Is Kelly Pavlik a Ghost of his former self?

Former undisputed middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik (37-2, 30 KOs) made a low-key return to the ring on the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley undercard at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night. 

Kelly Pavlik (left) and Alfonso Lopez

After a 13-month absence following a well-publicised battle with the bottle in the aftermath of his second career loss to Sergio Martinez, Pavlik stepped up to super-middleweight to take on the unbeaten but unheralded contender Alfonso Lopez (21-1, 16 KOs). The Texan’s glossy record, coupled with a decent amateur pedigree, made this an intriguing match up for ‘The Ghost’ on his debut in the 12 stone weight class.

A nervous looking Pavlik, sporting some new ink on his chest, started the fight extremely slowly and allowed his opponent from Cut and Shoot, Texas to take the initiative in the early rounds.

Lopez showed impressive movement to evade Pavlik’s power shots and threw some eye-catching combinations that seemed to land at will. The only problem for Lopez was that his punches lacked the pop to really put the Youngstown native in trouble as he tried to shake off the inevitable ring rust in the early exchanges.

Heavy blows

By the fourth round, Pavlik had begun to find his range, and in the fifth he landed some heavy blows that staggered his hitherto elusive opponent and gradually turned the fight in his favour. But Lopez remained a slippery customer throughout and he continued to land some good pot shots that made each round difficult to score for the three judges at ringside.

Pavlik moved up a gear in the sixth round, catching Lopez with a big right-hand that seemed to have the Texan in trouble momentarily. A late knockout seemed to be on the cards, but the 29-year-old once again surrendered the initiative to his spirited opponent as both fighters grew weary in the latter stages of the contest.

However, the Ohio born fighter discovered a second wind and had Lopez staggered in the 10th and final round as he searched for a late stoppage. Lopez managed to hang on and deservedly made it to the final bell in his first fight against a name opponent. Despite the majority decision verdict in Pavlik’s favour, with scores of 98-92, 99-91 and 95-95 from the three judges, Lopez’s stock went up after a fight in which he proved he could be a test for any one in the division.

The 28-year-old was also magnanimous in defeat, saying: “I started feeling his [Pavlik’s] power in the later rounds, but I think I deserved the draw. I think I connected with a lot more shots than he did.”

Ring rust

Meanwhile, Pavlik gave a typically blunt assessment of his own performance, even if he was less than impressed with judge Adalaide Byrd, who scored the fight a draw. He said: “The ring rust sure showed, but I know I won the fight. I don’t know what happened with that one (95-95) scorecard. I felt I did pretty good. The ring rust showed.”

Knockoutpunch scored the fight 96-94 for Pavlik, who landed the more telling shots throughout and had it been scheduled for the full twelve rounds would probably have stopped Lopez, who was out on his feet by the final bell.

That said, it was a far from stellar performance from the former middleweight king who, much like in his non-title light-heavyweight contest with Bernard Hopkins, did not seem to carry his  fearsome power up from his traditional weight class. The rustiness was to be expected after such a long hiatus from the sport, but the apparent lack of power in his charge’s punches will be of most concern to trainer Jack Loew.

Nevertheless, Pavlik deserves immense credit for getting his life and career back on track and taking on a live opponent in his return to the ring. Although he seemed a shadow of the fighter that blitzed his way past the likes of Jermain Taylor and Marco Antonio Rubio during his dominant middleweight reignhe clearly needs time to find his feet in his new division and rediscover the form that made him one of the most respected champions in the sport.

Pavlik has already been installed as the number one contender for Carl Froch’s WBC super-middleweight crown, but with the Nottingham man tied up in Showtime’s Super Six tournament, a showdown with IBF champion Lucian Bute (28-0, 23 KOs)  later this year is a more realistic prospect.

Judging by Pavlik’s performance on Saturday night, the Youngstown native could do with a few more rounds under his belt before stepping up to take on the unbeaten Romanian.

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