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BOXING:

Kelly Pavlik seeks fresh start on Pacquiao vs. Mosley undercard

Pavlik wants to reclaim his spot among boxing’s elite with win over Alfonso Lopez

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Steve Marcus

Former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, left, of Youngstown, Ohio attends a news conference at the MGM Grand Thursday, May 5, 2011. Pavlik is attempting a comeback after checking into rehab for alcohol issues last year. Pavlik will fight Alfonso Lopez of Cut and Shoot, Texas in a 10-round super middleweight undercard bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday.

Pavlik Lopez News Conference

Former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, left, of Youngstown, Ohio and Alfonso Lopez of Cut and Shoot, Texas, pose during a news conference at the MGM Grand Thursday, May 5, 2011. Pavlik is attempting a comeback after checking into rehab for alcohol issues last year. The boxers are scheduled for a 10-round super middleweight undercard bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday. Launch slideshow »
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer talk all fighting on their Monday radio show, which airs weekly at 5:30 on 91.5 KUNV. They start by looking back on last weekend's historic UFC 129 card in Toronto and then move to Manny Pacquiao's next bout, which comes this Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena against Shane Mosley.

Kelly Pavlik looks out of place.

He’s sitting on a stage in a conference room outside of the MGM Grand Garden Arena with a handful of young boxers who are eager to boost their profile by fighting on the undercard of Saturday’s Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley bout.

Unlike his counterparts, Pavlik needs no introduction. The 29-year old from Youngstown, Ohio, is a former middleweight champion who just a few years ago was considered one of the best pound-for-pound pugilists in the world.

“Everybody is familiar with Kelly Pavlik,” Top Rank President Bob Arum says.

Or maybe they are all familiar with the old Kelly Pavlik. The way Pavlik (36-2) and his team talk, Saturday’s 171-pound showdown with Alfonso Lopez (21-0) is a reinvention of his career.

It’s the first time in more than four years that Pavlik hasn’t been the main attraction on a boxing card and his debut at super middleweight, where he hopes to soon capture another title. More importantly, it’s Pavlik’s first fight in 13 months after leaving the sport to enter rehab and deal with problems pertaining to his use of alcohol.

“We’re ready to put on a show Saturday night and show the world of boxing that we’re back,” Pavlik said, “and stamping ourselves in this time.”

Despite his time off, Pavlik will enter the ring as a major favorite over Lopez. Although Lopez — from Cut & Shoot, Texas — is undefeated, he hasn’t faced the same caliber of competition as Pavlik.

But Pavlik has suffered two upset defeats in his last four fights. The last one was understandable as he lost his title via unanimous decision to Sergio Martinez, who is 47-2 and one of the best boxers in the world.

The stunning loss came in 2008 when Pavlik was seemingly at the top of his game and fell to then 43-year-old Bernard Hopkins.

“With all the experiences I’ve had, I’ve learned one thing is to never look past anybody,” Pavlik said. “I’ve learned from the guys that I’ve fought in my career and some of the knowledge I’ve gotten from fights, including my losses.”

Members of Pavlik’s corner and Arum aren’t painting Lopez as a walkover opponent to begin with. Pavlik’s trainer, Jack Loew, said he was impressed with Lopez after watching loads of film on the 28-year-old who showed up to Thursday’s press conference wearing a cowboy hat.

Arum noted that Top Rank wanted to find someone dangerous to test Pavlik in his return.

“We felt it would demean him if we chose as an opponent a no-hoper, a guy who would just come in and whack out,” Arum said. “Instead, we looked for a guy who had an impeccable record and who was a tough, tough fighter.”

If Pavlik is at his best, though, he should punch right through Lopez. Then again, at his best, Pavlik can beat up nearly anyone.

Consider that he defended his WBC and WBO middleweight titles three times with three stoppages while abusing alcohol. He’s always had the talent to be a world-class boxer, but how far his career goes from here may depend on staying clean.

A resounding win Saturday following a sober training camp would be an ideal point to start.

“This is probably the best I’ve felt in my entire career coming into this fight,” Pavlik said.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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