Bob Arum gushes over this kid, though you don’t know if it’s from the heart or just a sales pitch. Arum could open an umbrella concession in Death Valley and somehow make it rain.
Right now, Arum is selling undefeated middleweight Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik of Youngstown, Ohio, a white kid in a sport dominated by minorities.
He calls Pavlik a “banger,” one of those rare punchers who comes along once every few years and suddenly puts up drop-your-jaw knockout numbers. See: Tyson, Mike.
Pavlik’s got the numbers in the correct order all right. He’s 27-0 with 24 knockouts if you don’t count that off-duty cop he took a swing at in early December outside a Youngstown bar.
But overall, the official list of casualties doesn’t ring a lot of bells. Still, you figure Pavlik, 23, had to run into a few guys who knew how to plant themselves before throwing a straight right-hand. After all, he’s the NABF middleweight champ and he’s rated in the top 10 on just about everybody’s list of top middleweights.
“[Pavlik] is the biggest banger in boxing,” Arum said on a recent conference call promoting Pavlik’s Jan. 21 fight with Jose Luis Zertuche (17-2-2) on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao – Erik Morales fight in Las Vegas (HBO, pay-per-view). “He’s the guy everyone in the middleweight division is afraid to fight because he hits so hard.”
Pavlik, who is listed at 6-foot-3, sounds like a nice guy, but being high profile, he still has to learn the ropes outside the ring. His little bar incident – he was apparently being escorted out – led to his arrest after he threatened a deputy and then punched him. According to reports, the deputy wisely used pepper spray to gain control of the “banger.” Pavlik pleaded no contest to a reduced assault charge and faces jail time for punching a Mahoning County deputy sheriff. Sentencing is set for mid-February.
Boys will be boys.
But asked about the incident on the conference call, Pavlik took the low road.
“That whole situation was blown way out of proportion by the media, which happens with fighters or any sports stars,” he said.
That’s the cheap way out, Kelly, unless you didn’t actually throw that punch. You’ve got a set of shoulders, put the blame up there where it belongs and live with it. Don’t try to pass it off. The media didn’t threaten a cop that night. If you were a used car salesman, no one would care. But you’re not. Your name in headlines is the price you pay for being a pro athlete. That’s both the good news and the bad.
“I never should have been in that situation and it’s very embarrassing,” he said. “I guarantee you will never hear something like that again about my name. I definitely have to get that in the past.”
Now, back to boxing.
Asked to look a little ways past the Zertuche fight, Arum said the guy they really want for Pavlik is middleweight champ Jermain Taylor. And Arum said he’s confident Pavlik can beat him.
“But here’s the problem,” Arum said. “The Taylor people will not fight at this point against Kelly Pavlik because they’re afraid of him. He presents a real danger. He has tremendous knockout power, and in boxing, if you have a champion, you try to keep him away from a puncher.”
Which makes it a tough fight to put together. So what do you do? Arum says he’s trying.
“If an entity like HBO stops rolling over and giving spots to the Sam Solimans of the world, guys who are pretty decent fighters but can’t punch or anything … They’re talking about Taylor fighting Sam Soliman on HBO. Well that’s ludicrous.”
Arum, who is trying to pitch the Taylor-Pavlik fight to HBO, said he offered Pavlik as an opponent to Winky Wright, but instead, the Wright camp went with Soliman in an HBO fight last month.
“They don’t want to risk their champion against a kid who can punch and fight like Kelly Pavlik,” Arum said. “And there’s a second thing. There is a perception – and we might as well be clear about it – there’s a perception with boxing network guys and boxing people that if you’re a white guy, you can’t fight. But that’s not the case with Kelly Pavlik. Kelly Pavlik will fight anybody in the middleweight division. Anybody. Kelly Pavlik will be a huge star in boxing. You can write it down now.”