Toronto, Canada – Pavlik, who has a 36-1 record, twice knocked down Espino with uppercuts in the fourth round, and put him down for a third time in the fifth. Espino fought back after the final knockdown but his trainer waved a towel to signal his fighter had had enough.
Despite being a heavy underdog, Espino (20-3-1) took the fight to Pavlik from the opening seconds and continued to throw punches even after the bell rang to end the first round.
That earned Espino a rebuke and point deduction from referee Steve Smoger, who also warned him about low blows in the second and third rounds but did not deduct another point.
"I tip my hat to the kid," said Pavlik in the ring. "He came here to fight. It came down to guts and glory."
The fight was fought at close range throughout, with Pavlik willingly engaging his challenger at close quarters.
"He hit me flush with uppercuts," said Espino. "I was never seriously hurt. But it is what it is. Kelly's a great champion."
It was Pavlik's first fight since a victory over Marco Antonio Rubio in February. He was twice scheduled to fight former welterweight champion Paul Williams, but was forced to withdraw after contracting a staph infection in his hand.
Pavlik's promoter, Bob Arum, said afterwards that if Williams and his team agreed the fight could happen early next year.
(Writing by Kieran Mulvaney in Washington, DC; Editing by Peter Rutherford)