Cameron Dunkin is, arguably, the greatest active manager in boxing. He’s got a brilliant eye for talent and an uncanny ability to help his boxers become not only champions but also stars.
For more than a decade, Dunkin has sung the praises of former middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik. Dunkin first laid eyes on Pavlik in 1999 at the U.S. championships in Colorado Springs, Colo.
He saw a long, lean guy who didn’t appear all that athletic but was knocking opponents senseless. Nothing sells in boxing like a knockout puncher, and Dunkin knew almost immediately he was looking at a star in the making.
Dunkin quickly fell in love with Pavlik the fighter. But after signing him as a client, he just as quickly fell in love with Pavlik the man. The thing that Dunkin loved most, Pavlik’s naiveté – his sheer wide-eyed innocence – is also what led to Pavlik’s downfall.
And so, as Dunkin helps Pavlik rebuild his life after a nasty stretch that included two stints in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers and more headlines on TMZ than on sports pages, he’s opted to prevent Pavlik from speaking to the media.
Pavlik fights Saturday in San Antonio, meeting Aaron Jaco in a 10-round fight at a contract weight of 170 pounds. If you were unaware of Pavlik’s first bout in 10 months, it’s because that’s exactly the way Dunkin wanted it.
When Pavlik’s issues with alcohol started and his life was spiraling out of control, there seemed to be a never-ending stream of excuses coming from him. His problems were always someone else’s fault.
Eventually, it got hard to believe much of what he said publicly. As Pavlik comes back, Dunkin is willing to explain what happened, but he doesn’t care if anyone believes it.
“We’re not asking for any sympathy from anybody and, frankly, we don’t care about you guys [in the media] anymore,” Dunkin said. “He got built up way beyond what he was and then he got totally torched. So many things happened, it’s amazing. Everybody was saying he was this unbelievable white guy who did all these great things and [promoter] Bob [Arum] was saying stupid [expletive] like he’s better than [Marvelous Marvin] Hagler, and that put him on this huge pedestal.
“And at the first sign of trouble, everybody tore him down. He’s been totally torched.”
Much of it came from so-called fans in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, Dunkin said. Once he beat Edison Miranda in a highly entertaining brawl in Memphis, Tenn., in 2007 to earn a title shot at then-champion Jermain Taylor, things changed dramatically in Pavlik’s life.
Pavlik wanted to accommodate everyone who wanted a piece of him – fans, media, sponsors, charities – and he couldn’t say no. He appeared at a charity function just about every night. He played in celebrity softball and basketball games, competed in charitable golf tournaments and appeared with then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
If someone was trying to raise a few bucks in or around the Youngstown area, chances are Pavlik was involved in it. And that’s not to mention the hundreds of people in bars throughout Youngstown who wanted to have a drink with the champ.
“It went crazy after he beat Miranda and then Taylor,” Dunkin said. “He was asked to go talk to the Ohio State football team. He met the Cleveland Indians and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They had him go give a pep talk to the Cleveland Browns. Then Hillary Clinton was in town. It got to be too much, too fast.
“He is such a nice kid. He went to children’s camps and heart clinics and cancer things and the Cleveland Clinic. He raised money for diseases I’ve never even heard of. It’s all he was doing. Everybody had his phone number.”
Pavlik entered rehab for an alcohol issue for the second time in November 2010. But he didn’t hit rock bottom until a few months later, when he pulled out of a comeback fight in August against Darryl Cunningham that was supposed to be televised nationally.
Pavlik complained he wasn’t being paid enough. Pulling out meant the show was canceled, costing his promoter a lot of money and, more significantly, his opponent a big payday. Showtime suffered losses after having brought its equipment to Youngstown and not having a show to broadcast.
At that point, Dunkin finally insisted that Pavlik needed to get out of Youngstown. For years, he wanted Pavlik to escape the fish bowl, but Pavlik resisted.
“Youngstown isn’t New York or L.A., where he could go to a Knicks game or a Lakers game and nobody would pay any attention to him,” Dunkin said. “When he was the champion, everybody in Youngstown wanted something from him and wanted to be with him and wanted to tell him how great he was.
“When he lost, all of a sudden, they said he was a [expletive] ingrate and he wasn’t any [expletive] good and he was a total piece of [expletive]. It was pretty [expletive] nasty.”
Dunkin arranged for Pavlik to train in Oxnard, Calif., with Robert Garcia. Away from the pressures and the expectations, he said a new Pavlik has emerged. He’s looked as good as he ever has, said Dunkin, and perhaps better than he ever has.
More importantly to Dunkin, he said Pavlik has been relaxed, jovial and at peace.
Dunkin is hoping for an exceptional performance against Jaco, if only as a way to reward Pavlik for all the work he’s put in during camp.
Still, though, he has no plans to put Pavlik on display just yet.
“I’d love for him to look like he’s looked in the gym the last couple of months, because I’m being totally honest, he’s looked sensational,” Dunkin said. “He’s been crushing people, I mean, literally beating the [expletive] out of guys. But that’s the gym and this is a fight and he’s been off a long time.
“We’ll see. We’re going to take it slow. I don’t want to put him back into it again right away. He doesn’t need a repeat of what he went through the last five, six years. I just want him to train and fight and be happy being Kelly. I don’t want to see him worrying about any of that other stuff.”