Less than three years ago Kelly Pavlik was the undefeated (34--0, with 30 KOs) middleweight world champion and the hottest property in American boxing (SI, Feb. 25, 2008). But a series of injuries and losses in two of his next four fights, including a bloody upset at the hands of Sergio Martinez last April, sent the Pride of Youngstown, Ohio, staggering toward the ranks of the whatever-became-of. The cause, it now seems, was that the fighter was battling alcohol abuse. "I can't put my finger on when [it began]," says Pavlik. "I just know it started to get out of control."
Pavlik's parents and his wife, Samantha, stepped in last September, staging an intervention at Pavlik's Canfield, Ohio, home. It was the family's second intervention—the first, in January 2010, led to a 20-day stay at the Betty Ford Center. This time Pavlik did 60 days at The Ranch Recovery Center in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., a stint, he says, that was tougher than any training camp. Meditation and group therapy alternated with digging out a riverbed and hauling rocks.
Pavlik was released from The Ranch in November and says he has not touched a drink in four months. Focused on reviving his career, he is in the gym three days a week and eyeing a bout in May, on the Manny Pacquiao--Shane Mosley undercard. "This last year was rough," says Pavlik, "but I feel like I'm back on the right track."