Can Pavlik live up to the hype?

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – As Bob Arum spoke about Kelly Pavlik's punching power for the better part of 20 minutes Thursday, I was overcome by the feeling that I was thankful it was Jermain Taylor, and not I, who would be fighting Pavlik for the WBC middleweight title on HBO on Saturday at Boardwalk Hall.

After hearing the Hall of Fame promoter speak of the havoc that Pavlik may wreak inside a boxing ring, I'd almost become convinced that all President Bush needs to do is sic Pavlik on these Al Qaeda bad guys and the war in Iraq would soon be over.

Arum did as good a job selling Pavlik as he did a decade ago pitching sideshow acts, Eric "Butterbean" Esch and Mia St. John, as legitimate pay-per-view boxers.

"Kelly Pavlik is the hardest punching middleweight I've ever seen," Arum said. "I have been around and promoted a lot of the great middleweights and this kid is a better puncher than any of them."

The greatest at anything takes in a lot of ground, but when you consider the powerful punchers who have populated the middleweight division just over the last 25 years, Arum's statement is a mouthful.

Arum, remember, is the guy who promoted a middleweight named Thomas Hearns.

"This kid punches harder," Arum insisted. "Tommy, for just one shot, may have had more power, but as a consistent output, Kelly definitely punches harder."

Hearing Arum's words, Pavlik had trouble keeping from laughing. He took Arum's words as a compliment, he said, but didn't particularly take them seriously.

Pavlik, who has 28 knockouts in 31 professional fights, including 19 in the first two rounds, insisted the kind of a guy who gets too excited about anything.

"It's definitely a compliment to hear that, because Tommy Hearns is one of the greatest fighters ever," Pavlik said. "But I don't listen to that. I don't abide by those kinds of things."

Pavlik's punching power – or the lack of it – is going to determine the fight. Depending upon which camp you speak to, Pavlik is the game's greatest home-run hitter or just another guy.

If Pavlik's power isn't what he thinks it is, he's going to be in trouble, because he'll be standing right in front of Taylor. But if Pavlik can bring the power he showed in his May 19 victory over Edison Miranda, a new era may begin in middleweight boxing.

Pavlik said he believes power will be the difference in the fight and said he saw instances in fights against Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright where Taylor was intimidated by their power.

"That's not coming from a punch from me, either, but I saw it in the Hopkins fight and I saw it against Winky Wright, who is not a big power puncher," Pavlik said.

Pavlik said his punching advantage would manifest itself as the fight hits the stretch. He's convinced Taylor's not going to be able to withstand it for 12 rounds.

"When it comes down to heart and when it comes down to (guts) and when it comes down to those middle-to-late rounds, it's going to be a big issue," Pavlik said of his power.

But the Taylor camp doesn't seem overly concerned. Taylor said he didn't see Pavlik as an exceptional puncher and said he believes he deserves the edge in that category.

Taylor is 27-0-1 with 17 knockouts, but hasn't had a stoppage since he fought Daniel Edouard in 2004.

"I know I do," Taylor said when asked if he punches as hard as Pavlik. "Probably harder. That's especially true when you're standing right there for me to hit you."

Emanuel Steward, Taylor's Hall of Fame trainer, was Hearns' trainer and manager and worked Hearns' corner for the breathtaking 1985 bout with Marvin Hagler. That match, in which Hagler won by third-round knockout, remains arguably the greatest three-round fight in history.

It was almost sacrilege to Steward to compare Pavlik and Hearns in punching power. "Please," Steward said. "Let's be real here."

Steward isn't normally a trash talker, but he's been a one-man campaign for Taylor this week.

On Wednesday, he said he felt the fight would be competitive for one round before Taylor took over. On Thursday, he said he was sticking by his prediction that Taylor will win by knockout.

It's a matter of class and Taylor has fought better competition, Steward noted.

"This is a new league for Kelly Pavlik and he's not fighting those guys he's been used to seeing," Steward said.

Arum said he knew he had a potential champion from Pavlik's first pro fight, back in 2000, but said he became convinced that Pavlik had a chance to be special after he stopped Fulgencio Zuniga at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas on Oct. 7, 2005.

Zuniga is one of those fighters whose chin is so stout he wouldn't go down if you cracked him in the face with a sledgehammer.

But Pavlik pummeled Zuniga and stopped him for the first time in his career.

"Bernard Hopkins, Winky Wright, these guys, they might win a decision over a kid like (Zuniga), but they wouldn't knock him out," Arum said. "He's a guy you don't stop. There are some guys out there who are like that and he's one of them. What Pavlik did to him was incredible. And I knew at that moment that this kid was going to be something special."

It's up to Pavlik to prove it, though. He was shunned for most of his career by the premium cable networks, who didn't believe he was good enough or hit hard enough to make an impact.

A victory over Taylor would send shockwaves through boxing.

To Pavlik, though, it's not going to be a surprise.

"I always felt if I kept working hard and kept winning, I would get this chance and I always believed when I did, I would take advantage of it," Pavlik said. "Everything's set up the way I want and now I get to do what I do."