Pavlik giving media a reason not to dwell on Youngstown's past
Mention Youngstown and most Americans think of dilapidated buildings and a city that has seen better days. Kelly Pavlik is doing his part to give them something else to talk about.
Originally Published: October 16, 2008By Don Stradley | Special to ESPN.com
E:60 Kelly Pavlik Roundtable Discussion
E:60 Kelly Pavlik Roundtable Discussion
E:60 producer/reporter meeting on Kelly Pavlik.
The image of Youngstown, Ohio, as a withered metropolis pervades pop culture.The city's decline has been chronicled in books and documentaries -- even in song. In 1995, Bruce Springsteen wrote and recorded "Youngstown" for his album, "The Ghost of Tom Joad." The song is an ode to the days when local men "made the cannon balls that helped the Union win the war," and smokestacks reached up to the heavens. The song's hero ends up broken and bitter, surveying the scraps of a once prosperous city. But hard times seem to create fighting men, for since the local steel industry capsized in the 1970s, Youngstown has been home to four boxing champions: Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, Harry Arroyo, Greg Richardson and current middleweight boss, Kelly Pavlik. Still, there's a sense among some of the locals that the Youngstown angle has been overdone. Many of Pavlik's friends and neighbors will be perfectly happy if they never read another reference to Youngstown as an inhabited ruin. "The documentary crews and the media have gone to the well once too often, "said Todd Franko, editor of the Youngstown Vindicator. "Even Springsteen's song is a cliché. I'm a huge Bruce fan, but he could've done an entire album about the [Mahoning] Valley, and written songs like 'Born to Run.' He did what everyone else does -- he picked one aspect of the city." Much of Pavlik's popularity stems from his loyalty to Youngstown. Pavlik said in a recent interview with The Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Everything I need is right here in Youngstown -- including Jack." Jack, of course, is Jack Loew, Pavlik's longtime trainer. "Youngstown is what it is," Loew told ESPN.com. "It's a blue-collar town. You won't find a lot of millionaires living here, but the economy isn't any worse here than [it is] anywhere else." As for tough times creating fighters, Loew doesn't buy the idea. "It's a hard-knock town, but I don't think that has anything to do with making fighters," Loew said. "Even back when the city was thriving, we had good fighters."
The schedule for the Top Rank-Golden Boy Promotions card Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.: • Light heavyweights: Kelly Pavlik (34-0, 30 KOs) vs. Bernard Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 KOs), 12 rounds • Featherweights: Steven Luevano (35-1-1, 15 KOs) vs. Billy Dib (21-0, 11 KOs), 12 rounds, for Luevano's title • Middleweights: Marco Antonio Rubio (42-4-1, 37 KOs) vs. Enrique Ornelas (28-4, 18 KOs), 12 rounds, title eliminator • Middleweights: Daniel Jacobs (10-0, 9 KOs) vs. Tyrone Watson (7-1, 3 KOs), 6 rounds
Squirrel was also a good storyteller, telling reporters he trained by hiring blacksmiths to pound his body with sledgehammers. For his part, Pavlik pounds a truck tire with a sledge, a smarter and more efficient way to prepare for a fistfight. If we do dwell on Youngstown's past, it's only because that's where the color is. In a way, Pavlik's followers should be glad that he comes with a built-in story, for that helps with the selling of a fighter. In a perfect world, Pavlik could get by on talent alone. In our world, a backstory helps. HBO is the first to admit it doesn't sell fighters; it sells stories. Just as HBO milked the rough background of Mike Tyson, the death of Oscar De la Hoya's mother, and Floyd Mayweather's family squabbles, so it is that Pavlik's coverage will always include visuals of crumbling, dilapidated buildings. Perhaps one day HBO will produce a segment in which Pavlik cavorts in Fellows Riverside Gardens, a beautiful Youngstown landmark. Until then, we can expect to see more of those old smokestacks and boarded-up windows. And that's probably fitting, for when Pavlik looks into the HBO cameras and shouts, "That's for Youngstown, baby!" he's not addressing the Youngstown Symphony. He's talking to the folks who have remained in Youngstown through good times and bad, and like the middleweight champion of the world, have no intention of leaving. Don Stradley is a regular contributor to The Ring.
Al Bello/Getty ImagesDwell on this: With each win on his ledger, Kelly Pavlik punches Youngstown back on the map.