YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The people started lining up hours before the doors even opened, thousands of blue-collar folks turning out to see this old steel town's first title fight in 25 years.
They waved banners and flags, carried posters and pictures, braving freezing temperatures to pay homage to the unquestionable king of the Rust Belt.
Kelly Pavlik expressed his thanks in the most proper way he could.
Cheered on by a raucous sellout crowd that finally made its way inside the downtown Chevrolet Centre, the middleweight champion rebounded from his first career loss on Saturday night by stopping top contender Marco Antonio Rubio after the ninth round — for one night giving an entire city a reason to be proud of itself.
"I kept saying, there ain't going to be no pressure," Pavlik said. "But tonight, coming off a loss and being front of your hometown, it's human nature. It got to me a little bit before the bell rang. But after that it was down to business."
The pride of Youngstown outclassed and outpunched Rubio almost the entire fight, hurting the Mexican challenger in the eighth round and battering him throughout the ninth, after which Rubio's corner decided he couldn't continue.
"It was obvious I wasn't going to finish the fight," Rubio said through a translator. "My corner made the decision to finish it."
In the co-main event of the split-site doubleheader, Miguel Cotto came back from his own first career loss to knock out Michael Jennings in the fifth round and capture the vacant WBO welterweight title at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Pavlik (35-1, 31 KOs) was fighting in his hometown for just the second time since 2001, long before he stunned Jermain Taylor to win the WBO and WBC middleweight titles. The atmosphere was electric the entire night, beginning with an atrocious undercard and progressing through the live display of Cotto-Jennings on the arena's video screens.
When Pavlik stepped through drapes and made his way to the ring, wearing a black robe with the "Y" that represents this city, more than 7,200 people rose from their feet.
They forgot about all the troubles of this town — the high poverty rate, the boarded up buildings, the people without jobs. For one night, the very best of Youngstown was in the spotlight.
"It says something about this town and all the economic woes, and the gate receipts here exceeded the gate receipts at Madison Square Garden for Cotto's fight," said Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. "I think that's remarkable."
Coming off a loss to Bernard Hopkins at 170 pounds — when Pavlik was sick with bronchitis and battling a troublesome elbow — Rubio proved the perfect way to get back on track.
The 28-year-old Mexican (43-5-1) had won nine straight since moving up from junior middleweight, but he was clearly overmatched in this one. The straight-ahead puncher didn't have enough movement and defense to stay with the taller, stronger champion.
"We kept him going backwards," trainer Jack Loew said. "We saw in the tape that Rubio had trouble fighting backwards. That was our plan and Kelly executed it perfectly."
Pavlik landed a devastating left midway through the opening round, dictating the tempo right from the start. Looking light and fresh on his feet, Pavlik often backed Rubio into his own corner, landing body shots virtually at will.
Rubio rallied in the sixth round, landing two left hooks and standing toe-to-toe with Pavlik as it came to an end. But Pavlik shook him again with a big right hand near the end of the eighth round and boxed him into a corner early in the ninth.
Rubio's team decided it had seen enough, telling referee Frank Garza to stop the carnage.
"I seen him saying something to the corner. I knew he was taking a beating. You could feel it and see it in," Pavlik said. "By the eighth round he didn't have anything."
Pavlik, who earned a guaranteed $1 million for the fight, has spoken passionately of clearing out the middleweight division. But IBF champion Arthur Abraham is already defending his title next month, and WBA champ Felix Sturm is set to fight in April.
Besides, Arum said the best fight isn't necessarily the biggest fight — meaning the two Germans aren't well known enough to generate a big payday.
That could mean Pavlik's next bout is against the likes of John Duddy, which would sell well in Ohio or New York, where the popular Irishman has a massive following. Duddy defeated Matt Vanda by unanimous decision on the Cotto-Jennings undercard.
Cotto (33-1, 27 KOs) appeared crisp in his first fight since losing to Antonio Margarito last July — a knockout that some now question after Margarito was found with a plaster-like substance in his hand wraps before a loss last month to Shane Mosley.
The sensational Puerto Rican welterweight fought a tactical first couple rounds against the overmatched Jennings (34-2) before staggering him with a left in the fourth, eventually knocking him to the floor twice. The bloodied Brit came out for the fifth but didn't last much longer.
Cotto trapped him in the corner and knocked him down again, and although Jennings rose at the count of 10, the referee mercifully waved it off. "Cotto looked great," Arum said. "It was just the fight he needed to get his confidence back." http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090222/...SD4Jv_VQU7z7QF