Kelly Pavlik is both the middleweight king and the new chairman of the boardwalk.
Pavlik got back on the knockout path in the third round of his first title defence Saturday night, stopping unheralded Welshman Gary Lockett with a punishing assault before a raucous crowd at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
Nearly everyone considered Lockett a mere tune-up for the hard-punching Pavlik, who captured the WBC and WBO versions of the middleweight championship when he stopped previously unbeaten Permian Taylor in the same building last September.
Lockett did little to prove the contrary.
Coming off a 12-round decision of Taylor in a catch-weight rematch, the first time Pavlik (34-0, 30 KOs) had failed to stop an opponent in 10 fights, the humble hero of Youngstown, Ohio, stunned Lockett (30-2) in the opening round, dropped him to a knee twice in the second, and was set to do even more damage in the third when Lockett's corner threw in the towel.
"My jab was working. It helped me to set up a lot of things," Pavlik said. "It stopped him in his tracks. I was catching him with good shots. He was smart to take a knee when I hurt him. I knew each time he took a knee I had buzzed him."
Upset not in the cards
On a day in which 38-1 long-shot Da' Tara robbed horse racing of a Triple Crown, there would be no such upset in what has long been considered one of boxing's glamour divisions.
Pavlik walked confidently into Boardwalk Hall to the same kind of thunderous reception that retired brawler Arturo Gatti once enjoyed, with dozens of fans holding up homemade signs touting "our champion" and "the best in boxing."
He didn't disappoint, using his left jab to close the distance from the opening bell, drawing Lockett inside. He kept following with big right hands, backing the smaller Welshman into a corner midway through the opening round.
"I just couldn't see the shots coming," Lockett said.
The second round was much the same, Lockett twice going down to catch his breath from the constant push by Pavlik. The crowd booed lustily the second time, and Lockett got up with about five seconds to go in the round.
He wouldn't make it much further.
Lockett went down again early in the third round, and even though he struggled to his feet along the ropes, he clearly had enough. The referee called the fight 1:40 into the round.
"He was a dangerous fighter," Pavlik said. "He can pop."
Pavlik becoming fan favourite
With "Lift Our Spirits" inked across his shoulders, Pavlik not only has become the inspiration of hardworking folks in Youngstown and the rest of the rust belt, but of thousands of fight fans who see in him a chance to return boxing to a prominent place in sports.
There's certainly an opening at the top of the bill. Welterweight titleholder Floyd Mayweather Jr., considered by many the pound-for-pound king, stunned everybody by announcing his retirement a day earlier. And Oscar De La Hoya, the most popular fighter of his era, plans to fight just twice more this year before calling it quits.
Even Joe Calzaghe, another Welshman considered the best in two divisions and a potential fall opponent for Pavlik, plans to retire after this year.
Promoter Bob Arum's choice to put Lockett in against Pavlik surprised nearly everyone, including Lockett, who had the WBO No. 1 ranking despite having no notable victory and never having fought outside Europe.
But popular Irish fighter John Duddy was badly cut in a fight a few months ago, taking him off the list of potential opponents.
Lockett slid into place after winning 14 straight over the last six years, a record that looked good on paper.
Known for his own knockout power, Lockett was certainly right when he predicted that the fight wouldn't go the distance, one way or the other.
"He's a fabulous fighter," Lockett said. "Every time I threw punches it seemed like he was making me pay for it."
Pavlik has said he'd like to follow in the footsteps of Bernard Hopkins by unifying the division, which would mean future matchups with WBA champ Felix Sturm and IBF champ Arthur Abraham. But Arum is already talking to Warren about a potential fall fight against Calzaghe, the 168-pound king fresh off a light heavyweight win over Hopkins.
Whatever is next for Pavlik, one thing is clear: He's quickly becoming one of the most popular, and most bankable, stars in the sport.
"Whoever they throw in front of me," Pavlik said. "Who have I turned down? Nobody."