Kelly Pavlik holds the WBC and WBO middleweight titles and was one of boxing's brightest lights two years ago. But after the only loss of his career in a non-title bout 18 months ago against Bernard Hopkins and two aborted dates last year with Paul Williams, he has been absent from boxing's main stage.
Pavlik (36-1, 32 KOs) ends his exile from the spotlight Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City when he puts his belts on the line against Sergio Martinez (44-2-2, 24 KOs), who lost a controversial majority decision to Williams in December as a substitute for Pavlik. "I am back," Pavlik said at the final prefight news conference Wednesday in Manhattan. "Martinez is tough. If he's looking for a war, I'm definitely going to be there. It's going to be a show, believe me."
The bout is the second act of an HBO doubleheader that begins with IBF super middleweight champ Lucien Bute against Edison Miranda from Montreal. The fact is that Pavlik's star has fallen just enough that he needs this fight as a major step toward rebuilding his credibility.
"I think it's probably one of the most important fights of his career," said Jack Loew, Pavlik's trainer. "I wouldn't say it's a career-defining fight, but it's absolutely a stepping stone to bigger and better things, and that doesn't include Paul Williams."
Pavlik's two scheduled bouts with Williams were canceled for health reasons, the last one in December because Pavlik was recovering from a serious staph infection to a finger on his left hand. He was well enough to fight two weeks later and score a fifth-round TKO over Miguel Espino in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, but a third attempt to schedule a bout with Williams failed for financial reasons.
Pavlik is among those who thought Martinez defeated Williams, so he has trained as hard as ever for the awkward southpaw. "This fight is the best I've felt after any camp I've had," Pavlik said. Describing the condition of his left hand, he added, "It has full flexibility and is able to hit with no problems . . . For my sake and for my fans, to go out and look dominant would be a big plus."
If Pavlik can beat Martinez impressively, it will pave the way to something much bigger against Antonio Margarito, who is making his comeback in May from a one-year suspension. "If they're looking for Kelly and a Hispanic fighter in Dallas Stadium," Loew said of new Cowboys Stadium, "we'd love to accommodate them."