Kelly Pavlik to return to ring in March

Updated: March 9, 2012, 2:42 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Three months after Kelly Pavlik changed trainers and relocated to Oxnard, Calif., as part of the effort to straighten out his life and save his career, the former middleweight champion is set for his first fight in 10 months.

Pavlik will return to the ring to face Aaron Jaco on March 31 in San Antonio, manager Cameron Dunkin said Thursday. The fight will take place at Illusions Theater, a 3,700-seat venue at the Alamodome, Top Rank spokesman Lee Samuels told ESPN.com.

The fight is scheduled for 10 rounds with a contract weight of 170 pounds, but Dunkin said the weight -- heavier than usual for Pavlik -- was a consideration for Jaco and that Pavlik, who aims to fight in either the 168-pound super middleweight division, or perhaps even return to the 160-pound middleweight division, would come in under the weight.

"He's going to fight and he's just excited," Dunkin said.

Pavlik's career has been knocked off course by a battle with alcohol. Since losing the middleweight championship to Sergio Martinez in April 2010, Pavlik has fought just once, had two stints in rehab and was arrested on a DUI charge.

In his last fight in May 2011, on the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley undercard, Pavlik (37-2, 32 KOs) won a decision against Alfonso Lopez in what was supposed to be a return to regular activity.

But after he was scheduled to fight in August, he withdrew from Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation" main event just days before the fight because he was unhappy with the deal. With that withdrawal, Pavlik also threw away a $1.35 million deal to challenge super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute in November, angering Top Rank.

In an effort to get back on track last fall, Pavlik, his father and co-manager Mike Pavlik and Dunkin met with Top Rank officials in New York to try to work on things. They decided that Pavlik would leave his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, and break from career-long trainer Jack Loew in favor of relocating to Oxnard to begin training with Robert Garcia, who trains some of boxing's top fighters, including Brandon Rios, Nonito Donaire and Mikey Garcia (his younger brother).

Pavlik, with an apparent re-dedication to boxing and his drinking under control, made the move in January and has been training at Garcia's Oxnard Boxing Academy since.

Although Dunkin said he talks to Pavlik on the telephone regularly, he had a chance to see him on Tuesday in Los Angeles, where Top Rank was holding a news conference to discuss Rios' next fight.

Pavlik made the drive from Oxnard to the press conference.

"For Kelly to drive down by himself, it just shows you how much he's into boxing again and wants to be around it," Dunkin said. "He was laughing and joking. He looked so good. He said to me, 'I've never trained like this consistently. I've been training six days a week. I get a good night's sleep. I'm in bed by 9 o'clock. I'm on a health kick. I'm eating the right foods.' Kelly said he was 173 pounds but after he works out he'll be down at 169. His weight is good.

"He said, 'I work two hours a day just on moving my head and reacting to punches.' Robert has told he can't get anyone to really spar with Kelly except for (2008 Olympian) Alfonso Blanco because he's hurting everyone he spars with."

If Pavlik, who turns 30 on April 4, comes through the March 31 fight, Dunkin said he would return in June. Possible dates include June 8 on ESPN2 in Las Vegas or on the June 9 Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. undercard in Las Vegas.

"If everything goes OK, Kelly will fight again in June and then come back in the fall and, hopefully, have a real, real fight," Dunkin said.

The March 31 fight will take place on the untelevised portion of a "Top Rank Live" card on Spanish-language network Azteca America. "Top Rank Live" had been on Fox Espanol but the series is moving to Azteca America this year, according to Top Rank president Todd duBoef.

Jaco (15-2, 5 KOs), 34, of Sarasota, Fla., will be taking a big step up in competition but has won two fights in a row after losing back-to-back bouts. However, he fought only once in 2011 after not fighting since 2006.

Jaco's father, Dave Jaco, was a journeyman heavyweight in the 1980s and early 90s who fought a who's who of the division, including losses to Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Buster Douglas, Tommy Morrison and Tony Tucker, and an upset win against Razor Ruddock.

In the March 31 main event, featherweight Alejandro Lopez faces Evgeny Gradavich with junior lightweight prospect Casey Ramos meeting Gerardo Robles in the co-feature.

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