Kelly Pavlik stopped Miguel Espino in the fifth round Saturday night to defend his middleweight titles, ending a difficult year on a high note.
After a 10-month layoff because of a staph infection on his left hand, the WBC and WBO champ dropped Espino to a knee in the fourth round with staggering rights. Pavlik knocked Espino down again in the fifth, and referee Steve Smoger stepped in at 1:44 into the round.
It was the third successful title defense for Pavlik, who was back in his hometown on the campus of Youngstown State University. Pavlik (36-1, 32 KOs) hadn't fought since beating Marco Antonio Rubio on Feb. 21 across town at the Chevrolet Centre.
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.
His trainer, John Bray, said the plan was to circle 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."
Trying to prove to the boxing world he is back, Pavlik was aggressive early. He stung Espino in the first round with a flurry of body shots.
"I didn't stick to the gameplan," Espino said. "The heck with gameplans. I decided to rumble."
Pavlik got the knockout his trainer, Jack Loew, said he needed earlier this week. His image had been tarnished by a difficult year that included the staph infection in his left hand and twice canceling fights against Paul Williams.
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 in February, Pavlik knocked out Espino in front of a half-full Beeghly Center.
The announced crowd of 3,409 was less than half of the 7,000 capacity.
Pavlik was supposed to fight Williams in October, but the staph infection postponed the fight until Dec. 5. It was canceled when Pavlik realized he still couldn't make a fist with his injured left hand, and Williams decided to fight someone else on that date.
Faced with either fighting or being stripped of his belts, Pavlik hurriedly plucked the little-known Espino and dropped him into this title defense. He crammed a typical eight-week training schedule into five weeks, but it certainly didn't affect his performance.
The win was also sweet for Loew, whose brother-in-law Jimmy Villers collapsed 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.
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."
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.
Source: AP News