YOUNGSTOWN — Kelly Pavlik dropped a bombshell Tuesday when he announced during a press conference his plan to retire after an upcoming fight against Welshman Gary Lockett.
While fans in attendance sat in stunned silence and a reporter asked him why he had decided to retire, Pavlik calmly said, “Well, if it wasn’t April 1...”
As an April Fools’ joke go, it was a classic. When you’re the middleweight champion of the world and a presence on the boxing scene that is expanding far beyond the borders of the Mahoning Valley, it’s easy to joke about life.
The joking for Pavlik will end when he begins preparations April 16 for the first defense of his WBC and WBO crowns against Lockett, who is 30-1 (21 knockouts) and the WBO’s No. 1 middleweight contender. The fight is scheduled June 7 at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
Pavlik (33-0, 29 KOs) will be a heavy favorite, which is a role he wasn’t cast in when he won the titles against Jermain Taylor last year. Lockett, who will be making his debut in the United States, is a toe-to-toe fighter. He lost a 12-round split decision to Yuri Tsarenko in 2002 but avenged the loss with a 10-round decision a year later.
“I think he’d like to get into my head a little bit and have me try to overlook him and think he’s not on the same level as Jermain Taylor and (Edison) Miranda,” Pavlik said. “He has two hands and can punch good. Just because he hasn’t fought in the states doesn’t mean he can’t fight. You have a lot of European champs from all different weight classes.”
Pavlik won his titles with a seventh-round knockout of Taylor last Sept. 29 in Atlantic City. He won a 12-round decision fighting up a weight class in a non-title fight against Taylor in Las Vegas last Feb. 16.
Lockett hasn’t been as active as Pavlik, who fought three times in 2007 and once this year. Lockett defeated Lee Blundell of Wales in a third-round TKO in April of last year, and his last fight was a second-round TKO over Kai Kauramaki of Scotland last Dec. 15.
Jack Loew, who trains Pavlik, isn’t underestimating Lockett. Loew knows how hungry a contender can be when he gets his first chance at a title.
“He’s coming off some injuries, which is why he’s had some inactivity,” Loew said. “He was getting so close to the top with a number one, number two and number three ranking in that area, he had to be careful who he fought for this day.
“Now that the day is here, like Kelly said this is a kid that’s getting a golden opportunity. This kid fell into a world championship fight with the king of the middleweights. The kid fell into a pot of gold, and he’s going to try to capitalize. We’re going to be ready.”
It was important for Pavlik to have his first title defense in Atlantic City. While he expects a large contingent of Lockett’s fans to make the trip over the Atlantic Ocean, Pavlik knows he’ll have a home-ring advantage when fans from the Mahoning Valley arrive in Atlantic City.
“I’m a real superstitious type of fighter,” Pavlik said. “Everything went so well the last time in Atlantic City. I want to fight at the MGM (in Las Vegas). That’s a place where history was made. There have been so many great fights there. Some day before I retire, I would like to fight there.
“But to go back to Atlantic City and have all the fans and the short drive, I think it’s awesome to fight back there.”
This could be one of Pavlik’s final fights at the 160-pound limit. There’s talk about moving up in weight to face supper middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe, who fights Bernard Hopkins at 175 pounds April 19.
“If it becomes a health issue where I’m drained beyond drained and I have absolutely nothing left,” Pavlik replied when asked when he would consider stepping up a rank.
For now, Pavlik’s sights are set on Lockett.