Kelly Pavlik looks out of place in Robert Garcia's Oxnard, Calif., gym, "the only white guy," Garcia said, among a heavily Hispanic collection of fighters. He separates himself there, then again in the ring, where the former middleweight champion's dynamic skills stand out. The pop on Pavlik's power shots echo off of Garcia's pads, a reminder that when he is right Pavlik still ranks among the elite.
Pavlik says he is right now, and plenty of people in his camp agree. He has won two straight fights to open 2012 and on Saturday night will make his return to premium television when he faces Will Rosinsky at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. (10 p.m. ET, HBO).
"[He has] so many more skills than he had shown in the past," said Pavlik's manager Cameron Dunkin. "[Last fight] he was catching his punches and rolling with stuff, moving his head, holding his hands up, working inside. Not every punch was loading up -- he just touched him, turned him and beat him down. And he was so calm in there. Then you see Kelly with [Aaron] Jaco and he was a monster, just ripping shots. It shows he is becoming so much more of a complete fighter."
Pavlik credits Garcia, the man behind Nonito Donaire, Brandon Rios and others, for the makeover, for developing him, at 30, into a more well-rounded fighter.
"I knew I had a left hand my whole entire career but I learned I could use it now," Pavlik said. "That's what we work on a lot, even on the mitts. A three-piece or four-piece combo and it's repetitious. It's not once or twice in that round and you're done. Being a tall fighter, I never threw too many uppercuts and people don't expect uppercuts from tall fighters and that's another thing we've been working on a lot. Bending your body, turning your hips and throwing the uppercut. There are so many different things, on the inside, the jabs, it's hard to explain. But the biggest thing is that it's always repetitious. We don't just do something then forget about it; we work on it round after round."
Pavlik (39-2) doesn't know much about Rosinsky (16-1), except that he is tough and that he is standing in his way. Pavlik has eyes on a big fight these days. He has repeatedly called out Carl Froch, the reigning IBF super middleweight champion, and says that he is looking at Bute and Andre Ward, too.
"That weight class (168 pounds) is loaded no matter which way you go," Pavlik said. "I'll take any big fight at this stage. Whatever opens up, whatever opportunity presents itself, whatever sanctioning body, it doesn't matter." Pavlik's promoter, Top Rank, wants to keep Pavlik busy, to keep him in training and out of Youngstown, where they feel a summer spent back with old friends and familiar surroundings could derail his comeback. Pavlik is quick to remind everyone that he doesn't live in Oxnard but when he is training, he does. A fight with Froch is certainly makable, though Pavlik may have to go to Nottingham, England to do it.
"We're looking for a big fight," said Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. "HBO wants him in the fall in a big fight. The question then is who is available and it's all the usual suspects."
For now Pavlik continues to train, continues to improve. For all the progress Pavlik has made, there is still work to be done. Pavlik wiped out his last opponent, Scott Sigmon, in seven rounds but appeared to tire in the fifth. Pavlik denies any fatigue, saying he was "just having some fun" with Sigmon, that had the journeyman proven to be any threat, he would have put him away much earlier. Yet there is a growing concern that Pavlik, a longtime 160-pounder, does not have the same one-punch power at 168.
That question, and many others, will be answered in time, as long as Pavlik stays on track. Stay busy, stay active, that's the only real plan with Pavlik these days. The opportunities will come, just as long as he does not allow his demons to come back.
"No matter what happens there will still be doubters," Pavlik said. "But [this] goes to show that I am taking [boxing] seriously. I am here to prove a point. There are going to be big fights coming up and that's what I'm here for. I came to Oxnard to train to win a world title."