YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - Kelly Pavlik hammered away with a flurry of uppercuts, then raised his hands and jumped into the arms of trainer Jack Loew.
The WBC and WBO middleweight champion had successfully declared his return to boxing.
“I’m definitely back,’’ Pavlik said.
Pavlik stopped Miguel Espino in the fifth round Saturday night to defend his titles and end what has been a difficult year on a high note.
After a 10-month layoff because of a staph infection on his left hand, Pavlik dropped Espino to a knee in the fourth round with staggering right uppercuts. He then knocked Espino down in the fifth, and trainer John Bray threw in the towel 1:44 into the round.
“We’re not going to have another layoff,’’ Pavlik said. “The hand held up great. It’s a little tender, but nothing ice can’t fix.’’
Pavlik was the target of rumors and criticism for looking sloppy in his last fight, a win against Marco Antonio Rubio in February, then losing the chance to fight Paul Williams because he needed 10 months to heal a staph infection on a knuckle of his left hand.
As a result, his trip back to Youngstown Saturday night had a much different feel than the first. After beating Rubio in front of a sellout crowd at the cross-town Chevrolet Centre, Pavlik knocked out Espino in front of a half-full Beeghly Center at Youngstown State.
Espino (20-3-1) was rated the No. 3 contender by the WBC, though few gave the fighter from North Hollywood, Calif., much of a chance.
Espino wasn’t impressed by Pavlik’s punching power.
“I thought I hurt him a few times,’’ Espino said. “He thought he could bully me, but I don’t remember taking one step back . . . If there was ever a day to take a champion down, today was the day.’’
Pavlik will now turn his attention to Williams, whom he was supposed to fight Oct. 3. The infection postponed the fight until Dec. 5, and it was canceled when Pavlik realized he still couldn’t make a fist with his injured left hand.
“We’ve got a signed contract that is no longer valid,’’ Top Rank chief Bob Arum said. “But if they want to fight Kelly Pavlik, all they have to do is initial that contract and send it to me and the first available date HBO has, we’ll do the fight like we were supposed to do on Dec. 5.’’
Pavlik said Williams is now the priority, but if another deal can’t be reached, he would like to fight WBA middleweight champion Felix Sturm.