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Taking a gamble

Unbeaten Kelly Pavlik says he can wrest the middleweight crown from Taylor in Atlantic City

September 29, 2007|Lem Satterfield | Special to The Times

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Atlantic City doesn't necessarily bode well for up-and-coming boxers from Youngstown, Ohio.

Ray Mancini was unbeaten in 20 bouts when he lost a lightweight title fight to Alexis Arguello in 1981 in his Atlantic City debut. Harry Arroyo was also unbeaten when he lost his lightweight title to Jimmy Paul in Atlantic City in 1985.

Tonight, Youngstown's Kelly Pavlik makes his Atlantic City debut. And he's hoping that the third time, for a fighter from Youngstown, will be the charm.

A 25-year-old middleweight with 28 knockouts among his 31 wins without a loss, Pavlik will look to separate Jermain Taylor (27-0-1, 17 KOs) from his senses, as well as his World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization crowns.

"I've spoken to Harry Arroyo a couple of times," said Pavlik, who was 2 when Arroyo lost to Paul, and wasn't born when Mancini fell to Arguello.

"Mancini still is a celebrity around town. My trainer [Jack Loew] is very good friends with him. When he comes to town, we talk a little bit," said Pavlik, who is expected to make a career-high $1.25 million against Taylor.

"I was on a local radio show last Thursday, and Mancini called in," Pavlik said. "He told me some things about keeping your focus. He said, 'Jermain has fought in plenty of world title fights,' and, 'Don't lose your composure.' "

The overwhelming edge in experience lies with Taylor: Seven of Taylor's last eight opponents have been present or former world champions, including William Joppy, Bernard Hopkins, Winky Wright and Cory Spinks. And the eighth, Daniel Edouard, was stopped by Taylor in the third round.

But Loew -- who has known the challenger since he first laced on gloves at the age of 10 -- said his fighter won't lose his cool despite being in the biggest fight of his career.

"Kelly's one of the most relaxed guys. When we fought [Jose Luis] Zertuche, I was so nervous," Loew said, referring to Pavlik's eighth-round knockout victory two fights ago. "I'm supposed to be calming him down in the locker room, but Kelly was the one who was like, 'Hey, man, Jack, relax, everything is going to be fine.' "

The same thing happened before Pavlik's last bout, an eight-round slugfest in which Pavlik stopped the highly regarded Edison Miranda.

"In Memphis, for the last fight, yet again, I was so nervous against Miranda," Loew said. "But Kelly's sitting in a chair with his feet up, and said, again, 'What are you guys so nervous about?' "

Pavlik, promoter Bob Arum's first middleweight prospect since undisputed champion Marvin Hagler reigned into the mid-1980s, feels as if he proved himself against Miranda.

"I got caught with a couple of punches by Miranda in the fifth round that were flush, and I think that right there, I showed that hard punches ain't gonna hurt me," Pavlik said.

"But thanks to my critics, Miranda went from being a beast to a guy who stunk and couldn't fight. I believe that Jermain thinks that I'm going to be right in front of him, and that he can just throw a punch and hit me. That just gives me motivation. And once Jermain gets hit by me, that will change his mind about a lot of things."

Pavlik's nickname, "The Ghost," as well as his toughness, are born of being "ridiculed by black fighters in the amateurs," who "thought Pavlik was white as a ghost," said Joe Santoliquito, managing editor of Ring Magazine.

"All of the black kids wanted to face the white kid because they thought Kelly Pavlik was an easy mark," Santoliquito said. "Pavlik dealt with mocking gestures and taunts, took his share of grief. Pavlik always received veiled disrespect, and because of it, he became stronger."

Lou DiBella, Taylor's promoter, admitted that much of Pavlik's hype is "because he's white."

Pavlik won't be facing an unfamiliar opponent: He and Taylor once met as amateurs in the 2000 U.S. Olympic trials.

"I remember it was a pretty good fight, and he won, fair and square," Pavlik said. "But it was my fourth or fifth open tournament, and I was about 17. And he was like 21 or 22 with a ton of amateur fights."

The fighters' training methods have been decidedly different. Taylor, in his third fight with Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, has, for the first time, taken his preparation into the hills, spending the last six or seven weeks in the Poconos.

Pavilk, meanwhile, has elected to stay in his hometown for easy access to parks, health clubs, personal trainers and, especially, the Southside Boxing Club -- where he first met Loew as a youth.

Pavlik's training methods are unusual, to say the least, including some that involve fire hoses, chains, flat boards and tractor trailer tires.

The fire hoses, dangling from the ceiling, are used for pull-ups, Pavlik said. "We grip them, and you do pull-ups until you can't do them any more. And then, you just hang there, strengthening your forearms."

The chains? "They hang from a bench. And you put your hands into the little slots, and you do push-ups."

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