Posted: Thursday February 17, 2011 12:09PM ; Updated: Thursday February 17, 2011 2:41PM
Chris Mannix

Pavlik reflects on battles with alcoholism (cont.)

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Kelly Pavlik (right) lost the title to Sergio Martinez in April. He insists drinking never affected his boxing, but his trainer disagrees.

Pavlik didn't like being there, away from his wife and two children. He sneaked in the occasional phone call, but for most of the first 30 days, he was cut off from everyone.

"When I first got there I was so f---ing mad, if you brought an elephant over there, I would have strangled the hell out of him," Pavlik said. "I was pissed about it. As time went on, I just said, 'F--- it. F--- it, I'm here. Nothing else to do. I can't mope and be pissed all day.' I worked out like an animal. I got through the classes. Some of them, I got something out of. The simple ones, where older guys came in and talked, telling you things that happened to them. And I had a lot of time to myself to think."

Pavlik's presence didn't go unnoticed. Early in his stay, Pavlik was watching TV in the common area. A patient approached him and held up a copy of a Sports Illustrated with a picture of Pavlik's bloody face after his fight with Martinez.

"He was amazed," Pavlik said. "I was kind of pissed. Of all the magazines that were there, you can't find a picture of me winning?"

It was hard, but it was supposed to be. In some ways, Pavlik wanted it to be. He didn't consider himself as sick as the drunks and junkies who populated the center. But he knew there were certain things about his life that he had to address.

"I got out of it what I could," Pavlik said. "As far as alcohol, I didn't really miss it. Once I was there, I was so pissed off being there that the last thing I wanted to look at was alcohol. That was the last thing on my mind. I'm not just saying that. I don't understand, everyone talks about how hard it is to want to use again, about how they have dreams about using. I don't have that. It's the least of my concerns. One point, when I was watching the Ohio State game there, it hit me for a split second that it would be nice to have a couple of beers and watch this game. That was the only time. But I did learn about spirituality, about outlooks on life. I learned about how to deal with things and cope with things without turning to the bottle."

* * * * *

Pavlik says his drinking never affected his boxing. His trainer, Jack Loew, disagrees.

"I started noticing the effect [of drinking] in our training a couple of fights ago," Loew said. "Really from the [Gary] Lockett fight [in June 2008] on, he was lethargic. It was nothing major. Being late to the gym. Postponing running until later in the afternoon. Kelly has always done what I asked no matter what he was doing the night before. But you could see it in the way he fought. Those fights looked real lethargic."

Loew says the drinking was not a cover story to explain Pavlik's pulling out of scheduled fights with Williams or last fall's fight with Brian Vera. Those injuries were legitimate. But he wonders, particularly with the rib injury Pavlik suffered before the Vera fight, if the drinking sapped his resolve to battle through the pain.

"When he hurt his rib, I think that was his itch to get out," Loew said. "I think he said, 'This is it, this is how I can get out of it.' He was on a roller coaster and he wasn't getting off."

Would the Pavlik of 2007 have pulled out of that fight?

"No," Loew said.

Loew has tried to push Pavlik away from outside influences. It's why Loew moved the last training camp to Pennsylvania, close enough for Pavlik to drive home but far enough that he has some distance between himself and his drinking buddies.

"We were trying to protect him," Loew said. "He was on a roller-coaster ride and he wasn't getting off."

It has been suggested that one way Pavlik can get his life back on track would be to move out of Youngstown altogether. Here, Pavlik is the biggest fish in very small pond. In the last year, as word of his drinking problem started to spread, so did the rumors. He was kicked out of bars. He was in a street fight outside a bar. He got in a car accident while driving drunk leaving a bar. Most of it was just that, rumors. But that didn't mean the local press wouldn't call to try to confirm the stories.

Indeed, the relationship between Pavlik and the local media has become adversarial. Pavlik believes he shouldn't have to respond to every rumor going around town. The local media believes he doesn't respond enough. Mike Pavlik said during one call with a local reporter that he was told the hounding "was the price of fame." During a recent interview, Pavlik's publicist, John D'Altorio, played a voice mail from an editor at a local paper. The message was sent just before Pavlik's fight with Martinez. In the message, the editor called Pavlik's refusal to give the paper's reporter access "bulls---" and said the paper "would draw our line, you can draw yours and it will be ugly."

"It's good that they write about me," Pavlik said. "But there is nothing else to write about in this area. It's sad but true. There is nothing else. The only way that paper will get out of a 20-mile area is if someone is driving down the freeway and it blows out the window. You would think they would shine a positive on things. We had guys from here starting in the NFL. Write about them. It's mind-boggling. Write something positive. There is no reason to threaten me."

So why not leave? Pavlik has a million reasons. Youngstown is affordable. His family is here. His friends are here. Nothing or no one is going to run him out of town.

"I'm a homebody," Pavlik said. "I've always liked being home, training at home. I like being around family and friends. This is where I'm comfortable. I'm not a person that likes to go to flashy restaurants. I like to go to places I'm used to. A lot of people get run out of here. Athletes that have been in the spotlight that up and left. I'm not going to get run out of somewhere I love to be. People are going to hate me whether I'm here or somewhere else. If I stay, I'm keeping myself happy."

Not everyone in Pavlik's life agrees.

"Do I think he should go? Yeah. Make a new start," Mike Pavlik said. "I don't want him to go. I'd go with him. I'm ready to go, too."

* * * * *

It's just before 2 p.m. and Pavlik is in Jack Loew's Southside Boxing Club. He works the mitts with Loew, which he does about three days a week. His punches are crisp but his timing is a little off.

"Just shaking off the rust," Pavlik said.

He's sober now, going on four months. He isn't going to AA meetings because he says he doesn't need to. He says he hasn't thought about drinking and has no plans to drink anytime soon. But he stops short of saying he will never drink again. See, there is a part of Pavlik that still doesn't believe he has a problem. There is a part of him that is still angry that his family forced him to go to rehab.

"To this day, I still feel there were other ways of going about it," Pavlik said. "It wasn't completely out of hand yet. There were other ways, simpler ways. Talking or communication. At the same time, it still wasn't a bad idea. What was it going to hurt for me to go to rehab? Sometimes you can learn more from other people than those close to you. It can be hard to communicate with those close to you."

His family can't predict what will happen next. Mike says his relationship with Kelly has changed, that the two talk more now. Loew says he sees an energy from Pavlik that he hasn't seen in years.

"He is setting goals again," Loew said. "He's got the hunger back."

But for how long? Right now, Pavlik is focused on his next fight, which he hopes to have on May 7 on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao's fight with Shane Mosley. But what happens after that fight? What happens in the months after, when boxing isn't right in front of him? Can he fight his inner demons? Can he resist the temptations? No one in Pavlik's life knows for sure.

"This is going to be about Kelly Pavlik stepping to the plate," Loew said. "He needs to grow up and realize he has a family and that he can't go to the bar every single night. We're seeing it now. We're seeing a lot of the old Kelly back."

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