The changes Vincent Pettway has undergone since becoming a world champion by knocking out Italy's Gianfranco Rosi last September are subtle.
But advisers and close friends of the Baltimore native insist boxing fans will see a more confident fighter tonight when Pettway makes the first defense of his International Boxing Federation junior middleweight title against former champion Simon Brown at USAir Arena in Landover.
"It's just the way he carries himself now," said Tank Hill, a club fighter turned promoter who has followed Pettway's ring career since his days as an amateur.
"The other day, his wife had to use the car and he had to take the light rail downtown," Hill said. "I picked him up at North Avenue to take him to Mr. Mack's gym to train.
"A lot of fighters, after they win a title, go big-time on you. They'd be screaming about not being treated like a champion.
"But Vincent was listening to music on his headphones, smiling, humming to himself, as relaxed as a guy walking in the park. He doesn't let anything get to him. Ask him how he feels, he says, 'On!' Ask him what makes him mad, he says, 'Nothin.' He's just so sure of himself now."
Mack Lewis, the East Baltimore boxing legend who has been grooming Pettway, 29, since he first came to his gym 21 years ago as a scrawny 65-pounder, also detects a positive change in his recently crowned champion.
"I know he gets a boost of confidence from people calling him 'Champ,' " Lewis said. "Winning the title really inspired him, but I'm always reminding him, 'You're the champion now. Act like one.'
"He wants to keep his title and you can see he's more vicious working with his sparring partners. Against Rosi, he was fighting a guy with a style who couldn't make him look good, save for knocking him out. But fighting an aggressive guy like Brown will bring out the best in him."
Said Pettway: "I always believed in my ability. Winning the title only enhanced it.
"A lot more people around Baltimore know who I am now. I made a lot of TV and speaking appearances after beating Rosi. And I've signed a sponsorship deal with the sports firm BOSS. Things have begun to open up for me."
Financially, tonight's match against a three-time former champion is a definite step up for Pettway, who will earn $200,000, four times more than he grossed for beating Rosi.
But Pettway realizes that is just brushing the surface of his potential.
"Not too many boxing fans knew a lot about Rosi, who fought mostly in Italy," he said. "But Simon Brown is a household name, and everyone remembers his fights against Terry Norris and Buddy McGirt.
"They were million-dollar fights, and that's what I'm striving for. When I beat Brown, then I'll have the same kind of name recognition and then I can demand 'X' amount of dollars."
Although Brown, 31, has ruled as a 147- and 154-pound `f champion and has appeared in 13 title bouts, he is a 8-5 underdog to Pettway, who had not fought a top 10 contender before first meeting Rosi in March 1994 -- a fight that ended in a six-round technical draw after a clashing of heads.
But the odds reflect the thinking that Pettway is on the rise and Brown, who looked lackluster in losing his World Boxing Council super-welterweight title in a rematch with Norris last May, has passed his peak.
The two fighters are not strangers. They first met at Lewis' gym 10 years ago. At the time, Brown was beginning his pro ring career and Pettway was an amateur.
"Pepe Correa was training both Brown and Maurice Blocker, another welterweight, and he'd bring them over from Washington to box with Pettway," Lewis said.
"Blocker was a rangy boxer, and Pettway had no trouble handling him. Brown was older and stronger. I wasn't anxious for Vincent to fight him. But he did, and he held his own."
"That was a long time ago," said Brown. "We both got good work out of it and learned from each other."
There is deep mutual respect for each other's talents, but Pettway (37-4-1, 30 KOs) said his boxing ability will be the difference. Brown (43-3, 31 KOs) has had his most difficult nights against gifted boxers such as McGirt and Norris, who used speed and movement to offset his power.
In sparring over 175 rounds in preparation for Brown, Pettway has exhibited a darting in-and-out style, using his stiff jab to set up quick combinations, and then moving out of harm's way.
"I'm not going to test his power," Pettway said. "But I have to show him I have power as well when the opportunity comes. But if it comes down to a long fight, I can't see myself being outboxed by anybody."
Since all four of Pettway's losses have resulted from knockouts, including two by journeymen George Leach and Javier Suazo, Brown could be tempted to concentrate on finding the champion's chin.
"I'm not thinking about how other guys have fought him," said the Jamaican native who lives in Mount Airy. "I can box or punch, work to the head and body. Fighting Pettway will be like playing checkers. If he makes a mistake, I'll jump all over him."