Kelly Pavlik learned to fight on the backyard football fields of Youngstown.
"I was always fighting somebody," Pavlik said. "I didn't have a hot temper, but I was always the one who got picked on because I looked easy to beat up."
Pavlik and a neighborhood boy would square off. That's just the way it worked.
Pavlik tried karate lessons, but he knew they weren't for him. So, he followed his brothers' path into Southside Boxing Club, "and I fell right in love with it," he said of the sport.
Debut: His first amateur fight came at age 10. Nine years later, Pavlik is enjoying a perfect start to a professional career.
"I'm just going in there fighting and landing clean shots and putting people out," said Pavlik, who will take a 9-0 record (all knockouts) into his Aug. 4 bout in Las Vegas against an opponent to be determined.
At 6-foot-3 and 154 pounds, Pavlik is fighting within the parameters of the middleweight division. That puts him in better position to challenge for any future title bouts, he said.
A 2000 graduate of Lowellville, Pavlik totaled an 80-9-9 amateur record. After signing with promoter Top Rank, which gave him a $20,000 bonus, he began the learning process in the wars of pro boxing.
He's recently recovered from injuries to both hands -- a broken bone in his left, a chipped knuckle on his right. Then, in his most recent bout in June, Pavlik took an elbow to the head while he was knocking out his opponent.
Welcome to pro boxing.
"It's a pro sport," he said. "You can't sit there and think that you're going to come out with nothing wrong."
Picking punches: Pavlik calls himself "a puncher" -- he aims for the shots that will floor his opponent. But, what he has been learning in his short tenure as a pro, with the help of trainer Jack Loew, is to be more selective.
"He knew how to adapt me to different styles of boxing," said Pavlik, who also has gotten consultation from former champ Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini. "I use all the tools now. There's more head movement, and I try to make every shot count."
Top Rank has brought Pavlik along slowly.
In the next 11/2 years, he wants to have 20 bouts to his credit. In the next two years, he wants the opportunity to fight for a major title.
"You have to sacrifice a lot of things to get a big signing with Top Rank," said Pavlik, who plans to make his pro debut in Youngstown at the end of this year. "There are some fighters who have all the makings to be a world champion, but they don't put in the time as an amateur."
Pavlik, who is managed by his father, Mike, promoted by Mike Cefalde and trained by Loew, didn't want to fall into that category. That's why he continues to be serious about his daily training regimen, which includes 5-mile morning runs, three hours of lifting and additional work either with jump stretch exercises or in the gym.
Brings benefits: The rewards are plenty. Not only does Pavlik get paid for doing something he loves, he has gained national exposure -- from fighting in front of large crowds to performing on television. Already, he has fought four times on ESPN2.
"You have to be impressive for the ESPN people and the HBO people," Pavlik said. "You have to pick it up a lot."
Not to the extent, however, that his hype makes him lose focus.
"I'm there to do a job," Pavlik said, "not to fool around."
Pavlik is known in the ring as "The Ghost," which comes with the slogan, "You can't hit what you can't see."
So far, so good for the new professional, who's trying to prove just how haunting he can be.
XBrian Richesson is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.