There’s nothing quite like fighting in your hometown, in front of a mad throng of well wishers who cheer themselves hoarse at the site of you. And there’s nothing like heading down to the familiar and friendly confines of a weight class best suited for you, after trying out a division that didn’t suit your talent or frame in the least. Kelly Pavlik looked completely comfortable and totally in charge at the Chevrolet Center in Youngstown, Ohio, fighting in front of his fan club, and in the middleweight division, against Marco Antonio Rubio on Saturday night. He smacked Rubio around the ring, with everything and anything he threw, and forced the challenger to retire on his stool after the ninth round. The bout resembled a sparring match, and it is entirely possible that he received a stiffer challenge in sparring preparing for this scrap than he did from Rubio.

Son of Youngstown Pavlik retained his WBC and WBO middleweight belts, which weren’t on the line in his 170 pound showdown with Bernard Hopkins on Oct. 18.

Pavlik, age 26, came in with a 34-1 record. He weighed 160 pounds. The Mexican Rubio, age 28, entered the ring with a 43-4-1 mark, and weighed 159 pounds. “There's no place like home,” Pavlik said after. “We put the Hopkins loss behind us. Rubio came to fight and he didn't back down.”

In the first round, Pavlik was aggressive. He dug in a left hook, and some sharp rights. Rubio looked hesitant to taste Pavlik’s power. In round two, Rubio again backed up, and seemed unable to pick a strategy. He has a decent jab, but wasn’t trying to get it off. He heard it from his corner after the round.  In the third, Pavlik banged rights to the body against Rubio, who was a bit busier.

In the fourth, the undersized, under-enthused Rubio ate more shots. His turtle defense left copious openings for Pavlik, who calmly chose his spots, and then unloaded, repeatedly.

In the fifth, Rubio countered with spirit a few times, but he still lost the round, badly. In the sixth, Rubio woke up. At the end of the round, he was handing it to the Ohioan. Maybe this would graduate from a  sparring match into a world title fight after all! In the seventh, Rubio reverted to his previous self. Pavlik looked sharp, well on his way to a near shutout decision, if not a late stop.

In the eighth, Rubio was hurt by a straight right. It buckled him and a stoppage loomed. But he stayed on his feet, and answered often enough to prevent a TKO. In round nine,  Rubio ate leather, once again. He kept his hands up, we’ll say that for him. His corner saw his body language after the round, and all agreed that no more punishment was in order.

SPEEDBAG Fans who saw the Miguel Cotto-Michael Jennings tiff saw the Pavlik-Rubio event on big screen in the arena. More than half the Cotto fans didn’t bother to stick around.