"Our plan is to win a middleweight title, then move up to 168 pounds. It's easier moving up when you have a title, because then you don't have to start over in the rankings. It is getting harder to make middleweight, so I am definitely going up."
Pavlik, who will fight Saturday night on HBO's "Boxing After Dark," is the latest in an impressive line of Youngstown bangers, tracing back to the early 1980s. For a city of only 80,000 people, Youngstown has produced four world champions, three of which were knockout artists - Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, Harry Arroyo and Jeff Lampkin. And although Earnie Shavers, one of the hardest punchers in boxing history, grew up in Warren, 16 miles away, he fought out of Youngstown,
"Typical of most fighters from that area, Kelly comes to fight and takes no prisoners," said Bruce Trampler, chief matchmaker for Top Rank the past 24 years.
It is ironic that just as the last of the Youngstown steel companies were all but down for the count in 1979, the following year saw Mancini, Arroyo and Lampkin all make their pro debuts, by knockout naturally. Over the course of their careers, the three Youngstown boxers -- and Shavers -- left in their wake a tremendous percentage of knockout victims. Consider the numbers.
Mancini fought from 1980 to 1992, won 29 times with 23 by KO. Arroyo (1980-93), although more of a finesse fighter than banger, still earned 30 of his 40 victories by stoppage. Lampkin (1980-97) racked up 34 knockouts in 39 victories. Shavers, whom Muhammad Ali has said hit him harder than any man he had ever fought, including George Foreman, was a wrecking machine, pounding out 68 of his 74 victories by stoppage.
The combined number of victories the four fighters won by knockout was 155 out of 182, a stunning 91 percent. The only other Youngstown champion was bantamweight Greg Richardson, whose alias, "The Flea" sums up nicely why he only shows a pitiful five KOs among his 31 wins.
"Youngstown barely has 80,000 people now, but we have four world champions and I'm going to be the fifth," Pavlik said proudly.
Pavlik, who first stepped into Jack Lowe's Southside Gym to box when he was 10, is not only well aware of his city's boxing tradition, but is friends with Mancini and Arroyo, the latter of whom he used to spar with as a teenager.
"I've known Mancini since the beginning of my career, when he expressed some interest in managing me," Pavlik said. "We talk all the time. He's friends with my trainer, Jack Lowe, so he'll stop in the gym from time to time and help out."
Pavlik first met Arroyo in the gym. "When I was 15, I sparred with Arroyo (41 at the time and retired). He wouldn't go full out, but he was full of tricks, and you could see he had so much experience."
A student of the game, Pavlik has studied Mancini and Arroyo fights on DVD.
"Mancini was a hard-nosed, straight ahead fighter. Harry was different, he was slicker," Pavlik said. "I swear he (Arroyo) must have had the slowest upper cut to the body I ever saw, but he always landed when he threw it, same with his jab. Their careers are an inspiration to me to win a world title."
Although Pavlik has not demonstrated it much as a pro, he has some pretty slick boxing moves of his own.
"When I was an amateur (89-9 record), I had good boxing skills, with a lot of hand speed. I was out-boxing people, and I was hard to hit. That's why friends on my amateur team nicknamed me 'The Ghost,'" Pavlik said. It is an alias he still uses today, although Kelly Pavlik is no ghost. His victims know right where to find him -- up in their faces slinging leather.
Pavlik and his trainer have been working at utilizing his boxing skills more in his last two fights, but it is unlikely that his opponent Saturday night, Jose Luis Zertuche (19-3-2, 14 KOs), will see much in the way of finesse.
"Being on HBO should really help my career. It's very important to me to be impressive, so I have been training very hard," Pavlik said.
Translated, that means Pavlik is gunning for another KO notch.
About the only opponent who has given Pavlik trouble is his own hands. Since 2002, he has been plagued by hand problems, which led to a frustrating medical journey for the young fighter.