nothing to do with wanting to switch trainers from (long time trainer) Jack Loew; he had been like an older brother to me for years. I didn’t wake up one day and decide I wanted to move out to California as I really am a hometown guy. But, I must say, I went out there and Robert Garcia, his family, the guys at his gym, were great. They welcomed me with open arms, and I learned a lot and it was great. I had a couple of wins, got my feet wet again, but I was looking at getting a couple more big fights in, if possible, then I was going to retire. Paul Williams, Arthur Abraham; I always wanted the big names. That is why I jumped up to light heavy to fight Hopkins. There were negotiations for a fight with Andre Ward and that got me very fired up. I was very motivated for that fight. I mean who wouldn’t want to have a fight with a Hall of Fame fighter like that on your record. But, unfortunately he injured his shoulder and the fight got called off. I think the Super 6 tournament was going on then, it was going to be like a year or something for another big fight to come along and I decided it was time to wrap it up and head home. So, I retired. I mean, originally, the move to Oxnard got me motivated a little bit but it was also around this time that I realized I didn’t have the passion for it like I once did.
BT: Any regrets leaving when you did?
KP: I felt good leaving boxing because I had accomplished a lot of what I wanted, maybe more than people thought I ever would. Nobody was happier than my wife (laughs). She never liked me fighting. My Mom never watched a fight live, she’d watch it on tape after but couldn’t watch it live. No, I have no regrets. I was happy with my career but was also happy to be walking away healthy and on my terms. I had a great manager in Cameron Duncan who was good with me and did a good job with my investments and so I didn’t have to keep fighting; I was in a good position that way.
BT: What are you up to these days?
KP: I am pretty busy these days. We opened a fitness centre and with the success of that one we are looking at opening a second one. I have a Sweet Science APP that we are working on right now that does a ton of stuff for athletes, it’s really amazing. It lays out everything – diet, exercise, menu planning, specific foods you need, portions, it does everything. And, it has boxing exercises, techniques, punching, everything. I am working on that with a retired fighter from here, Billy Lyell, who is a friend, and his wife is a certified nutritionist who is working with us. We are working on developing sports testing that can be applied to all sports – baseball, basketball, football, you name it. It records all your numbers and specifically helps you develop areas you need to work on for a particular sport or particular position. It’s going to be used for sports testing throughout the country. And, we are looking at opening a boxing gym for youth, free for kids 12-18. It is going to have counselling, tutoring for school; everything. I’ve got my podcast. Yeah, it’s busy, but that’s good.
BT: Kelly, I can’t tell you how great it was catch up with you and talk about your career; and what a career. 40 wins, 3 titles, 2 world titles – outstanding! Continuing that tradition of great Youngstown fighters. And, thank you for being so generous with your time.
KP: Yeah, looking back, you know we won some big fights, 2 world titles, 3 titles in all. Only 2 losses in 42 bouts and that was to two great fighters. I can’t complain.
BT: Thank you again for doing this Kelly; a real pleasure chatting with you.
KP: No problem Bill; happy to do it.