Finally healthy, Pavlik ready for Espino

Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik says his left hand is finally

recovered from a staph infection and he feels great heading into a

Dec. 19 title defense against Miguel Espino.

Pavlik was throwing jabs with his left on Tuesday, three days

after he was supposed to fight Paul Williams in defense of his WBC

and WBO titles. The infection forced Pavlik to twice cancel fights,

creating a backlash within the boxing community and even among his

most ardent supporters.

Now Pavlik (35-1, 31 KOs) is healthy again and preparing to face

Espino (20-2-1, 9 KOs) in a pay-per-view title defense in Pavlik’s

hometown at Youngstown State University. It will come nearly 10

months after his last fight, a win over Marco Rubio on Feb. 21, and

end what has become the longest layoff of his career. It also will

put to rest to fears that Pavlik would never fight again.

“You get a lot of keypad pushers that sit at home on their

computers and get in these blogs and they write that my career is

over,” Pavlik said. “But they don’t know the difference between a

left hook and a fishing hook.”

Jack Loew, Pavlik’s trainer, has heard all the criticism – even

from fans in Pavlik’s hometown. His camp addressed rumors that

Pavlik had entered rehab for alcohol abuse and was dealing with

personal problems. All the rumors, they say, are false.

“I don’t understand it,” Loew said. “Here’s a kid that has

done more for charities in this town than any other boxer – any

other athlete – ever has. Because he’s turned down two fights and

then schedules this fight, everything kind of blew up and went the

opposite direction we thought it was going to go. So many people

have turned on him. It hurts me because I’ve known him since he was

9 years old.”

The fight against Espino is mandatory – Pavlik would have lost

his WBC and WBO belts had he again refused. Still, he wasn’t

healthy when he agreed to the fight in October. He didn’t begin

hitting a heavy bag until about two weeks ago, forcing him to cram

a typical eight-week training camp into about five weeks.

His hand has responded better than anyone could have hoped,

considering he needed two surgeries and still couldn’t make a fist

with his left hand in late October, prompting the second

cancellation of the Williams fight.

“I’m glad they forced it on us. We needed to get back in the

ring,” Loew said. “Even two weeks ago, we weren’t 100 percent …

I was worried. We had our work cut out for us. But he responded

again like the champ he is.”

Espino, ranked third by the WBC, has a lot of heart and seems to

be in great shape, Pavlik said.

“But he has a lot of flaws,” Pavlik said. “He gets hit a lot.

He seems like he has a good chin. He takes a lot of punches.”

Should he beat Espino, Pavlik wants to work out another deal

with Williams for next year. Williams kept the Dec. 5 date and won

by majority decision over Argentina’s Sergio Martinez in a fight

that left the Pavlik camp unimpressed – Loew said the way Pavlik’s

hand has responded in the last couple of weeks, he could have

beaten Williams.

“I’m glad he got the decision,” Pavlik said of Williams. “I

had Martinez by two rounds, maybe three rounds.”

Pavlik said he wanted to push the fight with Williams back to

around the end of January, which would have given his hand enough

time to properly heal. Williams agreed once to push the fight back

from October to December, but gave up when Pavlik canceled a second

time. Pavlik doesn’t believe Williams will sign to fight him

again.

“I want to fight him, but it probably won’t happen,” Pavlik

said. “Here’s a kid that went from fighting for $1.5 million in

Atlantic City at the Boardwalk Hall in front of maybe 10,000 had he

fought me, to fighting Martinez in the ballroom above that for $1

million less than he would’ve made. Paul Williams needs me after

this fight. I don’t need Paul Williams. But I still want to fight

him.”

Pavlik is hoping a strong performance against Espino will end

what has been a difficult 14 months that began with a stinging loss

to Bernard Hopkins on Oct. 18, 2008, the first loss of his career.

Then came the win against Rubio, followed by 10 months of

uncertainty surrounding his left hand.

“Medically, it was tough,” Pavlik said. “Just when we thought

we had it, something else came up. Then after surgery, it turns

into MRSA and gets worse and worse. Every time we thought we had it

beat, there was a reaction. But the hand feels great now. We’re

ready to go.”