YOUNGSTOWN — Boxer Kelly Pavlik left this week for Atlantic City, N.J., seeking his long-awaited shot at a title and the opportunity to give his hometown a night in the spotlight.
The undefeated Pavlik (31-0, 28 KOs) challenges undefeated champion Jermain Taylor (27-0-1, 17 KOs) for his World Boxing Council middleweight title tonight.
Pavlik got a big send-off Tuesday in front of his house from friends, neighbors and fans.
Asked if he felt like he’s carrying the Youngstown banner into the world spotlight, he said he would like to try to help put Youngstown “back on the map.”
Pavlik has become a Youngstown hero, following Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, a former World Boxing Association middleweight champion, and Harry Arroyo, a former IBF lightweight champion.
Since turning professional in June 2000, Pavlik, 25, has gone through the time-honored tradition of building his record.
The opponents were not always the best, but by winning his first 14 bouts with knockouts, he got on the ring radar. It did not hurt to have Las Vegas-based Top Rank Inc. and promoter Bob Arum as his backer.
When Pavlik took apart supposed top contender Edison Miranda in May, with an HBO television audience watching, he secured his shot at Taylor of Little Rock, Ark.
Everything about Pavlik reflects his blue-collar hometown.
Pavlik trains at the Southside Boxing Club, a one-time pizza shop that’s so small, some of the boxers have to use the sidewalk on Erie Street to skip rope.
His trainer Jack Loew, the only trainer Pavlik has had, is owner and sole employee of The Driveway Kings, sealing asphalt driveways and parking lots.
“Kelly has been loyal to me and I’ve been loyal to him,” Loew said. “I may not be good for someone else, but I’m good for Kelly Pavlik.”
That’s how the fighter sees it.
“The bond is there,” Pavlik said. “Jack knows when I’m up or down. Everything goes smooth. You don’t go 31-0, fighting the dangerous guys we have, without the right guy.”
With a purse of $1.25 million, it will only get smoother for all involved if Pavlik can produce a win, especially a dramatic one. If Pavlik wins, his next bout could be worth more than $3 million.
“If Kelly goes in there and does what we expect, it puts both of us on top of the world,” Loew said. “It puts me in the upper echelon of trainers with a world champion.
“I’m hoping after the 29th, I don’t have to seal any more asphalt.”
Pavlik and Taylor met during the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials, with the then-21-year-old Taylor winning a decision and going on to earn an Olympic bronze medal.
“It was so long ago, and it was one of those fights,” said Pavlik, who was 17 at the time. “He did win the fight, give him that. But I was 17 and he was 21. It was like my second open tournament. There’s big difference between being 17 and a mature 21.
“I’m going to make a statement once I hit him.”
Loew has been adamant for months that the longer the fight goes, the more it plays into his fighter’s strengths. As he sees it, strength and stamina will be the difference.
“Kelly gets stronger, and the longer it goes, the worse for Taylor,” Loew said. “I see we get him out by five rounds.”
Pavlik did not give as definite a prediction. He was content to sit on the stoop in front of the gym and relax in the sun for a few minutes.
Several cars drove by and gave him a few honks of encouragement. One worker, ladders jutting from his truck bed, shouted in recognition, “Knock him out, Kelly!”
The fighter smiled and whispered to himself, “Oh, yeah.”
WHAT: WBC middleweight title fight
WHO: Kelly Pavlik (31-0) vs. Jermain Taylor (27-0-1)
TIME: 10:15 (broadcast begins)
WHERE: Atlantic City, N.J.