Kelly Pavlik withdraws from bout

Updated: August 3, 2011, 7:58 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, on the comeback trail after a stay in alcohol rehab and with a big super middleweight title shot against Lucian Bute slated for November, withdrew Monday night from Saturday's fight against Darryl Cunningham.

No specific reason was given, although Top Rank president Todd duBoef said Tuesday that Pavlik was not injured. The entire card has been canceled.

"Top Rank is very disappointed at Kelly's sudden decision to discontinue the rebuilding of his boxing career," duBoef said in making the announcement Tuesday. "Kelly's team specifically outlined a strategy for Kelly to return to the ring in an effective fashion. Kelly's team gave us their objectives and we set them on a course, which began (in) May with Kelly's fight against Alfonso Lopez and was to continue on Saturday against Darryl Cunningham. It seems Kelly has derailed this plan."

Pavlik (37-2, 32 KOs) was supposed to fight at the Covelli Centre in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, in the main event of a Showtime-televised "ShoBox: The New Generation" card.

Cunningham (23-2, 10 KOs) had been tabbed as the opponent specifically because he is a left-hander and would have served as good preparation for Pavlik before a fight with Bute, who is also a southpaw.

Apparently, Pavlik was upset over the offer he had received from Top Rank to fight Bute, telling Youngstown television station WFMJ-TV that "the fight is off and the Bute fight is not going to happen. I'm not going to fight a southpaw for peanuts." Pavlik was scheduled to be paid $50,000 to fight Cunningham.

He also told the station that his reason for pulling out of the fight was a "business decision."

Top Rank was working on a deal with Bute's promoter, InterBox, that would have given the Top Rank/Pavlik side 40 percent of the revenue from the fight. Top Rank had offered Pavlik a minimum purse of $1.35 million (plus an additional $25,000 for training expenses), which could have increased depending on how much money the fight generated.

A source close to Pavlik said that Pavlik was unhappy with the offer because InterBox originally had tried to sign former titlist Mikkel Kessler to fight Bute in November with a substantially bigger offer, which Kessler's team rejected.

DuBoef said that the cancellation of Saturday's fight should not have had anything to do with a proposed fight against Bute in the fall.

"Let me make it crystal clear -- Saturday's fight was not part of a two-fight deal," duBoef said. "There was a plan that we had talked with Team Pavlik about to rebuild his career. We all agreed. It started in May. Then there was supposed to be the fight with Cunningham and then a big fight in the fall. We said we would do our best to plan it. I guess that wasn't acceptable to Kelly in the last week.

"We had discussed the terms of a Bute fight, but that had no bearing on this. Is it a matter of, is Kelly going to fight regularly? Does he want to get back on track and knock that rust off? Apparently not."

On May 7, the 29-year-old Pavlik ended a 13-month layoff that followed his bloody decision title loss to Sergio Martinez in April 2010 and a two-month stint in alcohol rehab at the end of the year. Pavlik moved up to 168 pounds and, although he looked quite rusty, outpointed Lopez on the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley undercard.

With the Bute fight looming in the fall, Pavlik and his team requested that Top Rank arrange another fight for him so he could continue to shake off the rust of the long layoff and get in some rounds against a southpaw.

DuBoef said he got a call Monday night from Cameron Dunkin, Pavlik's co-manager, telling him that Pavlik was withdrawing from the fight.

"Cameron said that Kelly was not interested in pursuing Saturday's fight and that he was pulling out," duBoef said. "I said, 'That's his decision. We're disappointed.' It's very unprofessional and it's his decision. Cameron told me, 'I hate to tell you this, but he's not on board for the plan.' Cameron was very upset because the plan was to get him back in the ring. That is the road to recovery and to rebuilding. We were not going to give him this fight in August and they called us wanting it, so we arranged it."

DuBoef said his first thought when he heard Pavlik had withdrawn was that maybe he was drinking again, although there is no evidence of that.

"It wasn't mentioned but it's the first thing I speculated," duBoef said. "My first thought was I hope his health is not at risk. We operate gingerly with Kelly as it relates to his demons from the past. We take direction from his team.

"But the behavior here is somewhat erratic and unprofessional. I'm very sympathetic to (Showtime), the fans, my staff, the (Covelli Centre) and the people in Youngstown who were looking forward to this and working on the event. Unfortunately, it did not come about. There is some soul searching to do for Kelly and his team. The answers more lie with him than anyone else."

When Pavlik spoke to reporters about the fight on a teleconference last week, he sounded excited to be fighting again relatively quickly after his May win and also talked extensively about fighting Bute.

"I'm going to do my thing. I'm going to put on a great show," Pavlik said. "I'm going to fight as hard as I can. ... It's always good to fight back home. Who knows when the next time will be, so you make the best out if it when you get the chance."

About Bute, Pavlik said, "I think he's a very good fighter. There are some things questionable about him. I think he's probably one of the best body punchers in the sport today by far, but I think he has pretty good boxing ability, too. I don't think he's as talented overall as (Sergio) Martinez as far as movement and slickness. He's got the whole package but I think everyone will see when I go into that fight that it's going to be a different Kelly Pavlik. I'm hungry. I want the title back."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.

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