Kelly ´´The Ghost“ Pavlik successfully defended his WBC and WBO middleweight titles with an emphatic fifth round TKO victory over Miguel Angel Espino before 4000 fans at the Beeghly Centre in Pavlik´s hometown of Youngstown, Ohio on Saturday night.

A booming right hand floored the outgunned Californian Espino (20-3-1, 9 ko´s) in the fourth,  and when the WBC´s no3 contender  hit the deck again in the fifth courtesy of yet another Pavlik right, it was all over. Espino was game, and threw a lot of punches, but with little effect. He was aptly described by one ringside sage as a ´´slugger that can´t punch!“
The fight was Pavlik´s first in ten months. He was forced to cancel his much anticipated clash with American Paul Williams twice during the course of 2009 due to an infection in his left hand. The win over Espino was only Pavlik´s third defense since winning the middleweight crown from Jermain Taylor with a seventh round knockout in 2007. He knocked out Welshman Garry Lockett in three rounds in 2008 and in February of this year he stopped Mexican Marco Antonio Rubio in nine. Pavlik said after the Espino fight that he now wants to turn his attentions back toward former WBO welterweight champion Williams (38-1, 27 ko´s).

During his two year tenure as world middleweight champion, Pavlik has received precious little pressure from either the WBC or the WBO to fight a mandatory challenger. The WBC´s interim middleweight champion is 27 year old German  Sebastian Zbik (28-0, 10 ko´s).  Zbik has fought exclusively in and around Germany, and is untested at world level. The WBC and WBO´s official no1 contender is 27 year old Gennady Golovkin ( 18–0, 15 ko´s), originally from Kazakhstan, now based in Germany. Both Zbik and Golovkin are relatively unknown quantities, especially in the US, and matching Pavlik against either of those two would be a hard sell for Pavlik´s paymasters at HBO and Showtime. Interestingly, Pavlik´s preferred opponent, Paul Williams, is unrated by both the WBC and WBO, so how Pavlik and his promoter Bob Arum intend  to get around that issue and still keep hold of both belts remains to be seen.

27 year old Pavlik (36-1, 32 ko´s) remains one of the biggest stars of American boxing, but he needs to be fighting much bigger names than Locket, Rubio and Espino.
The middleweight division isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with talent at the moment in the same way that the welterweight and super-middleweight divisions are. 30 year old German Felix Sturm( 33-2-1, 14 ko´s) holds the WBA middleweight belt and is a solid if unspectacular performer who once thrashed Oscar De La Hoya but lost the decision.  New York based Irishman John Duddy had looked like a potential Pavlik opponent, but after losing his unbeaten record, the cut prone brawler has regressed back to boxing eight rounder´s. Perrenial light-middleweight contender Ronald ´´Winky“ Wright would have been an ideal test for Pavlik, but Wright lost a lot of box-office clout when Paul Williams won every round of their fight earlier this year.

The natural option for Pavlik both physically and financially would be a move up to super-middleweight, but I predict that Pavlik will have one more year in the middleweight division, and here´s why; if Floyd Mayweather beats Manny Pacquiao in March, Pavlik v Mayweather is definitely a fight that could be made. Pavlik will want it – Mayweather will want it, and American TV will want it. Mayweather has already held the WBC junior- middleweight title, and he would surely fancy his chances against the heavy hand but technically limited Ohioan.
If that mega-fight fails to materialize, Pavlik will have to move up to the super-middleweight class to find lucrative fights. Matchup’s pitting Pavlik against the likes of England’s WBC champion Carl Froch, former two time WBA champion Mikkel Kessler and current IBF champion Lucien Bute would be thrillers that any fight fan would pay to see.

The Showtime Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament to find the best super-middleweight in the world will wrap up in 2011. The favorites to win are American Andre Ward and German based Armenian Arthur Abraham. A fight featuring Pavlik against either of these two will be huge, and a true test for the blue-collar banger from Youngstown, Ohio.
There are an abundance of potential big fights out there for Pavlik. 2010 looks to be a bumper year for boxing; let’s hope that Kelly Pavlik is in the thick of it.