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Pavlik back in ring, fights for sobriety

Kelly Pavlik would like to think he’s merely picking up where he left off.

The reality is the former middleweight champion is starting over, inside and outside the ring, after a 13-month break from boxing to straighten out his life.

Pavlik checked into the Betty Ford Center in November for two months for alcohol-abuse treatment.

The 29-year-old will fight Alfonso Lopez in a 10-round super middleweight bout Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley WBO welterweight title fight. The bout is Pavlik’s first since he lost his WBC and WBO middleweight titles by unanimous decision to Sergio Martinez in April 2010 in Atlantic City.

“It’s definitely a second chance,” Pavlik said. “I think I treated my alcoholism at an early stage. It didn’t get to the point where I couldn’t function without alcohol. It just got to the point where I got in the party mode and it kept escalating. When things didn’t go my way, I got mad and I kept doing what I was doing.

“That’s exactly what happened. I just needed to kick it in the ass before things started going bad to where I started losing my money, where I started losing my family, losing my house, things like that. Unfortunately, that’s one of the horrible things that comes with the consequences that come with addiction. I didn’t want it to get that far.”

Pavlik (36-2, 32 knockouts) said he had invested too much in his boxing career to drink it away.

“Boxing has been a very big part of my life since I was 9,” he said. “Alcohol isn’t. Since coming back to train, I’ve been able to focus on boxing, and I think that’s going to make a big difference in this fight. Everything has come back nicely.

“You’re going to have days in sparring where you’re like, ‘Damn, I’m off a little bit today.’ Nobody in the world can go through a training camp and just be sharp every time. But for the most part, the rust is gone and we’re feeling really good.”

Pavlik’s longtime trainer, Jack Loew, said as long as his fighter was clean and sober, he knew he would still have someone of championship caliber.

“One thing I’ve never had to worry about was no matter what was going on outside of the ring, Kelly was always, always a hard worker in the gym,” Loew said. “I knew I had a more clear-headed kid coming into the gym, and it’s all worked out.”

Promoter Bob Arum stuck with Pavlik, even though he has had health and lifestyle issues the past couple of years, including a staph infection in his hand in 2009 that forced him to drop out of a fight against Paul Williams. Pavlik has fought just three times since his October 2008 loss to Bernard Hopkins.

“Kelly was dealing with some very serious health issues,” Arum said. “The staph infection could have cost him his life. The alcoholism is a tough battle for any person. But I always felt he could get his career righted again and end up better than ever. So it was an easy call to stick by Kelly.”

His time away has given Pavlik added motivation as he resumes boxing.

“This is a very, very important fight for me,” Pavlik said. “I have to go out there and look good. It’s important for me to get back out there and cement my name out there again.”

Pavlik probably won’t return to the 160-pound weight class. His future is at super middleweight, where Lucien Bute, Andre Ward and Glen Johnson are all possible opponents if Pavlik defeats Lopez (21-0, 16 KOs).

“I think my power will be even better,” Pavlik said. “It’s not like I’m moving up to 168 and I’m adding weight on. I had to lose a considerable amount of weight to make 168. When you walk around at 195, that’s pretty heavy.”

As he prepares to return to the ring, Pavlik is happier and more aware of what’s going on around him.

“I’m more mature now overall in all aspects of my life,” he said. “I know what has to be done, and I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m able to lay things out better and see the big picture better and start focusing on the different parts of life — the future, the present, everything that goes on instead of just flipping out and not thinking about the things that are important to think about.

“My regular day is the same. I still enjoy everything I do. I just don’t need a bottle to keep myself happy.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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