ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Kelly Pavlik strode casually into Caesar's Atlantic City this week, apparently oblivious to his own face glaring out from the billboards strewn around the lobby.
Apart from a few eagle-eyed boxing enthusiasts, his entry did not raise enough of a murmur to persuade most patrons to avert their gaze from the spinning wheels of the slot machines before them.
And that, of course, is just how Pavlik likes it.
Back-slapping attention, ostentatious displays of wealth and bravado, or posses of ego-boosting cronies do not fit in with the ethos of the man built in the mold of his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
Saturday's fight against Bernard Hopkins at Boardwalk Hall is clearly the biggest of Pavlik's career, and a prime opportunity to further augment his burgeoning reputation.
Yet there will be no alteration in the policy of simplicity that has served him successfully to this point, with a record of 34-0 and 30 knockouts since he turned pro in 2000.
Pavlik's popularity in Youngstown knows no bounds. The gritty town whose inhabitants are hewn from the same tough stuff that once churned out of its now-neglected steel mills supports him passionately and vocally.
But Pavlik Nation is spreading its borders these days and the 26-year-old's no-nonsense approach has struck a deep chord with boxing fans sick and tired of the way bling culture has poisoned the sport.
In these tough economic times it is hard to have sympathy for characters who measure success in diamond-studded watches and believe the size of one's entourage is as vital a statistic as a win-loss record.
"Boxing is a sport that is rife with nonsense and ego and hype and (expletive)," said Cameron Dunkin, Pavlik's manager. "People respond to Kelly because he is not about all that.
"Much of what I see in boxing disgusts me. Zab Judah is an ass. Fernando Vargas is an ass. Floyd Mayweather was an ass.
"These people, you have got to refer to them as the champ, you can't eat around them. How can they be fighters when they are not even men, they are selfish little babies?"
The tales of Pavlik's desire to remain grounded are bountiful. Like how he celebrated beating Jermain Taylor by buying a set of tires for his truck and how he sleeps on the couch at his parents' house when in training.
Dunkin believes the explosion in popularity of mixed martial arts and the emergence of its blue-collar stars has given the public a greater appreciation for Pavlik.
"The MMA guys are great," said Dunkin. "They are just normal guys who come to fight. They walk to the ring in a T-shirt or whatever and just get it on.
"Kelly is the same, he is a pure exponent of the fight game. Everything else is just nonsense. The MMA thing may have helped Kelly, because people have come to respect that kind of honesty and realism in sports."
Pavlik will fight for the first time since his third-round knockout of Welshman Gary Lockett in June, which followed two poundings of Taylor and signalled Pavlik's arrival at the top table of American boxing.
He allows his skills and reputation to speak for him and does not feel the need to over-hype his fights unnecessarily, even claiming this contest is lower profile that his two-parter with Taylor.
He is favored to beat Hopkins, but will surely be severely tested by The Executioner's holding, grappling and questionable tactics.
"People are mistaken if they think that Kelly is a weak kid on the inside," said Pavlik's trainer Jack Loew. "Don't be surprised if we put Bernard's (expletive) in his throat before he touches us low.
"We're just as rough as he is on the inside so it's a tit for a tat, and if he fouls, we could fight rough, too. So we're not concerned about his roughhouse tactics."
Hopkins has never been knocked out, and for Pavlik to end things early would be a huge statement, one which would greatly boost his future earnings.
"It would probably be one of the biggest statements since probably the last 40 years in boxing," said Pavlik. "I mean, he has never been stopped. You know, how good of a chin does he have? We don't know.
"The question is what happens when he does get hit flush."
The absence of star power in the middleweight division would appear to cast some doubt as to how Pavlik would continue his momentum if he beats Hopkins.
The winner of the Joe Calzaghe-Roy Jones showdown in New York next month would be the obvious next step if he defeats Hopkins. However, Calzaghe's split with promoter Frank Warren has made that possibility somewhat less likely.
Other options for Pavlik include Arthur Abraham, Felix Sturm or Mikkel Kessler. None of that trio includes a name likely to get the general public salivating, but all would provide entertaining contests that would be appreciated within the sport.
Promoter Bob Arum claims Pavlik is not concerned about building a legacy, portraying him as a puncher who just wants to make the best fights available.
When Oscar De La Hoya talks about big fights he is referring to big money, crossover appeal and pay-per-view numbers. In Pavlik's case, Arum's definition of "best" is based around pugilistic and not purely fiscal factors.
"With Kelly it is not about chasing every single last dollar," said Arum. "All his money just goes into the bank anyways.
"We will make the right fights for him and the right fights for the boxing community. Kelly is a fighter who cares about boxing and what the fans want, not what Hollywood wants."
- Kelly Pavlik
- Bernard Hopkins