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 while referee Steve Smoger stopped the fight 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."
It was going to take more than ice to repair Pavlik's image.
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 Aiken's Paul Williams because he needed 10 months to heal a staph infection on a knuckle on his left hand.
As a result, his trip back to Youngstown on Saturday had a much different feel than the first. After beating Rubio in front of a raucous sellout crowd at the cross-town Chevrolet Centre, Pavlik knocked out Espino in front of a half-full Beeghly Center at Youngstown State. The announced crowd of 3,409 was less than half of the 7,000 capacity.
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. He was deducted a point for punching after the bell after the first round, then was warned in the second and third for repeated low blows.
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. Williams decided to fight Sergio Martinez on that date instead.
"We've got a signed contract that is no longer valid," Top Rank chief Bob Arum said.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."