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Forged to Fight (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday February 6, 2008 9:56AM; Updated: Wednesday February 6, 2008 9:56AM
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Pavlik avenged his 2000 Olympic trials loss to Taylor with an explosive KO that made him the champ.
Pavlik avenged his 2000 Olympic trials loss to Taylor with an explosive KO that made him the champ.
Al Bello/Getty Images

In the Southside: Every day at three o'clock the door to the Southside Boxing Club swings open and about two dozen kids crowd in. They jostle under speed bags, peck away at the heavy bag and bump scrawny elbows in the room's one ring. The copper-and-tin ceiling above them continues to flake away, and it is not hard to imagine sheets of toxic snowfall settling on their narrow shoulders during a workout. A bell marks their little lives in boxer's time -- it rings for every round.

About 16 years ago, one of those kids was Pavlik, who arrived with typical promise. Which is to say, none in particular. The kids come and go, their dedication waning as adolescence arrives, and Jack Loew had no illusions about developing a meal ticket among them. A former Golden Gloves middleweight, he ran the gym as a hobby, something to do when he was done sealing driveways for the day. He can't say that he thought much of Pavlik when he arrived, because the lie would be on the wall right behind him -- a team picture for some long-ago local tournament shows everybody dressed in matching sweats. Except for Pavlik, who didn't even rate the Southside duds.

"He was a tough kid, though," says Loew, 48. "All balls." In time Pavlik became the class of Youngstown and, nearly, the U.S. But the fighter got edged in the 2000 Olympic trials (by Taylor, who went on to take the bronze medal in Sydney) and was forced to take a harder and longer climb to the top. Everybody could see he was a banger, but he was hard to match. Pavlik, without a pedigree, was fighting at Cafaro, not Caesars. "Six years into it," Loew says, "we hadn't made $25,000 a fight."

Predictably, there were calls (even from his manager, Cameron Dunkin) to dump Loew and get a big-time trainer, and just generally get this show on the road. Pavlik never once entertained the notion. And, anyway, if a fighter keeps knocking out people who've never been knocked out (his last three opponents), the money has to come, no matter who's training him.

Now, of course, both Pavlik (who's 32-0, with 29 KOs) and Loew are golden. Loew has used his share of the proceeds to upgrade his driveway-sealing equipment (he was doing jobs two days after the first Taylor fight) and install central air at his house. Pavlik sunk some change into a basement remodel. "Although," he says, "I never dreamed oak paneling was that expensive."

On the couch: The house he grew up in barely accommodates the middleweight's wingspan, but this is where the 6' 2 1/2" Pavlik retires after each day's workout whenever he's preparing for a bout. Every day, he visits his fiancée, Samantha Kocanjer, and 20-month-old daughter, Sydney, at the house he owns (four minutes away) but ends up here each night, where his father, Mike, can supervise his diet. Pavlik eats the supper his father has prepared -- chicken and broccoli, usually, with cabbage soup for a late-night snack -- then crashes on the living room couch.

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