SPOTLIGHT: Meet Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik

kelly pavlik31.05.07 - By Taj Eubanks: Youngstown, Ohio is a town that could truly be called “Anytown, USA.” Lying approximately 65 miles southeast of Cleveland (dominion of LeBron “King” James) and 62 miles northwest of Pittsburgh (where Super Bowl XL champion “Big” Ben Roethlisberger holds sway), this town of roughly 82,000 people once prospered because of its robust production of the very same material that not only made people like the Carnegies rich, but literally built America---steel.

The decline of the steel industry in Youngstown two decades ago left many jobless. While the automotive industry and Youngstown State University (two of the town’s largest employers) and a visionary young mayor have helped get the city moving in the right direction, a whopping 24.3% of city residents still live below the poverty line.

In fact, the Youngstown estimated median household income is over $16,000 less than the average Ohio median household income. These tough times have ingrained a never-say-die resilience into the people of Youngstown; they have what you might call “a whole lotta fight” in them. How ironic then that such a tiny town would produce not one, but two world champion boxers: Harry Arroyo (40-11, 30 KOs), a former IBF lightweight titlist, and the celebrated Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini (29-5, 23 KOs), former WBA lightweight champion. Out of this proud tradition emerges Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik (31-0, 28 KOs) who, like fellow young Ohioans James and Roethlisberger before him, is on the verge of rising to the apex of his sport.

Kelly Robert Pavlik, the scrappy son of an insurance salesman father and a mother who still works at famed local eatery Vic and Syl’s, played many sports as a child. His two older brothers were amateur boxers, however, and the youngest followed suit. At age nine the young Pavlik entered Southside Boxing Club (where he still trains) and never left. Nicknamed “The Ghost” by his amateur teammates (for his uncanny ability to avoid punishment), Pavlik amassed an impressive 89-9 amateur record and picked up several major awards along the way, including the 1998 National Jr. PAL amateur championship, the 1998 National Jr. Golden Gloves amateur championship, and the 1999 US National Under-19 amateur championship (all at 147 pounds). Razor-sharp and ready to rumble, Pavlik transitioned into the professional ranks with aplomb.

Managed by his father Michael, Pavlik won his first 14 bouts by KO or TKO (including a TKO victory over 2006 Contender champion Grady Brewer [22-11, 12 KOs]) and has rattled off an impressive 31 victories with 28 of these coming “by way of.” While boxing’s cognoscenti have long known about The Ghost’s pugilistic prowess, it was his 31st victory that catapulted him into our collective consciousness.

Pavlik’s utter destruction of fellow middleweight contender Edison “Pantera” Miranda (28-2, 24 KOs) left many jaws agape, not so much because he did it, but because of how he did it. Heralded as “the next big thing” in the middleweight division, Miranda possessed insatiable hunger, the type that only arises out of extreme deprivation. The man who raised himself in the streets of Colombia also wielded fists of steel, of which 24 KO victims can attest (as can current IBF middleweight boss Arthur “King” Abraham [23-0, 18 KOs, who suffered a broken jaw in his 2006 UD victory over Miranda). The May 19 Miranda-Pavlik WBC middleweight elimination bout was to be a dress rehearsal of sorts for an eventual showdown with the recognized middleweight champion, Jermain “Bad Intentions” Taylor (27-0-1, 17 KOs). Pavlik, having himself garnered praise for his own devastating power, in addition to superlative technique and fluidity, was determined to rise to the occasion. And rise he did.

What started as a bombs-away fracas ended with a bang as Pavlik stopped Miranda in scintillating fashion, dropping him three times (twice to the ropes) en route to a seventh round tko victory. During the post-fight interview, the humble Pavlik expressed his desire to face the champion, Jermain Taylor, yet seemed to allude to the fact that should other variables (read: politics) prevent the Taylor match from happening then he just wants to fight the best that are placed in front of him. While fans can only hope that a Taylor-Pavlik matchup comes to fruition (an occurrence which doesn’t seem very likely given Taylor’s noncommittal responses concerning said matchup in Larry Merchant’s post-fight interview), all is not lost. For Pavlik is now Taylor’s number one mandatory, and Taylor will soon have to either vacate the WBC strap and head to the super-middleweight ranks (Calzaghe-Kessler territory) or face Youngstown’s finest.

The father of a little girl, Sydney, is a family man who not only wants to provide for his family, but also to represent his hometown and sport with dignity and class in the tradition of his idols, Arroyo and Mancini. When asked about his fistic forefathers, the quiet-spoken Pavlik states, “Their careers are an inspiration to me to win a world title and defend it a couple of times.” Simple words, spoken by an ordinary guy whose humility, everyman affability, and undeniable talent already make him a champion in the hearts of many.

Article posted on 01.06.2007

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