- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Kelly Pavlik, rested, healthy and, most important, sober, is ready to resume the boxing career that made him a multimillionaire and took him to the heights of the middleweight championship.
Pavlik has not fought since losing the 160-pound world title to Sergio Martinez by a bloody decision in April 2010. His life was beginning to spiral out of control even before the bout, and by the end of the year, he needed help. It took a family intervention to persuade him to go to alcohol rehabilitation and take it more seriously a second time around.
"It was just to the point where it came to, 'Hey, it's got to stop.' It wasn't me getting roughed up or shooting somebody or robbing somebody to get alcohol or vice versa. It wasn't that extreme," Pavlik said during a recent teleconference with reporters during which he addressed numerous questions about his drinking problem. "But it came to a point where it was like, 'Let's get our head out of our ass and move on here, and let's get back on track.'"
He apparently has done that. Since emerging from the Betty Ford Clinic in California in January after a two-month stay, Pavlik has returned to the gym with renewed vigor for his career and the goal to remain sober.
Pavlik said he has not had a drink since Nov. 1 or Nov. 2.
"Everything has been going fine," said Pavlik, who turned 29 earlier this month. "There's no concern with me right now. Everything is going as smooth as possible. It would just take a bonehead to go out there and ruin any situation or opportunity that I have right now.
"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, to where I started losing my family, losing my house and things like that. Unfortunately, that's one of the horrible things that come with the consequences that come with addiction. I didn't want it to get that far. I worked too hard in my life to get where I am now, that I didn't want it to get out of control to that point.
"Boxing has been a very big part of my life since I was 9 years old; alcohol isn't."
So with that, Pavlik, of Youngstown, Ohio, will get back to the business of boxing on the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley undercard on May 7 (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET, $54.95) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Pavlik (36-2, 32 KOs), who is moving up to super middleweight, will face Alfonso Lopez (21-0, 16 KOs), of Cut and Shoot, Texas, in a scheduled 10-round bout.
Despite his problem with the bottle, Pavlik refused to blame his loss to Martinez on drinking.
"I'm not one to make any excuses, to say that's what hurt my career, because I wasn't [drinking] while I was training," Pavlik said. "I can easily make it a great excuse, but in my opinion, I don't see it as that. But as of now, I think the big difference is I'm able to focus more clearly on my career and take everything serious. I think that's going to be the big difference now when compared to the past.
"I do everything the same. The only difference is I don't drink. My regular day is still the same. I still enjoy everything I do. I'm having a blast doing what I'm doing, and I don't need a bottle to keep myself happy. I think that's the big thing. I go to the same stores, I play with my kid the same way, I call people on the phone the same way. Nothing has changed."
Pavlik said he has matured during the past year as he has dealt with his alcoholism. He said he is motivated to stay sober for the sake of his family, his career and himself.
"If I can't drink anymore, it's not going to make me unhappy," he said. "I'm not going to be a miserable person because I can't drink. But as far as what was making me unhappy or what drove me to the bottle, it wasn't a case of that. It was just the fact that I got caught up in a lifestyle of going out and partying, and needed a kick in the ass before it got too late.
"For me, it was just the fact that I don't want to do it because I don't want to end back up in a situation where I was at, especially now with my kids and everything else. It's not worth it. I'm not missing anything. I've seen enough in my lifetime of only 29 years than most people will in three lifetimes. There's not much I'm going to miss out on, so that's how I look at it."
Trainer Jack Loew, who has been with Pavlik for his entire career, said he is proud of how Pavlik has faced his demons.
"It was his decision to quit drinking. People have to realize that," Loew said. "We didn't put a gun to his head and make him go to California. He did that. He's trying to make himself a better person, and I don't think people are giving him as much credit as he deserves. I think everybody involved in this is going to benefit from what Kelly did -- not from what we had Kelly do, but what he did."
As for boxing, Pavlik struggled to make 160 pounds for several years. He still has to cut a lot of weight to make the 168-pound division limit, but he believes he will become a factor in one the sport's most talent-rich divisions.
As a middleweight, Pavlik packed a big punch. He believes his power will be just as good or better at super middleweight.
"I see it being the same. Actually, I see it being even better," he said. "It's not like I'm moving up to go to 168 and I'm adding weight on. I still have to lose a considerable amount of weight to make 168. When you walk around 195, that's still walking around pretty heavy for a super middleweight or a light heavyweight. I don't see the strength being an issue, or power punching. I think our strength and everything is going to be great at that weight class. It will be the same, if not better."
One potential future fight for Pavlik would be against titleholder Lucian Bute. Before Pavlik's long layoff, there had been considerable discussion between Top Rank and InterBox, Bute's promoter, about matching them.
Those talks could resume if Pavlik turns in a strong performance against Lopez.
"Kelly is ready, but the guy he's fighting on May 7 is no pushover," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. "He has a lot of knockouts, he's a Texas kid, and that's a tough chore. We'll see how he does in that fight, and then we'll talk it over with the team and see who comes next. The super middleweight division is rich with talent, and Kelly, I hope and believe, fits right in with all of them.
"There are a lot of great fighters out there in the super middleweight division, but with the exception of Bute in Canada, they're not particularly big attractions in terms of ticket sales. In order for them to make a big-ticket fight, they have to have Kelly Pavlik. It's not a question of who Kelly is going to go after; it's a question of who the team wants Kelly to fight. These fighters, in order to have a big fight, have to fight Kelly Pavlik."
"There are so many great fights for him at 168. It's a terrific division," said Cameron Dunkin, Pavlik's co-manager. "We are wide-open and excited for any big fight in the division after we get past this one."
But before those big fights? Baby steps against Lopez.
"I definitely do think this is a very, very important fight," Pavlik said. "I think it's a fight where I have to go out there and look good. If I don't come back and perform at the top of the top, it's going to be brutal. So I think this fight is very important for me to get back out there and cement my name out there again. That's why we're taking this fight so seriously. I think this is one of the most important fights of my career, believe it or not."
The most important fight inside the ring, perhaps. Right along with the one he fights outside of it.
"The problems he had with alcohol, nobody could have solved that except one person, and that's Kelly Pavlik," Arum said. "So I think Kelly is a hero, and I think he's a real hero for even talking about it, because it's very, very personal.
"So I give him a lot of credit, and I think he's going to get his career righted again, and he's going to end up better than he ever was. And people will look up to what he did, and he'll be a great example to people who suffer from addiction."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.