YOUNGSTOWN - Kelly Pavlik has always known exactly what he wanted to say. He just couldn't say it.
His point didn't come across with local reporters. It didn't come across with Sports Illustrated. It didn't come across with ESPN or numerous boxing publications.
How could it?
Kelly Pavlik works out with trainer Jack Lowe at Southside Boxing in Youngstown. Pavlik (36-2, 32 KO) returns to action Saturday, May 7 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on the undercard of Manny Pacquaio-Shane Mosley against Alfonzo Lopez (21-0, 16 KO). (Salem News/B.J. Lisko)
Pavlik was in a sticky situation. He had won the WBC and WBO middleweight titles. He had become a Youngstown hero. Then suddenly, on top of the world, the rumors started.
The drinking rumors. The public fight rumors. The domestic fight rumors. Pavlik wasn't hurt according to his critics. According to his critics he didn't have a problem with his hand other then he used it too often for 12-ounce curls. The media jumped on it and asked Pavlik about the rumors constantly only making "The Ghost" want to be invisible for real.
Every day there was seemingly someone claiming something about Pavlik that either was highly exaggerated or simply untrue.
The Best of Pavlik - While "The Ghost" is obviously in training for his first passion in boxing, Pavlik has an interest in a lot of other things. Here's "The Best" according to Kelly Pavlik.
BEST DINNER: "Homemade pasta and meatballs."
BEST EVER OPPONENT:"Jermaine Taylor - the total package."
BEST GOLF SCORE:"81 at Bedford Trails."
BEST THING ABOUT YOUNGSTOWN: "It's home. It's comfortable."
BEST BAND:"It's all close. There's too many I like the same - Avenged
Sevenfold, Metallica, Pantera, Lamb of God, Slayer, Queen, Slipknot, Mudvayne."
BEST THING ABOUT BEING KELLY PAVLIK:"I get to be who I really am."
"Really the only thing that kind of gets to me about the critics is them counting me out because I had some issues going on," Pavlik said.
The former champ returns to the ring May 7 in Las Vegas against Alfonzo Lopez (21-0, 16 KO) after a much publicized trip to rehab which only fed his critics more.
While Pavlik was talking to therapists about drinking and trying to figure out if there really was a problem, message boards and local and social media outlets went into a frenzy. Pavlik didn't and still doesn't think he has a big issue with alcohol. He admitted by therapists' standards that he does. But he himself never saw it as much more than killing time amid a small spell of depression - a spell many felt was fueled by the constant scrutiny he faced after winning and defending his titles, only to have to sit on the sidelines for so long while the social and local media onslaughts continued.
Pavlik successfully defended his titles against Marco Antonio Rubio as well as Miguel Espino at the Covelli Center after a long layoff, but it didn't quiet the rumor mill. And when he lost his titles in a unanimous decision to Sergio Martinez, everyone who doubted him cried "I told you so."
Pavlik hasn't had a drink since before rehab, and that was back in early November. On Friday he looked like "The Ghost" of old in a light workout with trainer Jack Lowe at Southside Boxing. There was a bounce to his step. A swagger in his voice. An air of confidence filled the gym.
"Fighters have issues all the time," he said. "I hate to say it, but my issues compared to a most of the world champions are very small. The critics have given me a lot of motivation to prove them wrong."
Pavlik admits his upcoming fight may be the most important of his career, but he's stayed true to his words. He's back in training, and he's steered clear of the bad influences that got him into trouble with the bottle.
"I feel real good," he said. "I'm a lot more energetic. There's a lot more fire. It's good to be back. I'm excited."
He knows in order to quiet his critics he needs to be sharp. He needs to be decisive. He didn't get a Spider Rico, a.k.a., a slouch, to face him in his first fight back. He got an up-and-comer in Lopez looking to prove that he's the real deal.
"If you take the whole package of everything that went on, there's a lot of pressure going into this fight," Pavlik said. "It's very important for me to make a big statement in this fight. It's the first time in my career I feel like I have to go in there and really stop this kid. Even if I go 10 rounds and dominate every single one, I don't think that is going to be enough."
"The Ghost" also knows how dangerous Lopez can be, and he's not taking anything for granted.
"He's a tough kid," Pavlik said of his 21-0 opponent. "I don't want to be a person to pick on his resume because people did that to me, and that can get you in trouble. We're gonna have to be on our toes. He's someone we should beat. He's coming down a few weight classes and I'm coming up. I'm very confident going into the fight, but we can't overlook him."
Speaking with Pavlik, you can tell he wants to badly prove disprove his doubters. While he's relaxed talking and while he says that not much really bothers him, his fighter's instinct is clearly back. Pavlik is happy with the success he's had, but he is not a fighter with nothing left to prove. There are still plenty of people in the Mahoning Valley who want to see him succeed, and Pavlik wants nothing more than to do it for them.
"Unfortunately our area is one where people jump off the bandwagon," he said. "But at the same time, this area has some of the most loyal and supporting fans that you wouldn't get anywhere else. I've been lucky with that. I'm not done. I'm going to give my fans more to cheer for, and they always know that I'm going to give 100 percent and do the best I can and get the best result I can. I appreciate the support more than they could ever know."
In Youngstown, there is a lot of negativity. A once striving town some 40 years ago has seen its population dwindle, crime rates rise and jobs get shipped overseas. There's not a lot to be happy about on a large scale, and Pavlik understands that because of his success he'll always be looked upon as a local hero.
"It's a small town now," Pavlik said. "There was a point when it was a successful town. There was lot more people here. It was a booming industrial area to live in. Kids were coming out of school 18 years old and making good money. Then the mills closed and people started moving out. Neighborhoods started getting worse, and the way the economy is going, Youngstown was already down, and now it's even further down. To build it up is going to take longer, and people are upset about it. They have a right to be upset about it. And anytime you have somebody that's successful, they will cheer on the outside, and they want to build them up so they have something to cheer about. But then once the guy gets there, it's like, 'Who the hell is he? Why does he get to be up there?' What it comes down to is that I worked hard for it."
Pavlik, who a year and a half before he won his belts paid the bills by cutting grass and washing dishes, hopes people see how hard he worked to gain his success and use it as inspiration.
"Nothing was handed to me," he said. "There are bad situations and certain exceptions, and I understand that. But I hope people keep working hard no matter what. It would be a lot more positive."
Pavlik understands, too, that with celebrity come certain pitfalls.
"There was a time when I was coming up, HBO was doing a special and ESPN was talking about how run down the city was, we tried to stop them from doing that so many times," Pavlik said. "We said one time was enough. But in those specials they interviewed people who said 'It's so awesome to see Kelly Pavlik, he's a regular guy, he's just like us. He drinks beer and he throws darts.' After I won the world title, all of the sudden that wasn't cool no more. I'm not supposed to be doing that stuff. And God forbid if I didn't drink, then it became like I was too good for them."
In short, the way things had panned out for Pavlik it became a no-win situation.
"There was nothing you could do about it," he said. "I lived my life and tried to stay happy. Unfortunately with being in the spotlight like I am, rumors got worse and my family started to worry."
While Pavlik went to rehab at the request of his family and friends, he's still not quite sure what he did so wrong in the first place that garnered him all of the negativity.
Pavlik did two golf outings benefiting Akron Children's Hospital. He hosted the Celebrity Softball Slam benefiting the United Way. He's donated signed posters, gloves and photos for various charitable auctions. He's also done considerable work with the American Cancer Society and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The latter of which Pavlik visited a terminally ill 19 year old and spent hours talking to him just three days before he passed away.
"To this day, it's like, everyone says 'I hope he stays on track,'" Pavlik said. "That kind of frustrates me. What did I do off track? That's the story I can't get out to nobody. When was I arrested? When did I rob somebody? Or shoot somebody? Or get a DUI? When did I take food off my family's plate? When did I get into any kind of domestic violence? All that just builds up and it makes you mad because I didn't have those problems."
While certain aspects of his career and celebrity are still difficult, Pavlik is coming to terms with it all.
"It is what it is," Pavlik said. "It's hard, but it happens in any small town, and you have to take the bad with the good. You still have your loyal fans and the hard-working people that are supportive and understand more than anyone else. Those are the people you appreciate and fight for."
Win or lose, in the back of his mind Pavlik has post-fight plans and it has to do with helping kids who are in situations where he used to be.
Pavlik and trainer Lowe are starting a boxing promotion company and are looking to put on their first local professional show this summer then branch out all over the country.
"A lot of the bigger fighters have started doing it," Pavlik said. "It keeps fighters busy, and even while they're training, it's not a distraction. What we're trying to do is build a good promotion company. With me being a big name fighter, it's going to help."
Pavlik has seen his fair share of shady companies and promotional deals first hand.
"I want to support the fighters," he said. "Some promoters now are doing it as a get rich scheme, and you're not going to, especially locally. That's not our concern. I don't need a get rich scheme. Granted, it's an investment, and I want to make money off of it. But more or less I want to do it for the kids. These other guys are getting kids, building their records up, and this is where their lack of boxing knowledge comes in."
Pavlik says in certain instances promoters are hanging fighters out to dry.
"You get a kid to 10-0 and now you have to start paying his opponent," Pavlik said. "No one is gonna fight a 10-0 kid for no money. So they throw them in there against someone bigger and if he wins, great, but if he gets hurt, they made their quick money off him and they're done. That's not what we're looking to do. I want to use the pull I have with HBO and ESPN, and get these fighters into sanctioned bodies like the WBO, WBC or IBF and get them exposure. Let's stop this nonsense. I'm looking to make careers for these guys."
But for now, it's Pavlik's own career he wants to get going in the winning direction again.
"We're working hard and staying positive," he said. "I want to go in and take this kid out. I have to take him out quickly to silence the critics. But I can't get down on myself if it goes to a decision and I just get a win. I've been off for a year, and I'm gonna give it my best."
And what a year it's been.
Kelly Pavlik faces off against Alfonzo Lopez on the Manny Pacquaio-Shane Mosley undercard Saturday, May 7 at the MGM in Las Vegas.
E-mail B.J. Lisko at firstname.lastname@example.org