- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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The staph infection in a finger on the left hand of middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik still has not healed, so his Dec. 5 title defense against Paul Williams was called off again on Wednesday.
"It's the same finger giving him problems. They told me he can't make a fist," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. "It's getting better and better but it's going a little slow. So, we'll see."
It's the second time the bout -- the centerpiece of HBO's boxing schedule for the end of the year -- has been called off because of the infection.
"This morning we were advised that Kelly Pavlik's recovery of his left hand has not progressed as projected by Dr. Peter Evans at the Cleveland Clinic," Top Rank president Todd duBoef said. "As a result of this Kelly is unable to close his left hand, which prohibits from him from being prepared for a Dec. 5 middleweight championship defense against Paul Williams.
"We at Top Rank are disappointed by this unexpected development in his recovery. Once Pavlik is cleared medically by Dr. Evans we will pursue all avenues with regards to a future bout. We appreciate the understanding of Paul Williams, [his promoter] Goossen Tutor, HBO and Caesars Atlantic City with regards to this unforeseen occurrence."
HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg said the network will go forward with an alternate card on Dec. 5 at a site to be determined.
"Dan Goossen [Williams' promoter] is looking for the best available opponent for Paul Williams and we will do a doubleheader on Dec. 5," Greenburg told ESPN.com. "The undercard fight will also be announced soon. We will have another solid night of boxing on HBO."
The original undercard bout was to feature former welterweight titleholders Joshua Clottey and Carlos Quintana squaring off in a 10-rounder, but Clottey is promoted by Top Rank, which will no longer be involved in the card.
On the eve of an August news conference to formally announce that Pavlik and Williams would meet Oct. 3 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., the bout was called off.
Pavlik underwent surgery twice on his hand over the summer. Because rehabilitation was going well, Top Rank and Goossen put the fight back together in September. They had a formal news conference at Giants Stadium to make the announcement and rescheduled the fight for Dec. 5 at Boardwalk Hall.
However, Pavlik, who has been in training camp for the past couple of weeks, still was having problems with the hand.
"He's trying. He's been running, he's been trying to train in the gym," Jack Loew, Pavlik's trainer, was quoted as saying on the Web site of the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator, Pavlik's hometown newspaper. "He's trying to shadow box with one hand, hit the speed bag with one hand. I've been trying to keep it a secret but it's not going great and I'm not going to fool anybody any longer.
"I'm sure we're going to get a very bad reaction from their people and I don't blame them. But we've got to do what we've got to do."
Pavlik's infection has given him problems for some time. Co-manager Cameron Dunkin said when the fight was postponed in August that it had been a problem for the previous five or six months.
Arum said he believed it may have been an issue all the way back to last October when Pavlik (35-1, 31 KOs) was soundly outpointed by Bernard Hopkins in a non-title match at 170 pounds. Pavlik returned to stop Marco Antonio Rubio in February in a title defense.
Williams (37-1, 27 KOs) hasn't fought since a lopsided decision win against Winky Wright in an April middleweight fight. Williams is a former two-time welterweight titleholder and owns an interim junior middleweight belt, but moved up to middleweight in an effort to find a top opponent.
Dan Rafael is a boxing writer for ESPN.com.