NEW YORK -- The reclamation project that is former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik is about to enter the next, inevitable phase: a new trainer (Robert Garcia) and a new training location (Oxnard, Calif.).
Pavlik and his father, co-manager Mike Pavlik, came to the Big Apple to take in Saturday night's Nonito Donaire-Omar Narvaez card at the Madison Square Garden Theater and, more important, to meet with co-manager Cameron Dunkin and sit down with Top Rank's Bob Arum, Todd duBoef and Carl Moretti.
Friday's meeting was meant to get them on the same page after Pavlik's terrible decision to pull out of a Showtime "ShoBox" fight against Darryl Cunningham on a few days' notice in August (for no other reason than his heart wasn't in it) and throw away a seven-figure super middleweight title opportunity that Top Rank had negotiated for him against Lucian Bute on Nov. 5. The sides had since had little contact, until the meeting.
Although Pavlik wasn't talking much -- only to say, when I ran into him in the hotel lobby Saturday afternoon, that it was a good meeting and that he was looking forward to fighting again -- by all accounts it did go well. Most notably, Pavlik, whose year began with a well-documented stint in alcohol rehab, is in the process of making the drastic change of leaving his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, and trainer Jack Loew for Garcia and his gym in Oxnard.
"Jack's out," Dunkin told me Saturday night following a media conference for Top Rank's Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito undercard on Dec. 3 at the Garden. "It's about seeing if Kelly still has any fight left in him, and he may not. He wasn't getting any better, he wasn't training, he had no organization. He wasn't in a positive way. So you have to make changes. You have to do something. You have to make drastic changes and see if it's going to work."
That means hooking up with Garcia, who also trains Dunkin clients Donaire, Brandon Rios and Mikey Garcia (Robert's younger brother), as well as Margarito.
"Robert Garcia, Oxnard. I'm excited about it," Dunkin said of Pavlik's impending move. "It's not done yet because there are two things I still have to work out, but this is about getting him out of Ohio. He's happy with the place. He's fine with the trainer. That's worked out -- he's going to go and train with Robert Garcia. That's done. He's going to go to Oxnard. That's done."
Arum also liked the choice of Garcia.
"I think Robert is ultimately going to be as good as Freddie Roach as a trainer," Arum said. "He isn't now, but he will be."
Loew has trained Pavlik (37-2, 32 KOs) at the South Side Boxing Club in Youngstown since Pavlik picked up gloves at age 9, so it's an unfortunate end to what had been something of a fairy tale. They reached the pinnacle of boxing together on Sept. 29, 2007, when Pavlik rallied from an early knockdown to knock out Jermain Taylor in the seventh round and win the middleweight world championship.
Despite their success, Pavlik, 29, never really lived up to his potential under Loew. He had health issues, pulled out of fights and had a drinking problem. Some believe he had stagnated under Loew, and periodically there were calls in some quarters for Pavlik to dump him. But Pavlik was always loyal, at least until now.
However, it seems that in order for Pavlik to save what is left of his career, he needs to get away from Youngstown and the myriad distractions there. Getting out of Ohio also means leaving the trainer he has referred to as a second father, a friend and brother.
"We had a nice meeting with Pavlik and we laid out a course of action that [Pavlik] liked," Arum said. "It's gonna be a whole new ballgame as to where he trains, who his trainer is going to be, where he's going to live."
Arum said if Pavlik wanted to remain in Youngstown, "I'm not interested. Jack is fine, but [Pavlik] needs to be away from Youngstown. That doesn't work [for him to stay there]. He was very, very receptive. What that ultimately means, I don't know. But we're going to fly him out to Oxnard, let him see the beach, the training facility, and I've offered to lease him a home."
Arum said if Pavlik wants to salvage what is left of his career, he must make a change. As much as it probably will hurt Loew, Arum is probably right.
"Can't do things that we know haven't worked and, in our opinion, won't work -- staying at home and all of that," Arum said.
If all goes well, Arum said he would schedule Pavlik for a 10-round fight "off television or on television, but small -- not HBO or Showtime, like a 'Top Rank Live' [card]."
As for when?
"Whenever he is ready and the trainer says he's ready," Arum said. "Then maybe two or three fights, and then we'll see what he wants to do. I've got to play it by ear. We have to see how it works. He was very receptive; he couldn't be more receptive."
Being receptive, however, and implementing the last-ditch plan are two different things.