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Kelly Pavlik brings some long-delayed excitement to Youngstown

February 18, 2009 | 12:15 pm

Kelly Pavlik Census numbers show that the population of Youngstown, Ohio, has shrunk by nearly 10,000 this decade.

The city's once powerful standing in the nation as a steel town has been harshly diminished, and the current largest industrial employer is a plant operated by GM, a company struggling to avoid collapse.

Youngstown, says its most famous resident, is a place where hard-working residents seek the American Dream but too often find themselves in the plight captured in Bruce Springsteen's stark song about the city:

Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Now, sir, you tell me the world's changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name

On Saturday, however, that famous resident is giving the downtrodden town something to shout about.

World middleweight boxing champion Kelly Pavlik (34-1, 30 knockouts) is defending his title against Mexico's Marco Antonio Rubio at Youngstown's 7,000-seat Chevrolet Centre.

Pavlik told me Wednesday he takes great delight in knowing his hard-core hometown fans who've traveled to Anaheim, Las Vegas and Atlantic City to watch his most recent fights (and helped sell out the Chevy Centre by buying more than 5,000 seats in the first 12 minutes of sales) will "now get to go home the same night and sleep in their own beds."

Mayor Jay Williams, recognizing the town is poised for its "biggest lift in a long time," according to a Pavlik publicist, is urging restaurants and other businesses to stay open later to maximize revenue.

"It's very exciting," Pavlik said. "These people do a lot of hard work, and the crazy thing is it seems like it's getting harder around here every day. I have a lot of family and friends dealing with the [economy's] crisis. It's nice to give something back and see how everyone seems so excited now. There's a lot of electricity."

Rubio has further riled up the locals, telling reporters in a public workout Tuesday that he has "a secret plan" to knock out Pavlik and how he looks forward to Pavlik coming to Mexico later this year to reclaim his title. One of Rubio's cornerman, noting his fighter once went to nursing school, also has cracked, "At least Marco will be able to patch Pavlik up."

"A lot of people are [upset] about what Rubio's saying," Pavlik said.

Pavlik will enter the ring four months removed from his lopsided non-title loss at 170 pounds to Bernard Hopkins, a masterful performance in boxing and defense by the 43-year-old Hopkins that diminished Pavlik's star in the eyes of many fight fans.

Pavlik, however, said being from Youngstown has ingrained in him to "keep hope and work through it. You always struggle through things living in northeast Ohio, you gotta put it behind you. That's the most important thing I've learned from [the Hopkins loss]."

The Pavlik-Rubio fight will be televised on pay-per-view as a doubleheader featuring former weltertweight champ Miguel Cotto's fight against Michael Jennings -- Cotto's first bout since his July title loss to the now-disgraced Antonio Margarito.

-- Lance Pugmire

Photo: Kelly Pavlik. Credit: Ed Mulholland / US Presswire