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Power-punching Pavlik at a crossroads

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Power-punching Pavlik at a crossroads

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Kelly Pavlik faces plenty of questions as his career has reached a crossroad

There are some with as much, but no one with more courage than Kelly Pavlik, the lanky middleweight from Youngstown, Ohio, and few who punch as hard. Pavlik has a great chin, an enormous punch and a deeply embedded belief that he can take your shots a lot longer than you'll be able to take his.

Those attributes led him to a middleweight title, pulsating victories over men like Jermain Taylor, Edison Miranda, Jose Luis Zertuche and Fulgencio Zuniga and a spot as one of boxing's most popular fighters.

Who doesn't love the gunslinger with the major chip on his shoulder who dares opponents to knock it off?

Pavlik, though, has come to a crossroads in his career. The 28-year-old former champion faces unheralded Bryan Vera, a loser of four of his last five, in the primary undercard fight on the Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito card on Nov. 13 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The bout will be held at a catchweight, with a limit of 164 pounds.

Pavlik lost the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization middleweight titles in his last fight to Sergio Martinez on April 17 in Atlantic City, N.J., a bout in which his corner's failure to stop a cut played a major difference in the outcome. He's just 2-2 in his last four, has struggled to make the middleweight division's 160-pound limit and finds himself hearing questions from his father, his manager and others close to him.

Pavlik is as old-school as they get. He's resisted calls for years to either outright replace his longtime trainer, Jack Loew, or to bring in a veteran trainer to assist Loew.

"I am not saying Jack hasn't done a good job, because he has; he's won a world title with the kid and then he [successfully] defended the world title," co-manager Cameron Dunkin said. "But I just want Kelly to learn more. Jack doesn't have the experience of some of these other guys and it can't hurt to have someone in there with Jack to help him and help Kelly improve."

Pavlik, though, bristles at such thoughts and has been fiercely loyal to Loew, resisting all attempts to replace him or reduce his influence. Loew himself said he wouldn't have a problem with another trainer coming in to help him, but no one can convince Pavlik of the need to do it.

Dunkin for years has wanted to hire Kenny Adams, who might be the best trainer in the world when it comes to teaching and developing fighters, but Pavlik would have none of it.

"One of my regrets is, I've never been able to sell that to him," Dunkin said.

Pavlik's father, Mike Sr., serves as his son's co-manager and, until the Vera fight, served as the fighter's strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist. Mike Pavlik Sr. hasn't been happy with his son's defense and has sided with Dunkin and Top Rank matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman regarding the need for someone to assist Loew. As a result of Kelly's refusal to bring someone aboard, Mike Pavlik hasn't been involved with his son for the Vera fight and isn't in his California, Pa., training camp.

"He needs new tutelage," Mike Pavlik told "I mean, he's only 28; I feel right now he's in the prime of his life and we've become one-dimensional and predictable and these are the things I feel have to be worked on: That Kelly has to bring in an Emanuel Steward or somebody to work on some of the aspects that he had earlier in his career that he got away from. Evidently, they're not being addressed over the last five, six fights. That's just my opinion.

"I'm not bad-mouthing Jack. It's not that Jack has done anything wrong; Jack has reached a plateau that he's never been before. He doesn't know what to do."

The fighter doesn't see things that way, though. He's only lost twice, he points out, and the first came when he lost to Bernard Hopkins in 2008 on a night in which he was ill and fought with a fever. The other loss came to Martinez in April when he faded down the stretch.

That, Pavlik said, was the result of problems he had dropping weight. He began training camp at 195 pounds and had to lose 10 pounds the day before the weigh-in. He spent much of the final five days before the fight either running on a treadmill or sitting in a sauna, while eating and drinking next to nothing. Pavlik was hooked up to an IV on the day of the fight in a bid to improve his rehydration.

He was ahead by a point on one judge's card, even on another and trailing by a point on a third after eight rounds against Martinez, but didn't have the energy to finish strong and lost a unanimous decision when Martinez swept Rounds 9 through 12.

"We were in great shape and the training camp was a phenomenal training camp," Pavlik said. "It really was. The big problem was the weight. You can't go into a fight losing 10 pounds the day before the weigh-in. You can't do that. The body's not made to do that. You can't run 16 miles on a treadmill. You can't sit in a sauna for hours at a time waiting for the sweat to come out. And when you're sitting in the sauna for that long, and you're not sweating, you know you have a problem.

"If you go back and watch the fight, the proof is in the film. I was winning the middle rounds. I had the kid frustrated, but I just hit the wall. My body shut down because of everything I went through leading up to the fight. It's something you can't do and I'll never, ever, never do that again."

The weight, though, wasn't the only reason Pavlik lost to Martinez. Pavlik was cut and his cut man for that fight, Sid Brumbach, was unable to stop the bleeding. Before the bout, Pavlik decided to fire his longtime cut man Miguel Diaz, who is regarded by many as the best there is, in a dispute over money.

Diaz charges boxers a flat fee of two percent to work with them. Given that Pavlik was to make a $1.5 million purse, Diaz would have earned $30,000. Pavlik had used Diaz in numerous other fights and paid the two percent, but he began to question Dunkin on whether the money was being wisely spent.

He chose not to pay Diaz and instead hired Brumbach, at Loew's suggestion.

"When Kelly wasn't going to bring Miguel back, I mentioned Sid and thought we should give him a shot," Loew said. "I figured anyone could stop a cut and Kelly didn't usually cut too often. I just said, 'Hey, what about Sid?' It was a mistake. I admit, I [expletive] up there. No doubt about it. "

Pavlik had difficulty seeing and his face was a mask of blood in the second half of the fight. Nobody around Pavlik disagrees that Diaz would have been able to control the cut and give Pavlik a better shot.

Dunkin believes that had Diaz been in the corner, Pavlik would have won the fight that night.

"Oh, [expletive] yeah," Dunkin said. "You're damn right he would have."

Dunkin tried to convince Diaz to accept less, but Diaz refused to budge. He was then planning to pay Brumbach $10,000 but was so angry with the way he was unable to control the cuts that he only gave him $5,000, which Brumbach accepted.

Diaz said he was disappointed and said fighters often don't understand the value of the service he provides until it's too late.

"Two percent is the price you pay to get a real professional," Diaz said. "Kelly has a lot of [courage] and a very good right hand. He could do a lot of things, but when you have that blood in your eye, you can't see and it wears you down. It gets harder and harder to breathe. And the judges see it and they're only human. It influences them. Blood shouldn't make a difference in how they score the fight, but they see the blood all over his face and they think, 'This guy is getting beaten up.' It's not good."

Despite the seeming turmoil, Loew said Pavlik is having a brilliant camp. He said Pavlik is working harder than he ever has, and Pavlik has been notorious for being among the game's hardest workers.

Pavlik plans to hire a world-class nutritionist and someone to monitor his strength and conditioning. He initially said after the loss to Martinez that he wouldn't fight at middleweight again, but as he pondered what he went through cutting weight for that fight, he realized it was the process that was the problem.

He's going to be medically evaluated to see if he can make 160 safely. If he can, he'll remain at middleweight. If not, he'll begin to compete at super middleweight, where he's already ranked fourth by the WBC.

Loew said he'd be happy to work with a trainer to assist Pavlik as long as he remained the man in charge. He has trained Pavlik for almost 20 years and knows what motivates him better than anyone.

"I'm willing to learn and I believe that any trainer who thinks he knows it all is totally full of [expletive]," Loew said. "If I can pick something up that could help Kelly, of course I wouldn't complain. It's all about Kelly. I've been with him since he's been 9 years old. You're not going to change his style now. I know the kid. I know what his shirt smells like when he sweats. I know who he is. I know what makes him tick.

"I want the best for the kid. If they want to bring in someone to help me, and Kelly agrees, I have no problem with it. I just don't want to take a back seat with my own guy."

Pavlik, though, doesn't believe he needs to do anything other than to improve his weight loss regimen to get back on top. He and Loew made it to the Olympic trials together and then to the professional middleweight championship. He believes what he does works well.

He plans to show that against Vera, whom he said "talks too much." And he has big plans after the Vera fight.

"I'm a young guy and I've only lost twice," Pavlik said. "I was sick for the Hopkins fight and I was struggling with the weight for the Martinez fight. People forget what I've done. I want to get those titles back and that's really what I'm focusing on."

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