MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Scar tissue does not surround Kelly Pavlik's twinkling eyes. Unlike many fighters, his nose doesn't wind down his face like a country road.
He speaks so softly you need to strain to hear him.
Pavlik expresses none of the bravado you might expect from a guy who comes from a place once known as "Murder Town USA."
He comes off a lot more like a pretty good darts player than a middleweight contender.
That he happens to be both is the only surprise.
Pavlik, 25, is from Youngstown, Ohio, the gritty steel town that produced former lightweight champion Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini.
He grew up on the city's mean south side, where as a young boy he once watched as a police officer and a wanted man pointed their guns at each other.
Pavlik has none of his hometown's hard edge. He's courteous to a fault, trying to come up with a pleasant answer no matter how inane the question. He's just been talking about his skill as a darts player when he's asked if there are any similarities between the pub game and boxing.
Pavlik tries to draw a parallel between the two because he's been asked and he doesn't want to disappoint.
"A lot of the success in both of them has to do with your reflexes and your hand-eye coordination," Pavlik said. "Now, if you're around 15 years and you're getting hit in the head a lot, your reflexes probably aren't good and you probably aren't going to be any good at darts, either."
Pavlik, who fights knockout artist Edison Miranda on Saturday at the FedEx Forum with the hope of landing a shot later this year against middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, hasn't gotten hit in the head too much as a boxer because he's been the one doing all the punching.
His promoter, Bob Arum, has dollar signs in his eyes because of Pavlik's rare combination of charisma and power. Pavlik is 30-0 with 27 knockouts, 22 of which have come in less than three rounds.
Saturday's bout against Miranda could be one of those wild brawls that completely overshadow the main event.
Pavlik is the more polished boxer of the two and Arum is banking on him to win an entertaining battle to enhance his marketability and his negotiating leverage with Taylor and his promoter, Lou DiBella.
Arum has been preaching the gospel of Pavlik for several years, but few listened. He said Tuesday that about three years ago, he sat in a planning meeting with HBO executives pitching Pavlik as the next big thing.
They nearly laughed him out of the room, Arum said.
A win over Miranda would make him the mandatory challenger for the WBC belt.
"If he has a good knockout win, he's going to be huge, believe me when I tell you that," Arum said. "I know middleweights. If there is one thing I know in my more than 40 years in this sport, it's a good middleweight. I had Carlos Monzon and then (Marvelous Marvin) Hagler and Ray Leonard and I know a middleweight when I see one.
"This kid could be one of the top two or three attractions in the sport if he does what I think he's going to do."
What Pavlik is going to do – or at least try – is to bully the bully. Miranda is a massive knot of trash-talking muscle who bores relentlessly forward, winging wild but powerful shots.
Miranda is 28-1 with 24 knockouts, but has more holes defensively than the Detroit Lions.
"Everything is fine when he's coming forward, but when you back him up, his chin goes up and his arms go out and then he has problems," Pavlik said.
And, said Cameron Dunkin, Pavlik's agent and one of the game's most astute observers, that plays into Pavlik's hands.
Pavlik is no Floyd Mayweather Jr. defensively himself, but he's more polished overall than Miranda and has deadly power in both hands.
"He's so, so good offensively," Dunkin said. "He's a beast. If he hits you with anything, he could change the fight just like that. That's what he has going in his favor. He can hurt you at any time with any punch."
The pressure is on Pavlik to not only win, but to look good in doing it, because even though the fight is an eliminator, Taylor has options.
Representatives of unbeaten super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe are mounting a very public campaign for a fight with Taylor, should he get by Cory Spinks on Saturday in a bout that appears more difficult given Spinks' slippery style.
A potential Calzaghe-Taylor fight could draw more than 50,000 in the U.K., though Taylor appears to be balking at fighting on Calzaghe's home turf.
But Pavlik needs to look good in winning on Saturday in order to bolster his claim.
He doesn't appear overly concerned.
"I'm not going to do anything any differently, to be honest," he said. "I'm just going to do what I do."
But if he manages to do what he does against Miranda, it will be a bull's eye for both Pavlik and Arum.
- Kelly Pavlik
- Jermain Taylor
- Edison Miranda