The “Married ... With Children” star has pride in his Youngstown roots.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
Kelly Pavlik’s self-proclaimed “biggest fan” didn’t even watch his biggest fight, at least not live. Ed O’Neill was too nervous. He heard the result that night, waited a week, then plopped himself down in front of a TV set and watched HBO’s replay of Pavlik-Taylor II. Twice.
As he was watching, he took out a pen and a piece of paper and scored the rounds, awarding Pavlik the 12-round decision by a 117-111 score.
If this sounds like odd behavior for a relatively famous 61-year-old actor in California (who twice has been nominated for a Golden Globe, by the way), well, you’re probably right.
“That’s how crazy I get,” said O’Neill, a North Side native best known for playing Al Bundy on Fox’s “Married ... With Children.” “For some inexplicable reason, I was too nervous to watch the fight. I don’t know where it comes from.
“The fight was that important to me.”
O’Neill, a 1964 Ursuline High graduate who played football at Youngstown State University, had watched the first Pavlik-Taylor bout with pride and came away impressed with how Pavlik had handled himself.
Still, he was worried about the rematch.
“I was afraid he might have some bad luck in the second fight, only because wouldn’t that be the way it would go?” O’Neill said. “Here’s a kid from Youngstown who’s not supposed to be the middleweight champ and these guys at HBO can’t believe he’s there.
“For some reason, I remained superstitious.”
Like the judges, O’Neill felt like Pavlik controlled the second fight, throwing more punches and staying more aggressive than Taylor. He gave Taylor three rounds and Pavlik got the rest.
“I think I was pretty objective,” O’Neill said. “Jermain did fight in spurts, but he never hurt Kelly. He [Taylor] basically got out-hustled and outworked.
“From the 10th round to the 12th, Taylor was out on his feet on guts alone. If that had been a 15-round fight, Kelly would have knocked him out. He didn’t have anything left.”
After the fight, O’Neill got a call from former welterweight champion Carlos Palomino, an actor who now lives in Los Angeles.
“He said, ‘Hey man, this kid’s the real deal,’ ” said O’Neill.
O’Neill first heard Pavlik’s name a few years ago when he was talking with his friend (and fellow Youngstown native) Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.
“Ray mentioned the name of this kid out of Youngstown,” O’Neill said. “He said it was a tall, rangy white kid who was real tough, could hit with both hands and had a lot of knockouts.”
So O’Neill, who has followed boxing since his youth, filed the name away.
O’Neill had followed Fulgencio Zuniga’s career and when Pavlik knocked Zuniga out in 2005, O’Neill knew Pavlik was legit.
He then watched Pavlik knock out Bronco McKart on Versus in 2006 — he turned the sound off because he was so annoyed by the announcers calling the fight in McKart’s favor — and came away impressed with Pavlik’s power and patience.
“I was seeing Kelly methodically pound this guy to salt,” O’Neill said. “He’s got sort of a numbing effect with his punches. [Rocky] Marciano was like that. He’d hit a guy for eight rounds, then knock him out in the ninth with the same shot he was hitting him with the whole fight.”
O’Neill has also by impressed by Pavlik’s humble attitude.
“He’s respectful to other fighters,” O’Neill said. “I really, really like that. He doesn’t have a bull[crap] meter. He calls it the way he sees it. He doesn’t go crazy and just start talking.
“I’m probably the biggest fan he’s got. And I’m just real happy for Youngstown.”
O’Neill has never met Pavlik (he’s spoken with his trainer, Jack Loew, a few times), but he said he feels like he knows him. That’s the thing about the city, O’Neill said, it never leaves you.
“Once you grow up there, you’re scarred for life,” he said, chuckling. “You can leave it, but you don’t really get away from it.”