Kelly Pavlik's Retirement from Boxing
Lou Eisen / January 28, 2013 - 10:40am
To absolutely no one's surprise, the former undefeated middleweight champion of the world, Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik has decided to call it a career and retire from the ranks of prizefighting at the surprisingly young age of 30. It is evident to all those that know him and many who don't that his heart has not been in his craft for some time now. The desire to compete at the highest levels of the sport left Pavlik a while ago. His fall from grace was as quick as his rise to the top. His overall ring skills were never in doubt. It was his inability to deal emotionally with the ups and downs of his career that led to his downfall and now, ultimately, to his retirement.
Pavlik attributes his retirement to a lack of motivation. This is something all boxers, even the elite ones, go through several times in their career. Usually this lack of motivation occurs when they have been around the sport for a long while and no longer want to undergo the never-ending drudgery of training camp to prepare for yet one more fight. It is called paying the price for success and it is a brutal, lonely, boring, soul-sucking price to pay for all boxers. Most elite boxers are able to fight through this malaise and return to the ring ready to make war with their fists for money. Pavlik's loss of hunger for the sport is reminiscent of something the great Jimmy McLarnin's manager Pops Foster said about when is the right time for a fighter to retire.
Foster said that there are only ever two reasons for an athlete to engage in a boxing career. One is for money and the other reason is because he loves to fight. If a fighter no longer needs the money and he no longer enjoys the sport, there is no reason for him to keep fighting and risking his health with each successive fight. Pavlik it seems has reached the exact point that Foster discussed.
Boxing is a very dangerous sport, even for those who excel at it on an elite level. Regardless of how you feel about Pavlik personally, he was without a doubt, an elite level fighter. This is why for Pavlik to continue on when his love for the sport has all but diminished would have been an extremely unwise thing to do. Although those closest to him applaud his decision they also worry abut him because Pavlik has many demons eating away at his soul and often has trouble containing them.
In the past, Pavlik has found solace in alcohol, drinking himself to sleep most nights on what appeared to be a self-induced path to destruction. The polite name for Pavlik's past actions is slow suicide. It is the fervent hope of those closest to him in the boxing world, and his family that he finds something quickly to fill the void that boxing used to fill.
In his prime, Pavlik had every tool a fighter needs at his disposal. He stands 6'2 1/2" with long, powerful arms, deceptive hand speed, great balance and crushing power in both hands. Pavlik was as tough as they come in the middleweight division. He hurt his foes with every shot he landed and expertly used his bludgeoning jab to set up all of his power punches. Pavlik's hand and foot speed were similar to that of the great Carlos Monzon. In much the same way that Monzon's shots seemed to travel agonizingly slow, just like Pavlik's punches later on, they always found their mark.
Pavlik jumped into title contention on May 19, 2007 by winning a WBC middleweight title eliminator match versus power punching Edison Miranda in spectacular fashion. Up to that point, the biggest victory on Pavlik's ledger was a 6th round TKO victory over a shopworn Bronco McKart. Miranda was favored to beat Pavlik in what turned out to be a crossroads fight for both warriors.
Pavlik won the match and in dominating fashion. From the opening bell to start the fight, Pavlik used his long arms and heavy hands to beat a steady tattoo on Miranda's helpless chin and head in every round. Pavlik ended Miranda's night and any hopes he may have had of a title shot by knocking him out at 1:54 of the seventh round. The Kelly Pavlik era of dominance in the middleweight division was about to begin.
Just 4 months after his destruction of Miranda, Pavlik knocked out reigning world middleweight champion Jermain Taylor to capture the WBC/WBO world middleweight titles. He decisively beat Taylor in a rematch. Trouble was brewing just ahead for Pavlik in the form of Bernard Hopkins. Pavlik agreed to face Hopkins at the super middleweight level. Hopkins won a unanimous and easy, lopsided decision over Pavlik. This is when Pavlik's problems with alcohol started to appear with greater frequency in the media. Pavlik was also charged around the same time for assaulting his kid brother in a bar while both were under the influence of alcohol.
Amazingly, amid all of this confusion, Pavlik managed to squeeze in two successful title defenses against Marco Antonio Rubio (the ref stopped the bout in the 9th round) and Miguel Angel Espino, whom Pavlik TKO'd in 5 rounds. Pavlik then fought and lost to Sergio Martinez in April of 2010, in Atlantic City. And that was it. It was over, after 4 title defenses. Pavlik has never been the same since his loss to Martinez. Martinez has now held the middleweight world title for 4 years. Pavlik, when all is said and done, turned out to be only an interim champion.
The main question Pavlik's fans are asking concerning his career is what happened? Why retire now when a title shot and the chance of millions of dollars in your coffers is so close at hand? Remember Pavlik was preparing to take on super middleweight world champion Andre Ward for his titles until Ward was injured during training camp, forcing the postponement and then outright cancellation of their fight. It seems now, that the cancellation of the Ward fight was the final straw that killed whatever enthusiasm Pavlik may have had left in his heart for his chosen profession. It makes you wonder what kind of performance Pavlik would have given against Ward, considering his retirement came within days of the fight being canceled.
Pavlik cited two reasons specifically for his decision to end his career at this moment in time. He is concerned about the long-term health effects on his body and brain if he had continued to keep on fighting for an extended period of time. This is a good point especially in light of the style Pavlik employs in the ring. He is not a defensive wizard and, as Sergio Martinez and Bernard Hopkins showed repeatedly, Pavlik has always been rather easy to hit. It was his solid chin and inner grit and determination that allowed him to take such shots and continue fighting on to victory in most cases.
The cumulative effects of absorbing thousands of concussive blows to the head are overwhelmingly negative even for elite level fighters. In other words Pavlik realized that had he continued on with boxing, he no doubt would have become one more victim of pugilistica dementia. Pavlik decided that the price to pay for winning a world title at super middleweight was too steep when measured against the quality of life he would have after his career was done. He deserves much credit for making the right decision when it counted most.
As middleweight world champion Pavlik was at the very top of his profession for a short time. Success in boxing is transitory at best even for the cream of the crop, because of the ultra violent nature of the sport. Pavlik no doubt decided that the deal he had made with the devil regarding his brain was not worth the damage he was risking in order to win another world title.
Pavlik often took several heavy shots in order to get one or two of his own concussive blows in during his career. Many fighters follow similar styles and their careers are usually very exciting but exceedingly brief. Fighters that score a lot of brutal KO's such as Pavlik, do not as a rule hang around too long at the top of their weight divisions. Their brains absorb an inordinate amount of punishment compared to safety-first fighters. All fighters regardless of their particular ring styles will end up with some form of dementia long after their careers are over. The severity of their dementia usually depends on the length of their respective careers, which is why this may turn out to be Pavlik's greatest career victory. One in which, brains clearly triumphed over brawn.