Pavlik’s actions are a cry for help

Former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik made a lot of people angry and cost people a lot of money on Tuesday when he decided he wouldn’t fight Darryl Cunningham on Saturday.

Showtime planned to televise the 10-round super middleweight match from the Covelli Centre in Pavlik’s hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. The entire card was canceled upon learning of Pavlik’s decision, as was the broadcast. Ticket buyers in Youngstown, who had supported Pavlik for years and made him one of boxing’s feel-good stories in 2007, were left high and dry. Top Rank, his long-time promoter, will incur losses of as much as $30,000, or more.

Cunningham, a journeyman who has never gotten the kind of breaks that Pavlik has routinely gotten, had trained for months for what would have been the biggest fight of his life. He goes home with nothing: No fight, no paycheck, no chance to fulfill a lifelong dream.

Over the past several years, Kelly Pavlik has devolved from feel-good story to potential boxing tragedy.
(Getty Images)

Pavlik raised the ire of enough people to fill a football stadium with his ridiculously short-sighted and flawed decision.

He’s a grown man and he’ll have to face the consequences of his actions.

This decision, though, wasn’t about boxing. It’s about a cry for help, because nothing else makes sense. He doesn’t deserve derision. He deserves pity, sympathy and understanding.

No straight-thinking person would do what Pavlik has done. Top Rank had been negotiating for him to fight International Boxing Federation super middleweight champion Lucian Bute, ranked No. 9 in the Yahoo! Sports poll, in November. Pavlik, though, wanted another tune-up fight against a left-hander, so Top Rank got Cunningham.

Pavlik was to make $50,000 to fight Cunningham, plus 100 percent of the profits from the card.

“We were doing this card to accommodate him, not because we were going to make any money off of it,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “He wanted the fight and we made it happen for him.”

[Related: Kelly Pavlik pulls out of hometown fight]

Pavlik’s explanation is that he was unhappy with his purse. He said he read on the Internet that Mikkel Kessler, a former super middleweight champion, was being offered $3 million to fight Bute. That incensed him, he told his management team, since Top Rank had negotiated a percentage deal with Bute promoter Jean Bedard that would have guaranteed Pavlik $1.35 million. The deal was a 60-40 split, with Bute’s side, as the big draw in Montreal, where the fight would have been held, getting the larger share.

The two fighters together almost certainly wouldn’t have made $3 million combined, let alone one of them individually. Fighters competing on that level of show simply don’t earn that kind of money.

Pavlik told Youngstown television station WFMJ-TV, “The fight is off and the Bute fight is not going to happen. I’m not going to fight a southpaw for peanuts.”

That’s got to make the 14 percent of Youngstown residents who are unemployed feel all warm and fuzzy toward him. Perhaps Pavlik ought to get a job (or, try to get one) and go to work for a living. He’d quickly find out that $1.35 million is hardly peanuts. And though his purse of $50,000 to fight Cunningham is hardly overwhelming, when his boxing career is over, he’s going to wish he could make $50,000 in one night. That’s likely to be his annual salary in the not-too-distant future.

It’s sad, and it sounds like a cry for help.

“The way I see it, and without knowing for sure, is that the kid doesn’t want to fight any more and everyone sees him as a fighter and talks to him about fighting and fighting is all he knows,” Arum said. “I think he’s probably tired of it and wants to do something else in his life. The best thing is for people to leave him alone.”

[Related: Promoter Bob Arum calls actions ‘very bizarre’]

He spent time in a California alcohol rehabilitation facility last year and early this year and has continued to show bizarre behavior. He recently got into a fist fight with his brother in which the police were called.

The pressure on guys such as Pavlik, who was a whale in a small pond in Youngstown, is immense. Some can handle the expectations with ease, but many others crumble under the weight of them.

Pavlik appears to be coming apart at the seams.

This is boxing, where one man bit another’s ear off and later came back to fight, so anything is possible. But it’s hard to imagine that Showtime would ever agree to televise one of his fights again.

He’s pulled out of too many matches – he disappeared days before he was to fight Bryan Vera on the Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito card in November and had to withdraw – and has displayed increasingly irrational behavior.

He’s become too unreliable and clearly in need of assistance.

Hopefully, someone close to him realizes that though he’s a fighter, he’s a human being first and he needs to get a solution to his problems before it’s too late.

Otherwise, this story is destined to end very ugly.

And no one wants that.

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Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Aug 2, 2011