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Pavlik gets big support in Atlantic City as he prepares for first middleweight title defense

Pavlik gets big support in Atlantic City as he prepares for first middleweight title defense

Nine months ago, Kelly Pavlik showed up at Boardwalk Hall a relative unknown challenging unbeaten middleweight champion Jermain Taylor.
Now Pavlik's the champ, and he's back by the sea for his first title defense on Saturday against unheralded Welshman Gary Lockett, a fight that is being almost universally panned as a tuneup for a more lucrative bout this autumn.
"I very much have my feet on the ground," Lockett said. "We know we're massive underdogs, but we wouldn't have made the trip over if we didn't think we could win the fight."
He'll have an entire arena cheering against him.
Several thousand fans jammed the weigh-in at Caesar's Palace on Friday, almost all of them wearing T-shirts and hats supporting the hope of Youngstown, Ohio.
Pavlik weighed 159 pounds (72.1 kilograms), flexing to a roar from the crowd. Lockett came in at 159 1/2 pounds (72.4 kilograms).
Pavlik seems to have built the same kind of zealous following that retired brawler Arturo Gatti once enjoyed on the Boardwalk.
"He's terrific," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. "The reason it's so gratifying _ they're here not only because he's such a good fighter, but because he's such a decent kid."
Pavlik's style lends itself to the masses, always moving straight ahead with punches that don't snap at opponents so much as plow through defenses and land with a thud.
He's also shown the kind of heart befitting a city situated in the middle of the rust belt, where the ability to get up after getting knocked down _ be it from a punch or a downturn in the economy _ is something very tangible.
"People have looked at Youngstown and me the same way," said Pavlik, who has a tattoo that reads "Lift Our Spirits" across his shoulders. "I was born and raised there. It's not something I ever tried to become. It's just who I am."
Perhaps that humility is why Pavlik (33-0, 29 KOs) has become such a sensation in what has historically been one of boxing's glamour divisions.
Nobody gave him much of a chance against Jose Luis Zertuche a little more than a year ago, but after taking a couple of good shots Pavlik floored him in the eighth round. When he went up against big-hitting and big-mouthed Edison Miranda a couple of months later, Pavlik dropped him in the seventh round of a WBC title eliminator.
That set up a bout with unbeaten WBC and WBO champ Taylor at Boardwalk Hall last September. After getting knocked to all fours in the second round and falling behind on every scorecard by a wide margin, Pavlik trapped Taylor in the corner in the seventh round and the referee had no choice but to stop the fight.
"It's awesome to be back here," said Pavlik, who beat Taylor in a catch-weight rematch in February in Las Vegas. "I was always a big fan of Arturo Gatti, and to have a following like him is unbelievable."
Lockett (30-1, 21 KOs) has built his own reputation as a power puncher, rattling off a six-year, 14-bout unbeaten streak that includes avenging his only loss to Yuri Tsarenko.
He promised the fight won't last long, one way or another, and hopes to make some fans of his own in this tired city by the Atlantic shore.
"If I hit him on the button, I know he's going down, just as I'm sure if he hits me on the button I'm going down," Lockett said. "He's got fantastic power to bounce back from being knocked down and digging in deep, so we know it's going to be a challenge."
Headlining the undercard, hard-punching WBO junior featherweight champion Daniel Ponce De Leon (34-1, 30 KOs) of Mexico defends his title against No. 1 contender Juan Manuel Lopez (21-0, 19 KOs) of Puerto Rico.
Some believe that with Pavlik such a heavy favorite to beat Lockett, the De Leon-Lopez fight could be the best on the card.
"I think I have better than a puncher's chance," Lockett said, when told most oddsmakers made him a double-figure underdog. "Anything can happen when you step in the ring."


Updated : 2021-06-18 14:36 GMT+08:00