Ours is a society which roots for the underdog.
Because of that, or in some cases totally aside from it, it is one which gets an almost sick sense of satisfaction from seeing those at the top tumble.
Kelly Pavlik knows that all too well.
There was a time when everyone rooted for Pavlik.
And why not?
In many ways he exemplified the blue-collar persona which is synonymous with Youngstown. He was the kid who came from nothing and worked his way to middleweight champion of the world.
On his ride to the top he became a modern-day Pied Piper, arguably the most popular person to ever come out of the city. Everyone wanted to be connected to him as he worked his way from nobody to somebody. As an up-and-coming slugger, he was the underdog against Edison Miranda and Jermain Taylor. The first fight gave him a shot at the title, the second put him atop the boxing world.
In what is often not the case, when he got to the pinnacle, his popularity grew some more. Again, why not? Despite the fact he was now a champion, his humble attitude made him very easy to like.
Pavlik, the fighter, was also known for how well he took a shot in the ring. Unfortunately Pavlik, the man, was equally renowned for never passing one up outside of it. The kid who punched and trained so hard, drank even harder.
How much the drinking had to do with losses to Bernard Hopkins and Sergio Martinez may never be known. What is certain is that after the Martinez bout Pavlik was no longer the world champ and that, in his last four fights, he looked like a shell of the fighter he once was. As rumors began swirling (being always drunk, getting in brawls at bars, hitting his wife) the once-full bandwagon began losing passengers in droves.
"Those people that jumped off, I don't want them back," Pavlik said defiantly.
Two family interventions led to a couple of stints in rehab in California. He did not finish the first one but went back and did an entire 60-day program the second time.
Pavlik is lucky for a couple of obvious reasons. First, he has a family that cares enough to recognize a problem and encourage him to get help. He is also fortunate because this was done before he hit rock bottom, like so many other addicts.
"More or less it was the route that I was going," Pavlik said. "It was not one experience. It was more if I don't stop, I don't know where this party is going to end."
You can sense that Pavlik struggles calling himself an addict or an alcoholic. One can only hope that it's his competitive nature and not a sense of denial.
"Pretty much what happened is that I got caught up in the partying trap," Pavlik said. "When that happens, of course you're going to have stress and unhappiness in your home life."
If Pavlik is truly reformed, he has a second chance at life. In what is vastly less important, he now also has a second chance in his boxing career.
On May 7 in Las Vegas, Pavlik (36-2, 32 KOs) will end a 13-month absence from the ring when he takes on Alfonso "El Tigre" Lopez (21-0, 16 KOs). Lopez holds the WBC Continental Americas super-middleweight belt, but this will be a non-title fight. The weight limit is 168 pounds but it will not be strictly enforced since it's not for a belt, according to Top Rank CEO Bob Arum.
Before word got out that he was headed to rehab last fall, I had one member of Top Rank express concern about Pavlik and his relationship with the promoting company. He said they couldn't make Pavlik a headliner because of his unreliability. Pavlik will be fighting on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight.
"As far as not being the main event it's not even a (thought)," Pavlik said, before adding, "In a way it sucks because you've been at the top. If I don't come back and perform, (the media) is going to be brutal. I think this is one of the most important fights of my career."
Arum was asked if there was ever any concern about promoting Pavlik because of his personal battles. He avoided a direct answer, instead noting that Pavlik has his full support.
"That was unfortunate, the addiction, the problem with alcohol," Arum said. "I think Kelly's a hero for even talking about it."
Pavlik was a hero for many. Many of those who rooted for him before will tune in May 7 hoping that he fails. It's almost as if another man's shortcoming brings self-satisfaction. Others never left the bandwagon and will root for him as hard as ever.
As Pavlik said, this is one of his most important fights. And I'm not talking about the one in the ring.