Pavlik stops Rubio after 9 rounds to keep title

Updated: February 22, 2009, 12:20 AM ET
Associated Press

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- No longer perfect, Kelly Pavlik is still the best middleweight in the world.

Dominating overmatched Marco Antonio Rubio from the start, Pavlik emphatically rebounded from his first career loss Saturday night by stopping the Mexican challenger after the ninth round before a raucous hometown crowd that arrived more than 5 hours early to see its hero.

The pride of Youngstown gave them something to remember.

Pavlik outclassed and outpunched Rubio almost the entire fight, hurting him in the eighth round and battering him throughout the ninth, after which Rubio's corner decided he couldn't continue.

"There's no place like home. There was a lot of pressure on me for this fight but it's great to bounce back in my hometown," Pavlik said. "It was electric."

In the co-main event of a split-site doubleheader, Miguel Cotto came back from his own first career loss to knock out Michael Jennings in the fifth round and capture the vacant WBO welterweight title at New York's Madison Square Garden.

It was just the second time Pavlik (35-1, 31 KOs) had fought in his hometown since 2001, long before he stunned Jermain Taylor to win the WBO and WBC middleweight titles. In his only other defense since then, the scrawny middleweight champion stopped unheralded Gary Lockett in the third round in Atlantic City, N.J.

Carrying tremendous momentum away from that fight, Pavlik accepted a 170-pound bout against Bernard Hopkins last October. Battling bronchitis and a troublesome elbow leading up to it, the savvy ring veteran dominated Pavlik in a surprisingly one-sided loss.

Rubio proved to be the perfect antidote for any hangover.

The 28-year-old Mexican (43-5-1) had won nine straight since moving up from junior middleweight, but he was clearly overmatched in this one. The straight-ahead puncher, who earned the title shot by beating Enrique Ornelas on the Pavlik-Hopkins undercard, didn't have enough movement and defense to stay with the taller, stronger champion.

"We kept him going backwards," trainer Jack Loew said. "We saw in the tape that Rubio had trouble fighting backwards. That was our plan and Kelly executed it perfectly."

Pavlik landed a devastating left midway through the opening round, dictating the tempo right from the start. Looking light and fresh on his feet, Pavlik often backed Rubio into his own corner, landing body shots virtually at will.

Rubio rallied in the sixth round, landing two left hooks and standing toe-to-toe with Pavlik as it came to an end. But Pavlik shook him again with a big right hand near the end of the eighth round and boxed him into a corner early in the ninth.

Rubio's team decided it had seen enough, telling referee Frank Garza to stop the carnage with their fighter sitting on his stool.

"I feel great. I put that loss behind me," Pavlik said. "I give a lot of credit to (Rubio). He's a lot tougher than I expected."

Pavlik, who earned a guaranteed $1 million for the fight, has spoke passionately of clearing out the middleweight division. But IBF champion Arthur Abraham is already defending his title next month, and WBA champ Felix Sturm is set to fight in April.

Besides, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said the best fight isn't necessarily the biggest fight -- meaning the two Germans aren't well known enough to generate a big payday.

That could mean Pavlik's next bout is against the likes of John Duddy, which would sell well in Ohio or New York, where the popular Irishman has a massive following. Duddy defeated Matt Vanda by unanimous decision on the Cotto-Jennings undercard.

Cotto (33-1, 27 KOs) appeared crisp in his first fight since losing to Antonio Margarito last July -- a knockout that some now question after Margarito was found with a plaster-like substance in his hand wraps before a loss last month to Shane Mosley.

The sensational Puerto Rican welterweight Cotto fought a tactical first couple rounds against the overmatched Jennings (34-2) before staggering him with a left in the fourth, eventually knocking him to the floor twice. The bloodied Brit came out for the fifth but didn't last much longer.

Cotto battered Jennings with body shots, trapping him in the corner and knocking him down again. Jennings rose at the count of 10 but the referee mercifully waved it off.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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