The Ghosts of Youngstown

By Cain Bradley on October 8, 2016
The Ghosts of Youngstown
For a short time he lived his and everyone else's dream. He brought hope to the hopeless.

From being the savior of Youngstown at the peak of his powers after defeating Jermain Taylor, Kelly Pavlik has seen his life go downhill…

“I think hope is the worst thing in the world.”—Marilynne Robinson

Youngstown often does not come high on a list of places people would like to live. It is a city in Ohio racked with crime and poverty. In 2011, the Brookings Institute revealed that out of the top 100 metropolitan areas, Youngstown had the highest percentage of its citizens living in concentrated poverty. It had been a steel mill town plunged into chaos on Black Friday—September 19, 1977. Fifty thousand jobs were displaced in the steel related industries at the end of the seventies. The community never really recovered from this as the population shrunk by 100,000. It was a home of crime, especially gang related crimes with it being described as a smaller Detroit. Chris Hedges described the city as a “deserted wreck plagued by crime.” They say a person can embody the spirit of his city. When times were good, that man was Kelly Pavlik.

Kelly was a man of the people. He was a tough, white collar boxer as his city indicated he would be. Unassuming and unglamorous, he had a bit of power but was more a tenacious workhouse who had harnessed all the talent he had. Speed or skill were not two attributes he would consider himself owning. His two best nights came against Jermain Taylor. The undefeated, unified and lineal champion of the middleweight division was heavy favorite heading into their clash in Atlantic City. A tenth of the Youngstown population made their way to watch their hero box. Taylor dominated early, dropping Pavlik in the second round. Taylor dominated that round as he repeatedly managed to rock Pavlik who said he “punched like a mule.” Punchers’ referee Steve Smoger chose to let the action continue. The strong start to the fight meant Taylor held a comfortable lead on the scorecards. The fight was deemed an instant classic as the boxers took it to each other in a war. The end came in the seventh round. As Taylor jabbed, Pavlik countered with a big right hand. It staggered Taylor and Pavlik took advantage. He jumped on with huge shots and Taylor went down with an uppercut. This time the referee waved off the bout and Pavlik was champion. The rematch saw a more tactical bout as Pavlik worked with powerful straight shots while Taylor used bursts and flurries. Pavlik got the wide decision having thrown almost double the punches. The Youngstown boy was on top of the world.

We all know what they say about those who fall from the top. Pavlik would make one defense against Lockett before looking for a big fight. Joe Calzaghe was an oft mentioned option but it was Bernard Hopkins, the wily veteran who just lost to Joe Calzaghe at 43, who was chosen. Pavlik was moving up ten pounds while Hopkins had to drop five. At this time Pavlik was in the pound-for-pound top ten while Hopkins was on the edge of most lists. Kelly was a sensational boxer but always key was plan A. He would walk forward and try to overwhelm opponents. Bernard stated at the start of training camp “The kid is so fundamental, if I can’t beat him I should retire.” Hopkins in the later portion of his career was incredible at taking away the weapons of an opponent and seeing if they had anything else to beat him with. Bernard Hopkins was virtuoso, performing arguably the best he ever did during his fifth decade. He was precise and aggressive whereas Kelly was slow and outworked. Pavlik had excuses. The week of the fight he was on medication for bronchitis with his father stating he regrets not pulling the bout. He also entered the ring ten pounds lighter than Hopkins. He was still the middleweight champion of the world.

His first defense was Marco Antonio Rubio. The tough Mexican was no match for Pavlik who overwhelmed him with power. The corner eventually stopped it heading into the tenth round. Pavlik was impressive but Rubio was tailor made for him. After this he would agree a fight with Sergio Mora but when playing basketball in March he would open a cut on his knuckle but instead of blood, it was just a colorless ooze. Kelly was diagnosed with a staph infection. The middle of his left hand has swelled up so he could not even get a glove on. Despite this a defense of his title was agreed with Paul Williams, one of the most avoided men in boxing, for the beginning of December. Antibiotics were not getting rid of the staph infection. So when Kelly Pavlik went back, it was revealed he had MRSA. When treating this, Pavlik has an allergic reaction to medication which led to him being hooked up to an IV drip. His heart rate reached 150 beats per minute and he turned shades of red and purple. The whole day is one that Kelly doesn’t even remember but doctors have told him it is one of the worst reactions they have seen. He had to pull out of the Paul Williams fight, with it instead going to Sergio Martinez. In order to keep his titles he fought at the end of December, beating Miguel Espino by stoppage. The sudden ability to fight left fans bemused while rumors of missing appointments with doctors left them questioning where his heart truly lie.

With the rumors surrounding his lack of motivation and his time spent in unsavory drinking establishments, Pavlik needed to make a statement. It was decided upon Sergio Martinez, a foe that Paul Williams had just vanquished by a controversial, majority decision. Martinez came out quickly, doubling up the southpaw jab and using big left hands to cut Pavlik early. Pavlik would start to come back into the fight around the fifth round. He seemed to work out the southpaw stance and dropped Martinez with a short right uppercut. Martinez had more in the tank and after opening a huge cut under the right eye of Pavlik in the ninth would dominate the end of the fight. Martinez took a unanimous decision and Pavlik could barely see at the end of a punishing bout. This result saw Pavlik looking to move up to the super middleweight division and a bout arranged with Brian Vera. A rib injury led to the bout being pulled and Kelly checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse. According to Jack Loew, his lifelong trainer, he disappeared after the injury and turned up in rehab. It was also revealed he had already done a stint in rehab, before the Martinez bout, but did not complete it. This time it came after long conversations with his wife. His father and trainer both expressed regret that they had believed Kelly when he said he did not have an issue. Of course, one of the major issues addicts face is admitting they have a problem. Pavlik would finally admit it, a bit too late. He realized what he thought was two or three easily became ten or twelve. Pavlik completed rehab this time and told Chris Mannix he was sober three months later. Boxing insiders and members of his inner circle told a different story.

His comeback win was against Alfonso Lopez. It was a mediocre performance as he looked a little slow against Lopez. His power and work got him the result but the combos slowed to single shots towards the end of the fight. Pavlik spoke of his desire of a shot at Lucian Bute. So Showtime agreed a deal where he would fight Darryl Cunningham and go on the headline against Lucian Bute. The week of the fight, Kelly would pull out of the bout. It was the fifth bout he had pulled out of since his loss to Martinez and was a steep change from his early career. Pavlik claimed he refused to fight a southpaw for peanuts. Todd duBoef, the President of Top Rank, was clearly fuming with Kelly. With that, Kelly took the move to change his life and move to California under the tutelage of Robert Garcia. Kelly returned the following March beating the horribly overmatched Aaron Jaco in the second round. He was quickly back out defeating Scott Sigmon and Will Rosinsky.  With those wins he was given a chance to compete against undisputed light heavyweight champion Andre Ward. It was cancelled when the champion injured his shoulder. With that, Pavlik chose to retire in order to preserve his health. Pavlik had been suffering from seizures and decided it was no longer putting his family through the ringer. With that, a lot of people hoped Kelly would manage to keep himself out of the headlines. Less than a year later, the boxer was arrested when refusing to pay a $25 cab fare. When in the dock, Kelly collapsed and seized. He was charged. A couple of years later, Kelly was once again arrested, this time for assault at a Foo Fighters concert. The reports were mixed over whether he was inebriated. The most recent reports see Kelly facing 180 days in prison for an alleged pellet gun attack.

From being the savior of Youngstown at the peak of his powers after defeating Jermain Taylor, Kelly Pavlik has seen his life go downhill. When it was going well, everyone declared Kelly to embody Youngstown and represent the best of the city. Perhaps we were all too quick to dismiss the chance that Kelly would also come to embody the worst side of the city. Once he became champion, Kelly was treated like a king and perhaps there was nothing worse for him. When he finally managed to get out of Ohio it was too late. The life he had led had caught up with him. But while it lasted, Kelly was a savior. The great white hope of Ohio. Climbing up the pound-for-pound rankings with guts and hard work. The city showed out for him like they had for Ray Mancini. He was a real working class hero and for a short time he lived his and everyone else’s dream. He brought hope to the hopeless. Once written off as a future ghost town, Youngstown enjoyed its time as the ghost’s town. From the ashes and sadness of the story of Kelly Pavlik you hope he inspired enough to make it worth it.

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Kelly Pavlik v Jermain Taylor 1 won TKO 7

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  1. raxman 10:40pm, 10/08/2016

    if ever a fighter needed to change trainers when his career took off it was Kelly Pavlik. Sticking with Jack “double your jab” Lowe was a huge mistake.

    Pavlik won the fights he won based entirely on his own level of talent and toughness but once he was in the position of fighting top level opposition he needed a top level coach.
    “Double the Jab” seemed to be the only instruction Lowe knew how to give. Even in the Martinez fight when KP’s jab was getting him nowhere and an offence of Right hand-Left hook mixed with Counter Left Hook- Right hands could have turned the fight for him. KP also had great uppercuts - with both hands but Lowe never built a fight plan around that part of his arsenal.
    Its academic now of course but what KP may have been had moved to Detroit and worked with Manny Steward
    Those of us who are fans of Pavlik can thank our higher power for one small mercy though, and that is the Calzaghe fight was never made

  2. The Thresher 11:46am, 10/08/2016

    Pretty decent effort Cain, pretty darn good.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:19am, 10/08/2016

    George L. Otto-Your comments about Kelly, Youngstown, and post career boxers in general is very thoughtful, thought provoking and just plain classy.

  4. George L Otto 11:01am, 10/08/2016

    Initially I want to state that I greatly enjoyed this article for 2 reasons.  First of all, I lived in my own home in Youngstown itself from 10/00 thru 8/16, while truly loving the place.  Secondly, in my own way, I have tried to assist professional boxers for more than 21 years while having diligently studied the sport itself for over 60 years.

    While I have never met or spoken with Mr.Kelly Pavlik (KP), I do agree with much of what is stated in this article.  However, I would like to add the following.  First of all, in preparing for the Hopkins fight, KP had not been able to spar a sufficient number of rounds because of a left shoulder injury which never healed prior to that bout.  Had KP been able to train adequately before the fight and been free of shoulder and bronchial ailments while in the ring, I sincerely believe that the outcome would have been different. 

    Regarding the Martinez bout, KP’s corner worker did not include its usual cut man which was definitely to KP’s disadvantage.  This had been duly noted by Mr. Thomas Hauser in his article about this fight.

    Yes, KP was highly thought of by many people in the downtrodden Y-town, and I was a great fan of his.  However, leaving boxing and going into the real world is a very difficult adjustment.  And it takes many years for that transition to successfully occur—if in fact that ever happens.  I believe that much of this evolves from the almost addictive nature of this profession. 

    And yes, smoother adjustments could occur if former fighters had access to pensions, health care insurance, adequate case management/legal counsel, and job training opportunities upon retirement.  Let’s hope they can more easily secure those types of help.

  5. Eric 10:18am, 10/08/2016

    Hand me the Crucifix, a stake and some garlic, FAKE Eric is triggered yet again. What is this creature’s problem? FAKE Eric is my own Pavlovian dog. Poor little feller sits and waits for me, so I’ll trow him a bone now just to make his tail wag. Poor thingie is easier to upset than TrigglyPuff or Carl The Cuck. @Irish…This Trump thingie is hilarious. You gotz ex-Presidents like JFK, LBJ, and Slick Willie?? Hopefully, Trump’s people will bring up how $hillary bragged about helping a child rapist go free. I’ve even heard rumors that LBJ would go full Monty in the WH. FAKE Eric has now linked arms with the legends of SJWs like TrigglyPuff and Carl The Cuck. I’m Eric 2020 and I approve this message. Have a great Saturday afternoon everyone and pray for Fl, Ga, Sc and all others in the line of that monster, Matthew. LAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTEEERRRRRRR!!!!

  6. Eric 08:48am, 10/08/2016

    How could anyone not love and admire James Traficant?  One of the Steel Valley’s finest sons bar none. Here’s a guy who never met a bribe he didn’t love or a Nazi whose dick he didn’t want to suck. Traficant’s palm was greased so often it was discolored. He was expelled from the House after being convicted of taking bribes, filing false tax returns, and racketeering He forced his aides to perform chores at his farm in Ohio and houseboat in Washington, D.C. For all this he served seven year prison sentence. Wonder if he kept that bad toupee while he was in prison. Bite the pillow, Jimmy.

  7. The Thresher 08:31am, 10/08/2016

    40-2 record is pretty damm good—-pretty dam good!!!!

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:23am, 10/08/2016

    That “White Hope” appellation is a demeaning, racist dig and has been for years. Kelly was never a “White Hope”, he was the real deal whose punches landed with a thud even after he had receipted for flush, right on the button power shots. The “Ghost” moniker was another dig, a back handed compliment at best, that was hung on him not because he was elusive and hard to hit. It came about as he competed in have been for the last fifty years and more and are to this day Afro-Latin boxing tourneys. He would land those thudding punches and beat the fuk out of his opponents, 99% of whom were black and all of whom believed with every fiber of their beings that they could beat him because he was white….white as a “Ghost”.

  9. Eric 05:54am, 10/08/2016

    Old rustbelt cities like Youngstown have plenty of character though. America can certainly rebuild these cities once we rid ourselves of the real problem. It is a total shame what has happened to the city of Detroit. With the exception of NYC, Boston, and Philly, no other city had such a huge impact on America. Here’s hoping America, Youngstown, Detroit, and Pavlik can comeback from these setbacks. RIP James Traficant.

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