"My timing was off, but we've been sparring a lot, so I'm getting that back. The timing was a key factor at the beginning, you know? I was making great moves and everything was there, but just on a counter, it was kinda just off a little bit, but as we picked up the sparring and we've been going at it, everything is coming back and we still got a lot of sparring ahead of us. I think by fight night, we'll be well tuned...Like I said, once he gets touched, it's a whole different experience. That's going to be our main thing and then, as the fight goes on, definitely pick up the pace and try to perform very good. I hate to say knockout, but I think at this point, for me to get the credit, I'm going to need one, but still, my overall gameplan is just to go in there and if the fight goes 10 rounds, then it goes 10 rounds and we'll be ready to dominate," stated former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik as he talked about his long-awaited return to the ring to face undefeated Alfonso Lopez on the May 7th Pacquiao vs. Mosley card. In part 1 of this in-depth interview, you don't want to miss what else he had to say about the fight as Pavlik reflects on the long journey back to the ring. Check it out!
BT: What's going on, Champ?
KP: Nothing, man. Just getting ready to go workout a little bit.
BT: You got the big return to the ring on May 7th against Alfonso Lopez. How does it feel to put all the issues behind you and just get back to boxing?
KP: It feels good, you know? It's a big reliever. I'm excited about it and anxious to get back in there. I'm pumped up. It's been a long time for me and I'm not a big fan of the inactivity, so to get back into the swing of things again is definitely big motivation.
BT: The issues and injuries kept you out of the ring for over a year, but do you think that maybe the long break may have been a blessing in disguise?
KP: I think so. If you look back, I mean, the longest one I ever had was when I had the staph infection, but that wasn't really a break. I had more of a battle going with that where I just didn't want to heal, and then having a reaction to the medication and everything else, so that kind of had me tied up. That's not what I would call a break. That was more of just going through pure hell. But with this fight, I think it was definitely well needed. I mean, everything is back now in the gym. You know, I got the bounce, spring, my step, punches, motivation, and just the energy level is totally different than what it's ever been. I was an active fighter there for awhile. Even after I won the world title, I stayed active and I think that my body only took so much. I can only take so much of boxing, boxing, boxing. I needed the little time away.
BT: So how's everything been going in training camp? Is there any rust at all or is everything just coming back naturally?
KP: You know, I wouldn't say so much rust. I think a good word for it is timing. Rust to me is when your punches are off, and you feel different, and you're missing a lot, and your power's not there because you're not turning. For me, I'm not having that problem. My timing was off, but we've been sparring a lot, so I'm getting that back. The timing was a key factor at the beginning, you know? I was making great moves and everything was there, but just on a counter, it was kinda just off a little bit, but as we picked up the sparring and we've been going at it, everything is coming back and we still got a lot of sparring ahead of us. I think by fight night, we'll be well tuned.
BT: I'll be honest, I haven't seen too much footage on Lopez. I know he's undefeated, but that's about it. What else do you know about him and what do you expect to see from him come May 7th?
KP: I see a kid that's hungry. When I say kid, I say it in a good way, but he's definitely no spring chicken in the sport. He's my age, but he's definitely got the hunger. This is probably going to be his last go at it. Even though it's not a world title fight, to fight me is going to be huge for him. I'm still one of the bigger names in boxing, so I think this is going to be the perfect opportunity for him and I think he's hungry for that. As far as ability, I see that he's a strong kid due to the fact that he's been fighting up at a heavier weight class and, you know, he looks like he's in pretty good shape, but I haven't seen a lot more than that. I know from some interviews that I got word of from people in camp that he wants to try and box and do everything like that, going off the Hopkins fight. That kind of makes me laugh, but that's fine with me. I mean, I've seen his boxing ability. The whole thing is, you know, once I touch him, as soon as he gets touched, the whole gameplan changes. My thing is, with my experience, what's he going to do, with his experience at that level on that type of stage in front of that type of crowd that night, when he does get hit and everything starts going 1000 miles per hour through his head, you know, what's the gameplan going to be then? That's what we've really been working on. As far as my strength and size, I'm not really worried about him coming down from a heavier weight class due to the fact that I've been walking around, not even trying to put weight on, at 195, so it's definitely not an issue. I think, if anything, I'm going to be stronger and healthier. But as far as it goes with him, yeah, after watching some of his fights, he's just a durable kid; somebody you gotta be ready for and can't take lightly. I've gotta be on my toes. It also helps that I think his last opponent is one of our sparring partners now too, so that helps because you get a lot of inside tips and everything.
BT: He's kind of in a similar situation that you were in the first time you faced off with Jermain Taylor. How important do you think it's going to be for you to set the tone early and prevent him from getting confident in there?
KP: Yeah, I think it's very important to go out there and kind of set the tempo. I don't think we're going to come out gunslinging with this kid the first couple of rounds. I mean, there's no need to; not at this stage of my career. I think I'm going to be in great shape and yeah, when the time is ready, pick up the pace, especially if I hurt him, you know, to get him out of there. But I think the main thing is to come out there and move and do the things that I was doing early in my career, like I did against Taylor; the defense and just making him pay for his misses, and that's going to do the work for itself. Like I said, once he gets touched, it's a whole different experience. That's going to be our main thing and then, as the fight goes on, definitely pick up the pace and try to perform very good. I hate to say knockout, but I think at this point, for me to get the credit, I'm going to need one, but still, my overall gameplan is just to go in there and if the fight goes 10 rounds, then it goes 10 rounds and we'll be ready to dominate.
BT: It's funny you mention that because I was wondering if you felt like you had to come out and look spectacular with an explosive knockout or if you were more concerned about getting some rounds in. I mean, obviously making it an early night would be great, but then again, given your layoff, it might be nice to get some rounds in too.
KP: Yeah, you know, the main thing that comes down with that is I'm one that never cared about the knockout. I mean, it wasn't like I had something to prove, you know? My record proves itself against the top fighters that I fought. But I think I'm always going to go in there not looking for a knockout. I know my power is going to come and it's going to be there and it would just be dumb for me to go in and try and get a knockout, but overall, I think I do have to get the respect from the critics, so I think I need a knockout. Not saying that I will do it, but I think that's what I need. Unfortunately, other guys can go out there and get dismantled and stopped; not only just beat up for 10 or 12 rounds, but stopped. They come back and they still have big names and they still get the big fights. Even watching that Robert Guerrero fight, you know, nobody says anything about that kid Katsidis getting beat. Things like that. People can lose fights and it's not a big deal, but if I lose to a Bernard Hopkins, who's still fighting top fighters and he's a legendary fighter, or Sergio Martinez, who's the number 2 or 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, then it's horrible on me; I'm done, I'm shot, I'm wiped off the face of the earth as far as boxing goes. I think, if I was one of those other guys, I think I could go back in there and win a 10-round decision and everybody would say, "Oh, he had a year and half off. He looked good for that." But for me, it would be totally different. They will say, "Oh, he fought this guy and he went 10 rounds. Yeah, he dominated, but he should've took him out." So I think that's going to be the important part, but I don't care so much about that. I think, overall, I just need to go in there and get the W and perform very well to get back on track.
BT: That's very true. I think a lot of people forget that you've only lost to Bernard Hopkins and Sergio Martinez, two of the best pound-for-pound fighters out there.
KP: Yeah, and with Sergio, if I win 2 of the last 4 rounds, you know, I win the fight. That's how competitive it was, so it's frustrating.
BT: Does that motivate you to go out there and prove a point?
KP: It's all motivation, it is, but deep down, I know. If you take the performances of Martinez in his last two fights against the guys that he fought and look what he's done, and then look at my fight with him, I mean, if you go back and watch, I think there will be a whole different outlook on it. But it is what it is. The only thing I can do, the only way you silence critics is going out there and performing, you know? I think that's the main thing right now. I really can't lose any sleep over it. It happens in sports. If Peyton Manning has a bad game, the armchair quarterback will put him down. That's just the way it goes. Like I mentioned before, yeah, at some points, it would get frustrating looking at it. You know, it's two losses to those two guys. I'm not justifying anything. I hate having any losses on my career, but it could be a lot worse. It could be like a Kirkland or it could be like that young kid Lemieux or somebody coming up who I was fighting and losing to, but it wasn't. It was against two of the top fighters in the sport, probably in the last decade or two. The last one was a very competitive fight considering all the stuff I had to go through with the weight and everything. It was still a competitive fight. But you know, that's what it is and I just gotta go out there and keep winning. It's nothing new and I'm definitely not crying about it. It is a little bit of a motivation, but at the same time, I kinda have the, excuse my language, but the "fuck its" on it too. Fuck it, what can I do? The only thing I can do is go out and keep winning.
BT: I know you've got all of your issues behind you now, but how difficult was it to go from being a local hometown hero to winning the middleweight championship, becoming an instant celebrity, and being on top of the world? Was that an easy transition or was it difficult to adjust to getting all of that fame and attention?
KP: That's a good question actually. It wasn't that hard due to the fact that Youngstown is kind of an easy place to get around in and just adapt. I think that's what kind of bit me in the ass a little bit though was the fact that I didn't change, you know? Going from being me to still being me, but not being this guy in the spotlight in a small city, I think that kind of came and got me a little bit because people, at first, loved it. It was a great thing. You see like on the HBO specials, there were a lot of things like, "Oh, he plays darts with people still and he goes to the same bar and drinks with the same people." And then, after I won the world title, it kind of became, you know, Kelly is the bad person for doing that. So it's kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't. It wasn't so much it was hard because of being in the spotlight. I think it was just everything else that came with it. It went from being able to pick my nose at the red light to that being shown all around town. That's what happens, you know? That's exactly what happened. I was in a spot and, you know, I wasn't allowed to do that stuff. If I would have moved from Youngstown, then you would get like, "Oh, he thinks he's too good. Mr. Hollywood." All that. But the main thing, overall, is I still have a great amount of support and followers still. That's one thing about Youngstown you can't beat. I mean, yeah, there's a lot of negativity, and I mean a lot, but at the same time, your loyal fans are probably the best that you're going to get anyplace else. They've stuck behind me and they've let me know and you can't beat that for anything. I can't get that anywhere else and I wouldn't want it anywhere else. It wasn't so much that it was hard. I think that most people, when they go into it...even my dad said, "Kelly, you gotta watch what you do." To me, it was like, why? I mean, I became successful, I take care of my business, so if anybody has a right to go have a beer at the bar, it should be me. That's what I thought. I would say to myself, "I have more right to be at that bar than they do." But at the same time, it kind of came back to bite me in the ass because they're going to be the ones that are sitting there saying, "Oh, Kelly. Look, what the fuck, he's a drunk. He's drinking beer. This is the second time he was here this week." People would maybe keep count and they watch everything that you do. I think that just came to a point where it just got a little out of hand and I overstayed my welcome a little bit. But you live and you learn and luckily I'm at a young age where I caught it and that won't happen no more.
BT: It's almost like you have to go to school to learn the right and the wrong way to be a celebrity. That's not something that you automatically know how to do.
KP: You're right. You know, it's not so much that people that have fame let the fame itself throw them into a loop. I believe it's everything else that comes with the fame. That might sound wierd or might not make sense, but it's not so much the person that changes that has the fame, it's everything outside of them. I mean, for instance, if you look at any other celeb that gets in trouble or has some problems, it's blown up on every media circuit. You know, E! News, local stations, CNN, ESPN. I mean, it's blown up and that's all you hear about until it comes to a point where it's everything everybody hears no matter where they turn around. They turn their car radio on and it's on. Now, the average person that was sitting at the bar and left and got a DUI or got into a fight, you're not going to hear a damn thing. I mean, you might get one person at their job that finds out about it, but that's about it. It's kind of like it's okay for those people to have that happen to. It happens every day. As we speak right now, somebody here in Youngstown is falling off a bar stool, drunk, getting in a fight or robbing somebody, and you're not going to hear anything. So when I say everything that comes with the fame, it's the publicity part of it and everybody knowing, you know? So I think that's what really gets people. And a lot of times, with the pressure of that, people fall even more into whatever it is they use to cope; drinking or drugs or eating or whatever it is, that's what they do and they look to that.
CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 OF THIS IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH FORMER MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPION KELLY PAVLIK
[ Follow Ben Thompson on Twitter @fighthype ]