Kelly Pavlik: The Worst-Managed Career In Boxing?

(It’s all been downhill for Mr. Pavlik, pictured getting punched in the mug by Mr. Hopkins, for a while. Photo credit: AP/Tim Larsen)

You may have read that the Oct. 3 Kelly Pavlik-Paul Williams middleweight championship fight has been postponed, but it’s very possible the fight won’t happen at all now. Why? Because Pavlik and/or his team have made a series of boneheaded mistakes, which follows a trail of goofiness that has marked his career since last summer.

Pavlik last summer was as hot a boxing property as they come, and now he’s a guy who serially ends up in the wrong fights, says the wrong things and indulges in all manner of behavior that makes me — and I’m not alone — scrunch my nose up and say, “Huh?” Or worse.

The story so far today, summarized, is that Pavlik has a staph infection on his hand that has forced the postponement of the fight until Nov. 12 or Dec. 5, according to Pavlik promoter Top Rank. But according to Williams promoter Goossen-Tutor, they hadn’t even been informed of this move and there are conflicts in the Goossen-Tutor schedule around those dates that mean the Pavlik fight may be off or, in a more favorable scenario, pushed to 2010.
We’ll see how this works out; maybe something can be done with HBO’s schedule to make Dec. 5 happen, although it’s hard to see an obvious solution. But the kerfuffle is one of many in Pavlik’s career, one after another. Such as…
  • Taking the Bernard Hopkins fight. Last October, Pavlik fought Hopkins and lost. Losing shouldn’t have been such a sin, but the fight was ill-advised from the start. The bout was at 170 pounds, a weight where Pavlik was totally unproven and, it turns out, not at his best. Pavlik had never fought a tricky, slick boxer like Hopkins, so he was totally unprepared for that style. Even if Pavlik had won, that slick, tricky style has, 100 percent of the time over Hopkins’ career, made even the most aesthetically pleasing boxers look boring and clumsy. And Pavlik wouldn’t have gotten much credit for the win — Hopkins was 44 at the time and coming off a loss where he looked his age, so people would have shrugged and said, “So Pavlik beat up an old man. What does that prove?” And why did Pavlik do it? It was the biggest-money fight available in the short-run. But in the long-run, it was a terrible concept, and its result really set him back with some fans, fairly or no.
  • Signing up to do two small pay-per-views in a row. No one should blame Pavlik for taking a relatively easy but not outrageous comeback fight after the Hopkins loss against Marco Antonio Rubio. Rubio was ranked in the top 10 of the division, so he wasn’t, on paper and under the circumstances, a ridiculous opponent. Nor should anyone blame him for doing it on a small pay-per-view, since HBO wasn’t interested in spending any money on it, which was their right and probably the correct call. But then, Pavlik signed up to do ANOTHER small pay-per-view against an opponent in Sergio Mora that was along the same lines — not a ridiculous opponent, but not the kind of opponent who would get Pavlik on HBO. This would have had the effect of making Pavlik, a fighter who needed exposure to capitalize on his star potential, more obscure, since the show probably wouldn’t have done many buys. And  given that Pavlik’s marketing angle was that he was the hero of the working class man, I’m sure a few people out there were peeved that they’d have to be paying something like $100 to watch two unattractive Pavlik fights on television.
  • Lining up to fight Sergio Mora, of all opponents. Mora may have fans, of a sort, but there aren’t many people who like watching him fight. He’s like Hopkins Jr., often doing just enough to win rounds and uglifying everything in his path along the way. I have yet to meet anyone, or receive a comment from anyone on this blog that I can remember, who was excited about Pavlik-Mora. The thinking, obviously, was that Mora would bring name recognition from his run on NBC’s “The Contender” that would translate into pay-per-view buys. But when fans are spouting off about how much they hate a boxer’s next fight, it’s never a good thing.
  • Muddling the Mora fight either over a hand injury, contract dispute or both. Suddenly, to great confusion, the Mora fight was off. Top Rank’s Bob Arum cited a staph infection on Pavlik’s hand. Pavlik’s confidants signaled that there was no impediment to the fight happening still. Later, everyone effectively conceded that the excuse was manufactured as cover for a contract dispute. While no one is a fan of a boxer or not because of how he comports himself at the negotiating table, and while ultimately fans were probably better off without Pavlik-Mora, Mora became a sympathetic figure and Pavlik looked unprofessional.
  • Bailing out on a planned 2009 Arthur Abraham meeting. When news broke of an agreement in principle between Pavlik and Abraham to fight in the fall, the anticipation immediately began to build for one of the best and most attractive match-ups in the sport. A few months later, though, nobody in Pavlik’s camp was talking about fighting Abraham anymore, and Abraham, frustrated, said he wouldn’t wait around any longer for the fight to happen. Massive disappointment here and in many quarters.
  • Turning up his nose at Felix Sturm and the Super Six tournament. It’s not like anybody wanted to see Pavlik-Sturm, either, even if it was a passable match-up between the division’s champ and the #2-ranked middleweight, but in a bad economy it wasn’t the best PR move for Pavlik to be saying $1 million was an insulting offer from HBO. Even worse, Pavlik’s contempt for the Showtime super middleweight tournament that had just about everyone in boxing excited was misplaced, with Pavlik essentially arguing that the people in the tournament were doing the wrong thing by taking risky fights. This was the final straw for me as a Pavlik fan. I was completely turned off after he said that.
  • Not going to his doctor appointments, then postponing the Williams fight without telling anyone on Williams’ team. According to Arum and manager Cameron Dunkin, Pavlik missed scheduled visits to the doctor to deal with the aforementioned staph infection, and it got to the point where he had to postpone the Williams fight. I’m not saying Pavlik is a stupid person; there’s a difference between a stupid person and a stupid act, as even smart people sometimes do stupid things. But come on. This is as dumb as all get out. Pavlik makes a living with his fists. Taking care of them seems like a pretty basic concept. He’d just last week agreed to a bout that had a great chance of restoring the good will he’d lost over the last year, and no one bothered to check prior to that agreement whether his hand was OK? No one on his team was making sure he was going to the doctor? Then, Pavlik’s team announced the fight would be postponed to a date that Williams’ promoter said it hadn’t agreed to or been informed about. I say it again: Huh? Honestly: Huh? What sense does any of this make? And alternative explanations — like getting cold feet about fighting the dangerous Williams, or gaining too much weight this summer — aren’t flattering either.
I have no idea who’s to blame for each of these management lapses. Maybe it’s Arum. Maybe it’s Dunkin. Maybe it’s trainer Jack Loew. Maybe it’s Pavlik himself. Maybe it’s some combination. Collectively, though, Pavlik and his team need to grab a hold of Pavlik’s career, his health, his decisions, everything, and steer the ship back on course. Because right now, especially if the Williams bout doesn’t happen, his career is threatening to drift into the Bermuda Triangle.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.