- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Nearly two years have passed since Kelly Pavlik lost the middleweight championship to Sergio Martinez, and 10 months have passed since Pavlik's only fight since -- a shaky decision win against Alfonso Lopez on the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley undercard.
But Pavlik's time away from the ring has sometimes been as dramatic as his fights. He has waged a public battle with alcohol (including spending time in rehab). He angered promoter Top Rank and Showtime last summer when he walked away from a televised main event a few days beforehand because he decided he didn't like the deal he had agreed to (causing the show to be canceled). And in December, Pavlik was arrested on a DUI charge in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
Now the question is, has Pavlik put the hard times behind him? Can he make it back to the top as he embarks on a comeback against Aaron Jaco on "Top Rank Live" on Saturday night (Azteca America, 9 ET)?
Pavlik, seemingly, has done his part to make his comeback the right way.
First, he left the distractions of Youngstown behind for a fresh start in Oxnard, Calif., earlier this year to train with Robert Garcia. The move meant Pavlik also made the difficult decision to part ways with Jack Loew, his career-long trainer who had been so integral in his ride to the middleweight championship.
Then Pavlik, accustomed to the spotlight, accepted a small-money fight that originally wasn't going to be part of the "Top Rank Live" telecast, although that changed this week at the behest of Azteca America, according to Top Rank spokesman Lee Samuels.
Now Pavlik's bout will open the broadcast, with featherweight Frankie Leal (17-5-3, 10 KOs) of Mexico facing Russia's Evgeny Gradovich (12-0, 6 KOs) -- who is also trained by Garcia -- in the main event. The bout will be at Illusions Theatre, a 3,700-seat venue at the Alamodome in San Antonio. All eyes likely will be on Pavlik (37-2, 32 KOs) as he attempts to resuscitate his career against Jaco (15-2, 5 KOs), 34, of Sarasota, Fla.
They will meet in a scheduled 10-round bout at a contract weight of 170 pounds, although Pavlik, who turns 30 on Wednesday, is leaving his options open when it comes to weight class. He may continue fighting at super middleweight or, for the right fight, perhaps move back down to middleweight.
Right now, he said he is just happy to be back in action.
"I am revitalizing my boxing career," Pavlik said at Thursday's media workout. "This is my second chance, probably my last chance, really. But boxing isn't like a job now. I am more eager to train and having a lot of fun now. I sparred 10 rounds the other day, and in the eighth round I had more bounce in my step than I had in the second round."
Pavlik had been with Loew since he was a kid. Together, they won the middleweight title and reached great heights. Ultimately, however, Pavlik knew he needed to get out of Youngstown, which Top Rank and manager Cameron Dunkin encouraged him to do. Dunkin swears by Garcia and has some of his fighters training with him, including Nonito Donaire and Brandon Rios.
So it came to a break with Loew and a new life in Oxnard with Garcia.
"Changing trainers was very hard, but so far this has worked out real well with Robert Garcia," Pavlik said. "We're working on counterpunching now, a whole variety of new things we are working on. I am totally focused on boxing."
Garcia said Pavlik has been the model student and fit in well at his gym.
"Everything has been great," Garcia said. "We started about 2½ months ago. He came in determined to make a good comeback and prove that he still has it. The first thing I did was sit down and talk to him, and I got the answers to the questions I expected. So we started to work, and so far he is doing everything he has been told to do and really getting better. I'm really impressed with how things have been going the last two months. He's dedicated and happy at the gym."
Under Loew, the stories of Pavlik skipping days in the gym or cutting workouts short were well circulated. Garcia said he has seen none of that.
"When you have been with someone so many years, sometimes I think it's easy to say, 'No, not today' or 'No, I'm too tired.' I don't know if that was the case with Kelly, but with me, he is following everything I say," Garcia said. "Sometimes it's just good to have a new voice. I know he is very motivated. I don't think [Jaco] is just a bum. I'm sure he will try to come and do an upset because it would be a great win for him. So we are prepared for him. We don't want the easiest guy out there. We want to show where Kelly is at. But I believe he has the talent and the tools to come back to the top."
Assuming Pavlik comes through Saturday's fight and looks OK, Top Rank is in talks with ESPN about having Pavlik headline a "Friday Night Fights" card in Las Vegas on June 8, the night before the big Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. HBO PPV card.
As long as Pavlik is up to it, Top Rank plans to keep him on an aggressive schedule so that he can stay busy and work his way back into a major fight, perhaps before the end of the year.
"We're going a fight at a time, but Kelly wants to stay busy and keep learning," Garcia said. "By the end of the year, he could get something big. But he can't take two months off. He'll take a week off after the fight and then come back to the gym. He can't be fighting twice a year. He needs to fight every two months. If you take off two or three months, you lose everything you've gained."
If Pavlik can make it back to the top, wouldn't that be a great comeback story? And as Garcia asks, who doesn't like a comeback story?
"The fact that he decided to get away from his hometown and go to the other side of the country shows you he is serious," Garcia said. "His background and his past, there are some terrible things and problems, but for this kid to overcome that, it makes a great story. Everybody loves those kinds of stories. It will be great to see him back at the top."
Pavlik said he is on his way there.
"I feel like the old Kelly Pavlik," he said. "I feel good and am happy with myself."
Bute becomes Canadian citizen
Super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute, who was born in Romania, has called Montreal his home for years and become a darling of Quebec, selling out fights in Montreal and Quebec City to the legion of fans who adore him.
Now he really can call Canada home, after being sworn in as a citizen at a ceremony held at St. Dorothy Elementary School in Montreal on Monday. Bute was visibly emotional during the ceremony, according to Interbox promoter Jean Bedard, who accompanied Bute there along with trainer Stephan Larouche and other friends.
"I just experienced one of the most important moments of my life," Bute said after gaining his citizenship with 29 others. "I have been preparing for this day for the last five years. I felt like a true Quebecer and Canadian long ago, but today I am very proud to obtain my Canadian citizenship. My origins are Romanian, but it is important to me to implicate myself fully in my adopted country of Canada. I am very lucky to have been received so well in this country since I set foot here for good in 2003. It is my choice to live here, and it makes me happy to know I am a real Canadian citizen now."
Bute learned French upon his arrival in Montreal and speaks nearly fluent English.
"We always considered Lucian one of us," Bedard said. "He has always been integrated in community life, learned both official languages [French and English] and has always felt at home here in Quebec."
Bute (30-0, 24 KOs) is headed for a six-week training camp in Florida to get ready for his 10th title defense, which will come against former titleholder and Super Six World Boxing Classic runner-up Carl Froch (28-2, 20 KOs) in Froch's hometown of Nottingham, England, on May 26. The fight likely will be carried live in the United States on premium network Epix.
Olusegun demands Garcia shot
After Danny Garcia outpointed Erik Morales this past Saturday at Reliant Arena in Houston to claim a vacant junior welterweight belt -- Morales had been stripped the previous day for failing to make 140 pounds -- Garcia didn't have much time to celebrate before being confronted by his likely next opponent.
Watching from ringside and waiting for Garcia at the postfight news conference was Nigeria-born, England-based mandatory challenger Ajose Olusegun (30-0, 14 KOs), who politely called for Garcia to fight him next.
"I'm a fighter. I'm a champion," Garcia told Olusegun from the podium at the news conference. "I'll fight anybody, anywhere, anytime. I'm from Philly. I bring blood, sweat and tears."
Olusegun handily outpointed Ali Chebah in September to become the mandatory challenger, but the WBC allowed Morales to bypass him in favor of an optional defense against Garcia. Olusegun and his co-promoters, Lou DiBella and Gary Shaw, do not plan to allow that to happen again.
"I have waited for this opportunity for a lifetime, and I have done everything in my power to get a shot at a world championship," Olusegun said. "I am the mandatory challenger, and I have been for a while now. I am tired of waiting for my shot. Garcia says that he is a true champion and a warrior? Then prove it by fighting me."
Said Shaw: "Ajose has honorably earned the right to challenge [Garcia]. He's been waiting patiently for his opportunity to show the world why he's the best in the division. The time is now for Ajose to get his shot."
Mayweather-Cotto hype builds
Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto sat down with HBO's Max Kellerman to tape "Face Off" a few weeks ago while they were in New York for the media tour kicking off the promotion for their May 5 (HBO PPV) megafight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and now the show is ready to air.
"Face Off with Max Kellerman: Mayweather/Cotto" debuts Tuesday (HBO, 8:45 p.m. ET/PT with multiple replays). Moderated by Kellerman, "Face Off" offers an often-gripping interview session in which the two fighters answer Kellerman's questions while sitting face-to-face. They also have an opportunity to address each other.
CNN will replay all four parts of HBO's "24/7 Mayweather/Cotto" reality series, giving tremendous exposure to Mayweather's challenge to Cotto, a junior middleweight titlist. The show debuts in prime time on HBO at 9:45 p.m. ET/PT on April 14 and will replay that night on CNN at midnight ET/PT. Episodes 2 and 3 will air on CNN on subsequent Saturday nights, also at midnight ET/PT, with the finale repeating on CNN on May 4 at midnight ET/PT.
In another aspect of the promotion, the HBO2 service will, as always, air classic fights involving Mayweather and Cotto. But for this fight, HBO added a twist, allowing fans to vote on the fights they wanted to see, and the results are in: On April 27 (10:15 ET/PT), HBO2 will replay Mayweather's stellar 2001 victory against the late Diego Corrales, a fight in which Mayweather dropped Corrales five times en route to retaining his junior lightweight title via 10th-round knockout; Mayweather-Corrales will be followed by Cotto's 2007 welterweight title defense against Shane Mosley, in which Cotto won a tight, hard-fought decision.
• Former undisputed junior middleweight champion Winky Wright (51-5-1, 25 KOs), out of action for three years since losing a lopsided decision to Paul Williams in April 2009, has signed the contract for his ring return, adviser Damian Ramirez told ESPN.com. Wright will meet rising middleweight contender "Kid Chocolate" Peter Quillin (26-0, 20 KOs) on Showtime on May 26. The fight, which will take place at a site to be determined, will open the telecast headlined by former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver (29-6, 20 KOs), who meets Lateef Kayode (18-0, 12 KOs) in a cruiserweight fight.
• A junior middleweight bout between former welterweight titlist Carlos Quintana (28-3, 22 KOs) and former junior middleweight title challenger Deandre Latimore (23-3, 17 KOs) has been added to the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Miguel Cotto HBO PPV card on May 5. The move comes at the behest of Mayweather, whose Mayweather Promotions directed lead promoter Golden Boy to put the fight on the card because Mayweather wants Latimore, Mayweather's fighter, on the broadcast. The fight was being discussed as a possible main event for the "Friday Night Fights" card on ESPN2 that Golden Boy is putting on May 4 in Las Vegas to piggyback off the big show the next night.
Latimore has won three consecutive fights but looked very shaky in the late rounds of a majority decision win against Milton Nunez on Feb. 24, getting dropped in the ninth and 10th rounds and barely hanging on. Quintana has fought only three times since 2008, including an eighth-round knockout loss to then-welterweight titlist Andre Berto. Quintana hasn't fought since February 2011. "It's a good fight. It's definitely a make-or-break fight for these guys," said Lou DiBella, who promotes Quintana and used to promote Latimore. "It's a must-win for both guys."
• Heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek, who won a near-shutout decision against Nagy Aguilera on Saturday night in Brooklyn, N.Y., hurt both of his hands in the bout, perhaps a reason he didn't score a knockout against an opponent who had been stopped inside three rounds by Cristobal Arreola and Samuel Peter. Adamek visited a hand specialist in New York this week and didn't suffer any fractures, according to Main Events promoter Kathy Duva.
"Adamek's hands are just bruised, not broken," she said. The news paves the way for Adamek to return to action June 16 to headline an NBC Sports Network "Fight Card" from the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., where Adamek, a native of Poland living in Jersey City, N.J., draws big crowds from the local Polish community.
• Former featherweight and junior lightweight titlist Jorge Linares (31-2, 20 KOs) of Venezuela fights Saturday night in Cancun, Mexico against Mexico's Sergio Thompson (21-2, 19 KOs). American fight fans can watch live coverage of the card on Fox Deportes (10 ET). Golden Boy, which is promoting the card, puts on a monthly card on Mexican network Televisa, but this will be the second of those shows in a row that will be simulcast live in the United States on Fox Deportes. It's a highly significant fight for Linares, who must win to earn his way into a July 7 rematch on Showtime against lightweight titlist Antonio DeMarco (27-2-1, 20 KOs).
DeMarco and Linares met in October for a vacant belt on the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson HBO PPV undercard at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. DeMarco was far behind on the scorecards when he rallied for an improbable 11th-round knockout. The rematch was mandated, but both fighters were able to take interim bouts. DeMarco retained the title when he knocked out Miguel Roman on March 17 in his interim bout. It's up to Linares to win Saturday to preserve the rematch.
• Junior welterweight Humberto Soto (57-7-2, 34 KOs), a former lightweight and junior lightweight titlist, is scheduled to fight Lucas Matthysse (30-2, 28 KOs) in a matchup of top-10 140-pounders June 23 on Showtime on the Victor Ortiz-Andre Berto II undercard. However, Soto doesn't want to wait around until then, so he is taking a tune-up fight April 7 in Cancun, Mexico. He will face Claudinei Lacerda (14-2, 10 KOs) of Brazil.
"Soto didn't want to wait all the way until June," Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez said. "He wanted a fight in between, and Matthysse had a tuneup in February. It's good for him because it will keep him in shape, but it's a double-edged sword because he could get cut or hurt a hand. That's what I worry about. Anything can happen in a fight, so I get nervous about that stuff."
• Highly regarded South African super middleweight Thomas Oosthuizen will headline a "ShoBox: The New Generation" tripleheader on Showtime at the Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Okla., on April 27. Oosthuizen (18-0-1, 13 KOs) will face former amateur star Marcus Johnson (21-1, 15 KOs), who stepped in this week when original opponent Maxim Vlasov dropped out, promoter Lou DiBella said. DiBella said he was informed by Vlasov's promoter, Artie Pelullo, that Vlasov had been in a car accident and wouldn't be available.
"Artie said the kid is OK, but that he can't fight on that date," DiBella said. "I think I made an even better fight with Marcus. These are two top prospects, and we'll see which one of them can fight. Both guys really believe in themselves." The card also features two of Puerto Rico's top prospects, junior featherweight Luis Del Valle and junior lightweight Jose Pedraza. Del Valle (15-0, 11 KOs) will meet Christopher Martin (23-1-3, 6 KOs) in a scheduled 10-rounder, and Pedraza (7-0, 6 KOs) will face an opponent to be determined in the scheduled eight-round opener.
• Former middleweight titlist -- and Super Six World Boxing Classic washout -- Arthur Abraham (33-3, 27 KOs) will meet former European super middleweight champion Piotr Wilczewski (30-2, 10 KOs) of Poland on Saturday in Kiel, Germany. Wilczewski had some travel issues reaching Kiel and missed Tuesday's public workout because he was stuck at the Munich airport when his connecting flight was canceled because of nationwide airport strikes in Germany.
"This doesn't bother me," said Wilczewski, who arrived Wednesday. "The most important thing is that I will be in the ring on time. This little airport strike cannot keep me from beating Abraham on Saturday." Abraham lost three of his four Super Six bouts, but if he beats Wilczewski, promoter Kalle Sauerland said, he will be in line to challenge the winner of the super middleweight title bout between titleholder Robert Stieglitz and mandatory challenger George Groves. "It's all or nothing for Arthur," Sauerland said. "He needs to win against Wilczewski." Also on the card, European light heavyweight champion Eduard Gutknecht (23-1, 9 KOs) will defend against Tony Averlant (17-5-2, 4 KOs) of France.
• Two IBF purse bids were canceled this week when the sides made deals. Junior middleweight titlist Cornelius "K9" Bundrage (31-4, 18 KOs) and former two-division titlist Cory Spinks (39-6, 11 KOs) -- whom Bundrage already crushed in five lopsided rounds two fights ago -- are both promoted by Don King, who was able to come to terms with the fighters, spokesman Alan Hopper told ESPN.com. The bout is tentatively scheduled for June 23 at the Hard Rock resort in Hollywood, Fla. There is no television coverage at this point, although King was shopping the fight to Showtime, which turned it down. Also, junior lightweight titlist Juan Carlos Salgado (24-1-1, 16 KOs) and former featherweight title challenger Martin Honorio (32-6-1, 16 KOs) reached agreement. They are scheduled to fight April 28 in Mexico City.
• The Boxing Writers Association of America announced that it will honor heavyweight champion brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko with the James A. Farley Award for "honesty and integrity in boxing." The award was voted on by the organization's officers and board of directors. The brothers will be honored at the 87th annual BWAA awards dinner on June 6 in New York, along with the rest of the previously announced honorees, including fighter of the year Andre Ward. The BWAA doesn't give out the Farley Award very often, but it selected the Klitschko brothers because they "have conducted themselves with class and dignity inside and outside of the ring." The BWAA cited their education -- the Klitschkos are the first world champions in history to have earned doctorate degrees -- deep involvement in charities and generally classy manner in which they promote their bouts as reasons for giving them the award.
• British welterweight contender Kell Brook (27-0, 18 KOs), who routed Matthew Hatton in a lopsided decision on March 17 in front of a hometown crowd of 10,000 at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield will return to his home arena on July 7, promoter Eddie Hearn announced. Brook's opponent is to be announced. "Kell delivered in a big way against Matthew and proved he is worth the hype," Hearn said. "Now we will deliver another big night for him against a top name that we will announce soon."
• Welterweight prospect Sadam Ali (14-0, 8 KOs), who has resisted signing with a promoter, will promote his next fight on his own against an opponent to be determined on June 2 in his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. The card will be the first promoted by the 2008 U.S. Olympian's new World Kid Promotions. Ali will headline the show in a scheduled 10-rounder at the Aviator Sports Complex.
"I am truly excited to start my own promotion and give some great boxers an opportunity to display their skills on June 2," he said. "I have a great team behind me, and I believe that our company will not only be beneficial to my career but other boxers in the area."
• On April 14, promoter Don King will put on the first boxing show at the Casino Miami Jai-Alai in Miami since the completion of the venue's $87 million expansion. Headlining the card will be junior middleweight Joey Hernandez (20-1-1, 11 KOs), a South Florida ticket seller, against Shakir Ashanti (16-12, 4 KOs). "I am very excited to be returning to Miami Jai-Alai with a great card to celebrate their expansion into full-fledged casino gaming," said King, who put on several cards there years ago.
• The working date for heavyweight titlist Alexander Povetkin (24-0, 16 KOs) to defend his belt against mandatory challenger and former champion Hasim Rahman (50-7-2, 41 KOs) is July 14 in Germany. ... Light heavyweight titlist Nathan Cleverly will defend against Robin Krasniqi (37-2, 13 KOs) in London on April 28. The WBO approved the bout after a tussle with promoter Frank Warren even though Cleverly (24-0, 11 KOs), who will be making his fourth defense, had gotten a sanction for his most recent defense, against Tommy Karpency in February, because he had promised that his next defense would be against his mandatory challenger, which Krasniqi is not. ... Roy Jones Jr.'s Square Ring Promotions will put on an ESPN "Friday Night Fights" card April 27 at the Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, that will feature four undefeated fighters in the two 10-round co-features. Light heavyweight contender Ismayl Sillakh (17-0, 14 KOs) will face Denis Grachev (11-0-1, 7 KOs) in the main event, with featherweight Yuandale Evans (16-0, 12 KOs) facing Javier Fortuna (18-0, 13 KOs) in the co-feature. ... The June 30 Showtime card is ticketed to be a Golden Boy show at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., although the bouts are not set.
"It was a great fight because we both wanted to win so much. I now know that I beat the best JuanMa Lopez this time. He was strong and smart, but at the end of the day, I can take his punch and he can't take mine. I am happy people enjoyed the fight and that they will remember it for a long time."
-- Featherweight titlist Orlando Salido, on his memorable 10th-round knockout of Juan Manuel Lopez in their rematch on March 10
"Referee Jon Schorle was wrong when he continued the count after Carlos reached his feet. Pursuant to the rules, the round was over, the bell sounded and the corner did what any corner would do in that situation. The Texas commission should follow their own rules and change the decision to a no-contest."
-- Warriors Boxing promoter Leon Margules, on Schorle's highly controversial disqualification of Carlos Molina on Saturday against James Kirkland after Molina was knocked down at the bell, ending the 10th round, but easily beat Schorle's 10-count before one of his cornermen entered the ring