ATLANTIC CITY - In just more than a year, Kelly Pavlik has gone from relative unknown to middleweight king.

Pavlik got back on the knockout path Saturday night, stopping unheralded Welshman Gary Lockett with a punishing assault in the third round of his first title defense before a raucous crowd at Boardwalk Hall.

Nearly everyone considered Lockett a mere tuneup for the hard-punching Pavlik, who captured the WBC and WBO versions of the middleweight championship when he stopped previously unbeaten Jermain Taylor in the same building last September with a 12-round decision.

Pavlik (34-0, 30 knockouts) stunned Lockett (30-2, 21 KOs) in the opening round, dropped him to a knee twice in the second and by the third round Lockett's corner had thrown in the towel. *