It has been a tumultuous few years for former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, both in and outside the ring. But after losing his title and enduring a much-publicized battle with alcohol, which included a stint in rehab and a subsequent arrest for DUI, Pavlik (39-2, 34 KOs) continues to stay active on the comeback trail. Less than a month removed from a seventh-round TKO of Scott Sigmon on ESPN2/ESPN3's "Friday Night Fights," Pavlik is set to face super middleweight Will Rosinsky (16-1, 9 KOs) in the televised opener of Saturday's HBO card at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Pavlik, 30, has also taken multiple steps to put old habits behind him and rededicate himself to his craft, including moving his camp to Oxnard, Calif., under the guidance of new trainer Robert Garcia. Unbeaten in three fights since dropping the middleweight crown two years ago, Pavlik knows the big-name opponents will be there if he continues to progress. He recently spoke to ESPN.com about putting his past behind him and carving out another chance at becoming a world champion.
How would you grade your most recent performance, against Scott Sigmon? You seemed to have your way with him, but he took a lot of your shots and was able to hang around.
I thought I did what I wanted to do. I thought the body work was phenomenal and I used the uppercuts really good, which me and Robert have been working on at the gym. Things came together really good. You never want to carry anybody in this sport, but going in there, I knew he didn't have anything that could hurt me. I wasn't concerned about that. Mainly, it came down to just working hard on certain things and putting a hurting on him.
What do you know about the style of your next opponent, Will Rosinky, and what are you hoping to accomplish in this next step of your comeback?
His style is similar to Sigmon's, but he's a lot more tactical and polished. [Rosinsky] comes to fight and he's a tough kid. I've been watching the film, and you've got to be ready for the guy. We just have to go in there and stick to the game plan we have been working on.
What is your opinion of the current landscape at 168 pounds? In your mind, who is the class of the division, and is there any fighter in particular who you have your sights set on?
The class of the division, hands down, right now is [Andre] Ward. He proved that with the Super Six tournament. But like I've said before, I can call out anybody and say who I want to fight. But it's all a matter of what opens up. Ward has a fight coming up with [Chad] Dawson, and who knows what will open up next with [Carl] Froch or [Lucian] Bute. Whatever big fight opens up, I'm going to be ready for it.
You knocked out Jermain Taylor in September 2007 to win a pair of middleweight titles. Describe what you remember about that and how you felt as it happened?
I just remember that I had him hurt. It's funny and a little hard to explain, but you know when you've got somebody hurt and whether they are seriously hurt or not. Taylor is the type of guy that he's not going to stand on the ropes and take unaccepted punches. When I hit him and he went to the corner, I threw two or three punches and he just put his hands up. I knew right then and there the fight was pretty much over. I just kept firing away, and a good left hook got in between his gloves and caught him. As soon as his head sloped down, I knew that [referee Steve] Smoger was going to jump in, because he was out.
You were competitive in a 2010 loss to Sergio Martinez for the middleweight title, even scoring a knockdown in the seventh round. What went wrong in that fight and is that a defeat you still hope to avenge?
Yes, it is. What went wrong in that fight was -- and people will say it's a cut (and the cut did help a lot) -- but what really happened was, I hit a wall in the ninth round. Making 160 pounds, and the way we did it, especially coming from 190 or 195, was just unbearable. It was the hardest thing I've ever gone through in my life. I think I totally depleted my body, and no matter if I would have had a cut or not in the ninth round, I hit a wall. I was real lethargic and couldn't move. My body was in shutdown. I think that was the biggest factor. Take nothing away from Sergio. He fought smart. He kept moving, and after he cut me, he moved to the side where I had the cut. He fought a good fight after that.
When you look back at the loss to Bernard Hopkins in 2008 (at a catchweight of 170 pounds), do you chalk that up to simply a bad style matchup at the time?
No, it was just a bad night. You live and you learn. It was a learning experience. You have to adapt in this sport to stay at the top or get back to the top.
How much stock do you put into what some call "unbeaten invincibility," and do you think that you lost something mentally after losing to Hopkins?
Nah. Well ... [pauses] ... for a little bit, yeah, it does. Especially for me, it was eight years undefeated and it does get to you a little bit. But only for a short period of time, and it all depends on the person, too. I can honestly say, for me, that after the first month there came a point where I had to accept it. Then I came right back and fought a very game fighter in [Marco Antonio] Rubio and stopped him in my hometown and put on a very good performance. It's all about how you bounce back. Some people bounce back and some have a hard time.
Your personal struggles have gotten a lot of attention and you've been open about addressing them. How difficult has it been to discuss publicly?
It hasn't been hard, because I got it out of the way and that was the big thing. That's what I tell people now if the question comes up. I say, "Hey, that was two years ago." It is just one of those things that happened long ago. And there are plenty of people in this sport that we can sit there and go on for hours about [who] almost make me look like an angel, but it is what it is. I moved on. And I tell them that if I've moved on, then it's time for you guys to move on. It was hard at first for me to talk about it, but it's something that you have to do. It's part of my job, and I did it.
What have been the hardest changes for you to make outside of the ring?
It's just about rededicating myself to the sport. I had to make that move here to California, which is very important. There are no distractions here, and we are able to focus. I have a new trainer, and we are able to work on things to perfect my skills. And I think that has been instrumental in making this comeback. There are things that you have to do if you are going to take it serious, and that was one I had to do.
How tough for you was it to move away from Youngstown? Do you still make it back now and then or keep in touch with folks back home, or has it been more of a clean break?
No, I go back. I went back out there after the [Aaron] Jaco fight [in March] for about a week and a half, and I was supposed to be home for about a month after this last fight, but they called me and gave me the opportunity [to fight Rosinsky]. I only took about a week off and came right back here [to Oxnard]. I think that's the part where it's shown ... [pauses] ... it was hard for me to leave, especially with the kids and wife and everything else. But it was something that I had to do.
When you look back on everything that has happened to you personally and professionally in the past five years, what do you think is the single biggest factor why you fell on hard times? On the flip side, what has been the biggest factor in pulling out of it?
It was self-inflicted. I did what I wanted to do. I was having fun and getting a little carried away. We had to bite it in the ass before it was too late. That's what we did. There was no real factor that decided it. I had the staph infection after the staph infection. Fights fell through and things like that. Yeah, you know, I was a little depressed and frustrated. All of the above. Not so much on the home life or personal life; it was just everything involved and the fun part started to get out of hand. I had a baby and kids at home. I have a beautiful wife and beautiful family and I'm going to ruin all of this. That was the deciding factor. I'm a grown man now. I was 27 years old at the time. I was young and it was cool. But I should have aged and been mature at the time and that was the conclusion it came to. Pretty much, you just have to buckle your belt now and become a man. Stop this screwing around or everything is going to be gone and you're going to be sitting there in a bad, bad situation.
Was there one specific moment where you woke up and said, "That's it. It stops today?"
Yeah, I pretty much just moved to California. After the fight that I pulled out of [against Darryl Cunningham in August 2011], first thing everybody automatically assumed was, well, it's his personal life. But it had nothing to do with that. It's just easy for people to bring that up. It's just right there. But that wasn't the case. This time it was that I'm serious about all of this. I'm going to make this run. And Top Rank is giving me the opportunity again, and they asked me if I would go to California and work with Robert, and I said yes. He is a top trainer right now, and that was it. I'm going to make this happen.
What kind of technical changes have you made since joining Robert Garcia in Oxnard, and what are you focusing on most in the gym?
We are utilizing the left hand more. I've always had a real good jab and a real good left hand, but now we are working on the hooks to the body and the uppercuts. We are working on defense, moving and countering -- just getting the whole package put together. It's not just the right hand that everybody looks for: "Oh, Pavlik, he's got a big right hand. Just look out for that." Right now, we are adding all the weapons to the arsenal offensively and defensively. With the defense part and countering, we make you miss and you pay. There are so many different things we are putting together.
Despite all that you have accomplished and endured in recent years, you are still just 30 years old, with plenty of potential opportunities in front of you. What are your goals at this point?
I'm hungry today. My goals are to become a world champion again. I would love to be a two-division world champion. That is what I came out [to Oxnard] for. I came out to get back on track and become a world champ again. That is my main goal.
Do you feel a responsibility to your fans in terms of being a role model as someone who identified a problem in his life and fought to overcome it?
I think so. It goes to show that you should never give up on yourself and if you have goals or anything else, that there is nothing that you can't overcome. That's my whole thing. I'm not just, like, doing all of this to prove people wrong. I'm pretty much doing it for my own personal wantings. But if it does help, that's great, and if it's great motivation for people, that's awesome. And I'm glad. But it just goes to show you that if you put your mind to it and you man up, that you can do it.
What have you learned about yourself that has made you a better fighter?
Just to be strong-minded. I've got a lot of will. If I put my mind to something, I'm going to do it. That's what I'm doing right now and that's the big thing. Just to be strong-minded. And it helps a lot in boxing. Your heart and your mind are a key factor in this sport.
Finally, how much fun are you having the second time around?
I'm having fun. I'm learning new things. The gym is a different atmosphere. It's not like "Groundhog Day," just learning the same things over and over. Everything is starting to become fun. I'm learning and I look forward to going to the gym each day. And I think that's the big thing right now. It's keeping it nice.