YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Kelly Pavlik hammered away with a flurry of uppercuts, then raised his hands and jumped into the arms of trainer Jack Loew.
The WBC and WBO middleweight champion had successfully declared his return to boxing.
"I'm definitely back," Pavlik said.
Pavlik stopped Miguel Espino in the fifth round Saturday night to defend his titles and end what has been a difficult year on a high note.
After a 10-month layoff because of a staph infection on his left hand, Pavlik dropped Espino to a knee in the fourth round with staggering right uppercuts. He then knocked Espino down in the fifth, and trainer John Bray threw in the towel while referee Steve Smoger stopped the fight 1:44 into the round.
"We're not going to have another layoff," Pavlik said. "The hand held up great. It's a little tender, but nothing ice can't fix."
It was going to take more than ice to repair Pavlik's image.
Pavlik was the target of rumors and criticism for looking sloppy in his last fight, a win against Marco Antonio Rubio in February, then losing the chance to fight Paul Williams because he needed 10 months to heal a staph infection on a knuckle of his left hand.
As a result, his trip back to Youngstown on Saturday night had a much different feel than the first. After beating Rubio in front of a raucous sellout crowd at the cross-town Chevrolet Centre, Pavlik knocked out Espino in front of a half-full Beeghly Center at Youngstown State.
The announced crowd of 3,409 was less than half of the 7,000 capacity.
Espino (20-3-1) was rated the No. 3 contender by the WBC, though few gave the fighter from North Hollywood, Calif., much of a chance. He was deducted a point for punching after the bell following the first round, then was warned in the second and third for repeated low blows.
Bray said the plan was to circle to the right and jab for the first four or five rounds, and Espino quickly scrapped that idea.
"As soon as Miguel got hit, the warrior came out and he went toe to toe," Bray said. "He didn't stick to the gameplan. He's a real warrior. Kelly Pavlik is a great champion and a big puncher. We fell into his trap."
Espino wasn't impressed by Pavlik's punching power, and he didn't recall ever taking a step back because of a blow from the champ.
"I thought I hurt him a few times," Espino said. "He didn't think I could hit. He thought he could bully me, but I don't remember taking one step back. ... If there was ever a day to take a champion down, today was the day."
Pavlik agreed his jabs weren't on targets, leaving the uppercut his only effective punch.
"It definitely wasn't one of my better performances," Pavlik said. "We got the job done."
Pavlik will now turn his attention to Williams, whom he was supposed to fight Oct. 3. The infection postponed the fight until Dec. 5, and it was canceled when Pavlik realized he still couldn't make a fist with his injured left hand.
Williams decided to fight Sergio Martinez on that date instead.
"We've got a signed contract that is no longer valid," Top Rank chief Bob Arum said. "But if they want to fight Kelly Pavlik, all they have to do is initial that contract and send it to me and the first available date HBO has, we'll do the fight like we were supposed to do on Dec. 5."
Pavlik said Williams is now the priority, but if another deal can't be reached, he would like to fight WBA middleweight champion Felix Sturm.
"Sturm is right on top of the list," Arum said.
The win Saturday was also sweet for Loew, whose brother-in-law Jimmy Villers had a heart attack on his way to the locker room after officiating an undercard fight earlier in the night.
Villers was speaking and in stable condition at St. Elizabeth Health Center after grabbing his chest and collapsing in the aisle. Medical personnel used a defibrillator and strapped oxygen to his face, and Villers was alert when he was placed on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. A cardiologist sitting near the ring helped take care of him.
"It wasn't a good night at the beginning," said Loew, who walked into the situation when he was coming out to watch the next fight. "From what I understand, he's OK."
On the undercard, rising prospect Vanes Martirosyan (26-0, 17 KOs) looked impressive in stopping Willie Lee at 2:13 of the third round of their junior middleweight fight -- possibly setting up a title fight early next year.
"Vanes is ready for a world title shot," his trainer Freddie Roach said. "He's 26-0, done his homework, and he is ready for the big fight."
The pay-per-view fights from Youngstown were part of a unique split-site doubleheader with the opening bouts coming from Ciudad Obregon, Mexico.
Former junior lightweight champion Humberto Soto won a unanimous 10-round decision over Jesus Chavez, while Nehomar Cermeno retained his WBA interim bantamweight title by knocking out Alejandro Valdez in the 11th round.
After the result was announced, Valdez fell to the canvas and was taken to the hospital. His status was not immediately available.