Andre Ward to face former champ Pavlik

Oakland’s own Andre Ward will kick off his 2013 boxing campaign in a big way when he defends his WBA, WBC and Ring Magazine super middleweight championships against former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik on Jan. 26 in Los Angeles.

The fight will headline HBO’s World Championship Boxing doubleheader – making it the first boxing event to take place inside the Galen Center, home to the University of Southern California’s basketball and volleyball teams.

Ward (26-0, 14 KO) is coming off his most impressive performance so far: a 10th-round destruction of universally recognized light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson on Sept. 8.

Fighting in front of his hometown fans at the Oracle Arena, Ward used his speed and power to completely dominate the naturally bigger Dawson, forcing him to succumb to the punishment following three knockdowns en route to the technical knockout victory.

Pavlik (40-2, 34 KO) acknowledged Ward as a hell of a champ and said that he sees Ward in a role similar to one he was in when he sat atop the middleweight throne:

“He beat everybody that he was supposed to fight, and he’s top dog. When I was (middleweight) champ, I was the one being pursued. Now, he’s (super middleweight) champ and I’m in hot pursuit.”

The 28-year-old Ward seeks to further solidify his status as the 168 lb. kingpin, while Pavlik looks to reestablish himself as the rising force who conquered Jermain Taylor in 2007 to become middleweight champion – as well as one of the sport’s hottest stars.

The 30-year-old Pavlik, who was born in Youngstown, Ohio, has not been in a high-profile world title bout since April 2010, when he lost his WBC, WBO and Ring Magazine titles to crafty southpaw Sergio Martinez via unanimous decision.

Despite knocking Martinez down in the seventh round, Pavlik was bothered by his opponent’s speed and power – as well as blood from two nasty cuts that turned his face into a crimson mask.

Following the loss, Pavlik faced a bigger challenge outside the ring – alcoholism.

After a quick rehab stint and an arrest on a DUI charge, Pavlik said that a family intervention helped him he realize that he needed to get help before his addiction took a tragic turn:

“I just needed to kick it in the ass before things started going bad, to where I started losing my money, to where I started losing my family, losing my house and things like that. Unfortunately, that’s one of the horrible things that come with the consequences that come with addiction. I didn’t want it to get that far.”

Pavlik was released from the Betty Ford Clinic in California last January following a successful two-month stay for alcohol rehabilitation and moved to Los Angeles. Under the tutelage of new trainer Robert Garcia, he has recorded four consecutive victories – albeit against lesser opposition.

Following his comeback win against Alfonso Lopez in Las Vegas last May, Jack Loew, who trained Pavlik for most of his career, said that the fans inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena that night witnessed two significant victories:

“The first win was Kelly walking up the steps and getting in the ring again. The second win was winning the fight.”

Against Ward, Pavlik will look to rekindle the fire that burned inside him when he had his breakthrough year in 2007. Pavlik scored three consecutive knockout wins within a span of eight months that year – ultimately culminating with his career-defining win against then-defending champ Taylor that September.

After getting dropped in the second round by a ferocious Taylor barrage, Pavlik crushed Taylor with a blistering right hand in the seventh and sealed the deal with an uppercut and two thunderous left hooks that sent the champion crumbling to the canvas.

After defeating Taylor in a close non-title rematch at super middleweight in February 2008 and easily disposing of Gary Lockett in three rounds in his first title defense that June, Pavlik’s momentum came to a screeching halt that October when he moved up to light heavyweight and was dominated by throwback veteran and future Hall-of-Famer, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins.

The losses to Hopkins and Martinez have demonstrated that Pavlik does not fare well against crafty boxers who can catch him off guard at angles. That factor alone has led to a belief that Pavlik will be an easy challenge for the 28-year-old Ward, who’s regarded as one of the sport’s best pure boxers.

But Dan Goosen, Ward’s promoter, said he still recognizes Pavlik as a formidable former world champion who’s hungry for another shot at championship glory:

“It’s the Pavliks of the world who have been to the top and want to get back there who are dangerous. You don’t take anything for granted, and I know Andre isn’t. He doesn’t underestimate the challenge from Pavlik.”

Ward, who is 6-0 in world title fights, also recognized Pavlik for his accomplishments and said he knows better than to take his challenger – let alone, any opponent – lightly:

“[His promoter] Bob Arum has done a great job of keeping Kelly busy until an opportunity like this came along. You can bet that a former world champion like Kelly Pavlik, being afforded another title shot, he’s going to be primed and ready. We are going to be ready, too, and it’s going to be a tremendous show.”