Gary Lockett may be counting on the wrong ally when he faces middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik June 7 - overconfidence.
"They've underestimated me by a long shot,'' the little known Welsh challenger recently told BBC Radio Wales after being reminded that many boxing observers believe he's little more than cannon fodder being used to set up a more lucrative fight for Pavlik this fall with Lockett's stablemate, undefeated super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Joe Calzaghe.
"That could be seen as a realistic opinion of my standing and ability but it's because I haven't been given the chance to show what I can do. This is the chance of a lifetime. People may say I've (only) got a puncher's chance but is there such a thing as a lucky punch in boxing? I know if I hit anyone in the world at my weight they're going to go down.''
So says the 31-year-old Lockett every chance he gets. He's been saying it ever since he was named the opponent in Pavlik's first title defense after promoter Bob Arum's initial choice, John Duddy, was eliminated by a poor performance and a terrible cut over one eye sustained on the under card of Pavlik's second straight win over former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor back on Feb. 16.
Lockett has insisted ever since that Pavlik and his trainer, Jack Loew, are giving him little thought and even less respect, both believing he will turn out to be the fistic version of an uncontested layup when they meet at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall.
Bring that thought up to the middleweight champion of the world however and he laughs derisively at the suggestion he sees Gary Lockett as a lock.
"Not that long ago I wasn't heard of just like him,'' Pavlik recalled recently at B.B. King's Blues Café in mid-town Manhattan. "They say he hasn't fought anybody. That's what they used to say about me: 'Kelly Pavlik hasn't fought nobody.' Then I stopped (Joze) Zertuche and they said, 'If Kelly Pavlik fights Jermain Taylor or Edison Miranda he'll be wiped out in two rounds.' Look what happened. I stopped them both. I haven't forgotten that.''
Neither has Lockett, who concedes Pavlik is a thoroughly dangerous puncher but insists he's one-dimensional and, more important to Lockett, not focused on him just as Miranda wasn't focused on Pavlik.
Miranda was considered one of the most dangerous punchers in the division at the time he faced Pavlik a year ago but he spent the final week leading up to their fight talking about what he was going to do to Taylor, who at the time held the middleweight title, after this nonsense with the skinny kid from Youngstown, Ohio was over. During the final pre-fight press conference in fact, Miranda ranted and raved at Taylor as if he were the man sitting on the dais next to him. If he even mentioned Kelly Pavlik, no one heard him say it.
What happened when the punching started a few days later however was that the product of Youngstown's shuttered steel mills knocked Miranda cold in the seventh round to win his second consecutive WBC title eliminator (Zertuche, whom Pavlik stopped in eight rounds, having been the first). He then did the same to Taylor, who was equally dismissive of him, four months later to claim the middleweight title.
When doubters insisted Pavlik had been lucky to survive a second round knockdown in which Taylor left him wobbling and in serious trouble, he came back in his next fight and won a clear decision from Taylor at a catch weight of 164 pounds. Just like that he had been transformed from beatable afterthought to the guy who cannot be beaten. At least not by the likes of Gary Lockett.
Pavlik hears these things and knows such talk is rubbish. It is the kind of nonsense people who have never been hit for a living say and write because they think a fight's outcome is often pre-ordained. The new champion insists he knows better, just as these days Miranda and Taylor now do.
No one would try to argue that Lockett has faced the same caliber of competition as Pavlik of course. And, frankly, on paper it seems unlikely that a one-dimensional puncher of limited skill will last long against an undefeated champion (33-0, 29 KO) who ended not only Taylor's reign but also his time in the 160-pound division after beating him so clearly in their rematch.
Yet it was only a year ago that Pavlik was perceived by many as someone who had no chance against the likes of Miranda and Taylor and he has not forgotten it. Not for a moment.
Back then, Pavlik was viewed as a sacrificial white lamb from the Midwest whose comeuppance was coming against the heavy handed Miranda, although like Lockett it was conceded that he had the proverbial puncher's chance.
Now barely 13 months later, those roles have been reversed. The boxing world is now unimpressed with Lockett, holder of the underwhelming WBU version of the 160-pound title and the WBO's No. 1 ranking but little else. Such small achievements mean nothing to the public or the media because neither was accomplished by virtue of a victory over any of the division's top challengers. Even his sparkling record of 30-1 with 21 knockouts is dismissed, in large part because it came at the expense of fighters named Kai Kauramaki, Victor Kpodonou, Lee Blundell and others whose nickname would be "Who?'' to the larger public.
Lockett understands this just as he seems to realize the decision to bring him in as a replacement for Duddy was more serendipity than anything else. It was the fortunate happenstance of being available and being trained by Enzo Calzaghe, who at the time was preparing his son for a huge HBO pay-per-view fight with then light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins.
"I know none of you guys have ever heard of me,'' Lockett said when he first came to New York to announce the fight along side Pavlik. "I'm a dark horse but this is a massive opportunity for me.
"My first fight when I was 10 years old lasted 12 seconds. I've always been able to knock people out. You're going to see a fight between two punchers. There will be fireworks.
"Normally I'm the aggressor against guys trying to out jab me. I don't think I've fought anybody like Kelly. The guy is going to be right in front of me. It'll be a good, old fashioned punch up, as they say back in Britain. Boxing won't come into it. Look, there are 50 knockouts between us.''
In other words, someone will go to sleep on June 7 a bit earlier than they intended. Loew, frankly, has made clear who he believes that will be and it's not Pavlik. That sentiment has played into Lockett's argument that he is being overlooked, yet when pressed, Loew insists Pavlik knows how Lockett feels because it wasn't all that long ago that he was in those same boxing shoes.
"If he stands in front of us, he's leaving,'' Loew promised. "We've watched him on tape. All the guys he's fought have backed up. He's not backing Kelly up.
"But this guy is far better than Duddy. He can obviously punch and that makes him dangerous. You have to respect knockout power and we do, but those belts are not going back across the pond. He's definitely going to get knocked out.''
Born in Pontypool, Wales, Lockett began boxing at eight and by the time he was a teenager had already won nine British amateur titles and a gold medal in the European junior championships in 1992. After a 6-5 start in headgear, Lockett went 84-3 before turning pro at 19 with only two senior division victories. It was an unusual choice and one he says he now regrets but it was necessary, he believed, because it was time to get paid for being punched.
Lockett won his first two professional fights but a string of hand injuries and other problems kept him out of the ring for two years before he made a concussive two-round return at the expense of someone named Lee Bird in Liverpool in 1998. He would go on to lose only once, a bloody 12-round split decision to Yuri Tsarenko for the WBO International title six years ago one fight after he'd stopped Australian world title contender Kevin Kelly in four rounds in the biggest fight of his career until the Pavlik match.
Lockett avenged that defeat a year later and has won 14 straight since yet he admits it's a big step from Kauramaki, his last victim, to Kelly Pavlik.
"I don't see it going the distance regardless of who wins,'' Lockett said and therein lays one significant difference between the champion and the challenger. The latter is predicting a knockout on June 7 but also said, "I'm being paid four or five times more than what my previous highest purse earned me. That's a good incentive. "Some fights are so brutal that you will never be the same again as a fighter. If it's going to be the last bout of your career, you might as well get paid well for it.''
Sounds like Gary Lockett might be under-whelmed at his own chances himself. Either that or he's lying in the weeds hoping such talk will feed a sense of overconfidence in the champion that will leave him ill-prepared on the night. If Lockett really believes the latter, Kelly Pavlik wants him to know he's mistaken. Badly, sadly mistaken.
"People are saying I'm getting a break fighting Lockett but I know what this guy is,'' Pavlik said. "Gary Lockett is a rugged fighter and I'm going to train for him the same way I did for Miranda and Taylor.''
Pavlik and Loew insist they've done that for the six weeks leading up to the fight because they understand there are no easy nights and no easy fights unless you do the work that makes that so.
"Lockett is a guy who comes to fight,'' Pavlik said. "He throws a lot of punches. He may have some questionable guys on his record but you can't say he fought nobody. I heard that for a long time too so I don't care if he fought 50 guys who were 0-1. It don't really make a difference. Obviously he can fight.
"He hits hard and we know he wants to come forward and attack. Every guy he's fought went backwards. Nobody held their ground. We'll see what happens when somebody does. We'll see what happens when he gets caught with a lot of punches and starts to back up because I won't be going backwards. I've proven that. He won't have to look too hard to find me.''
He may have to look very hard to find someone who has underestimated him though, which in the end may well be the biggest problem Gary Lockett has to face June 7th.
"It took me seven years to get here,'' Pavlik said of his long march out of the shadows of Youngstown boarded up steel mills to the middleweight championship. "I know what got me here. It was hard work. And hard work's the only thing that will keep me here.''
"Someone eventually will come along; there is always somebody who will emerge. Not every Andy Lee will fall through. I just wish a young Vargas was coming up, or a De La Hoya, a young Hopkins, a Toney or a Jones. But I'm not worried. Kelly is a throwback to the old-time fighters. He will fight anyone."
For the moment, Pavlik (31-0, 29 KOs) is set to fight one of his mandatory challengers, 31-year-old Brit Gary Lockett (30-1, 21 KOs) on June 7 in Atlantic City. How the sanctioning body ranked the Enzo Calzaghe-trained Lockett as a number one challenger is anybody's guess. Lockett, who has fought only in the UK, is unranked by two other sanctioning bodies and is 20th with the other. The opponents Lockett beat in his last three fights hardly earned him a title shot: Kai Kauramaki (13-13), Lee Blundell (23-4-2) and Ayiteh Powers (11-4-1).
"Kelly is taking his mandatory and he is getting hammered for it," Dunkin said. "The writers think nothing of Lockett. But if Kelly doesn't fight Lockett he loses his WBO belt. He doesn't want to lose that belt. He loves those belts. People are saying, 'Why are you fighting this guy?' But who do you fight? Who is out there? Tell me the names of the people."
For now, Dunkin is resigned to the fact that in order to get a money fight for the 6'2 1/2 Pavlik he will have to go up in weight, where he has been mentioned by both Joe Calzaghe and Roy Jones Jr. as a possible opponent.
"Super middleweight is a whole different thing," Dunkin said. "You've got some big fights there, but those 168-pound guys are old. I am not sure that anyone at 168 would become a defining fight for Kelly."
Should Pavlik fight at super middleweight, it would not be a permanent move by any means. "Kelly is willing to bounce back and forth between 160 and 168, but he wants to keep his belts at 160," Dunkin said. "Kelly is a true middleweight. He has no problem making 160. In fact, last Friday (May 16) he was walking around at 163 1/2 pounds. We had to shut the gym down for the weekend to keep him from losing more weight. It's unfortunate that he has to change divisions just to make a fight."
While Dunkin, who was voted the 2007 Manager of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, is frustrated by the situation, he reports that Pavlik apparently is not.
"Kelly is training harder for this fight - and I know you hear this bullshit all the time - but Kelly is fired up to fight Lockett," Dunkin said. "He just loves to fight, loves the action, the event. I never have to worry about Kelly's interest lagging. He waited seven years for a title fight and never lost focus, never complained."
Throughout Pavlik's journey to the top he did not get the hype or publicity that Duddy and Lee had. "Nobody believed in him when he was coming up. They just saw him as this big, overprotected white kid," Dunkin said. "(Edison) Miranda was a sensational victory (2007) because nobody thought he could win. Why, I don't know. Miranda was a name only in the little boxing community, not someone the public would perceive as a big deal. If Kelly broke Abraham's jaw (4th round) like Miranda did, do you think he would run away from Abraham like Miranda? He would have taken him out.
"Then Kelly fights a sensational fight against Taylor, knocks him out. But after the fight they say Taylor no longer wants to do this, and it tarnished the victory. If Kelly fights Abraham or Sturm, so what? People will say they are just European fighters, who have they beaten?"
It is ironic that Calzaghe has prominently mentioned Pavlik as a possible next opponent, because the Welsh fighter was for many years in the same bag as the Youngstown, Ohio middleweight. The super middleweight division which Calzaghe has dominated for almost 11 years has been one lacking in quality opponents. The last time 168 had superstars was in the early 1990s, when Jones, James Toney, Nigel Benn, Iran Barkley, Michael Nunn and the man Calzaghe dethroned, Chris Eubank, were champions.
"In some way, Kelly is in the same boat that Calzaghe was," Dunkin said. "Calzaghe was criticized for his opponents. Before the Lacy fight, people thought he was a fraud, a white European fighter who would get destroyed by Jeff Lacy."
Despite the barren landscape that Pavlik finds himself in, Dunkin is confident that his fighter will secure his legacy one day.
"Kelly is just 25, and look what he has accomplished already. He wants to fight six or seven more years," Dunkin said. "Someone eventually will come along; there is always somebody who will emerge. Not every Andy Lee will fall through. I just wish a young Vargas was coming up, or a De La Hoya, a young Hopkins, a Toney or a Jones. But I'm not worried. Kelly is a throwback to the old-time fighters. He will fight anyone."
With no palace revolt on the horizon, King Pavlik will have to settle for ruling a domain populated by a long list of those "anyones."