WALDORF, Md.—A capacity crowd filled the Waldorf Jaycees Community Center on Friday night to see boxers from Maryland and the District dominate their Virginia counterparts at the Washington Golden Gloves regional championships.
After finishing our regular training session and scouring the lot for a patch of grass upon which to deposit the car, we made our way inside just as the novice division bouts were wrapping up with the superheavyweights. The open division contests pitted the D.C.-Maryland champions in the blue corner against the Virginia titlists in the red with a shot at the national tournament in Indianapolis later this month on the line.
The gentleman at the door was seemingly unmoved by your correspondent’s status as a credentialed member of the press corps so we purchased two ringside tickets and found our seats in time to see Lawrence Singh of Headbangers Gym take on Jeremy Morales of Norfolk, Va.
Singh is an impressive young man; at 16 he is poised to graduate from high school a year early so he can begin training in earnest to join the Trinidadian Olympic team. But he struggled in a rough matchup with the bigger and stronger Morales.
Following Singh’s loss his father Loknauth appeared upset but was gracious enough to expound on his son’s future plans. He pointed out the older Morales is a member of the Navy and said trials for the Pan Am Games are up next for Lawrence.
After Bowie, Md.’s Maurice Adams Jr. took the 114-lb. title in a walkover the crowd began to buzz palpably for one of the evening’s main attractions: Gary Antonio Russell, son of local trainer Gary Russell Sr. and the younger brother of junior lightweight prospect Gary Russell Jr. Another brother, Gary Allen Russell III won the 2010 National Golden Gloves 141-lb. title.
My trainer and companion for the evening Rodriguez Jackson has watched the Russell boys for years at local amateur tournaments and predicted Antonio would put on a great show at 123 lbs. against Steven Zadien of Roanoke, Va. He was right, but the bout exceeded even his high expectations.
Russell, who according to Rodriguez is 17 years old at most, came out with his hands low in a southpaw stance a la Zab Judah, wearing a white wifebeater and what can only be described as an asymmetrical pair of skorts. With his father doubtless in the corner of his older brother, who was fighting professionally the same night in San Francisco, Russell turned to veteran local trainer Barry Hunter for guidance.
Russell struck immediately with a vicious overhand left in the first, followed by a flurry of snapping shots from either fist. His stunning handspeed was immediately apparent to ringside observers as was his power, judging by the red blotches that quickly spread across Zadien’s face.
"Look at his face, he looks like he cryin’" said one observer to our rear regarding Zadien.
"He is, on the inside," responded his neighbor.
But Zadien refused to be cowed and rallied in the second, backing Russell into the ropes and catching him with a straight right that busted the teenager’s nose. With both fighters bloodied, the ref called over the doc for a pair of quick checks before continuing what was fast developing into an all-out war.
The third round saw Russell’s superior quickness and ability to string his punches together begin to wear out Zadien. To every punch from Zadien Russell replied with four. Soon Antonio had his opponent’s timing down pat and began landing his right at will. Zadien’s focus turned to surviving until the final bell, which he did to the great appreciation of the crowd.
Despite a face that looked like raw hamburger afterward, Zadien can justly claim to have gone toe-to-toe with a fighter who will doubtless be making waves of his own at some point. Antonio still has plenty of time to go before following in his older brother’s footsteps, but after winning the tournament’s outstanding fighter award he is clearly one to watch in Indianapolis.
The next bout featured another Olympic hopeful, Kevin Rivers Jr. of Landover, Md. against Andre Hunter of Chesapeake, Va. at 132 lbs. Rodriguez has known Rivers for years and told me before the fight that he was probably the best prospect in the area, which made it all the more surprising when Hunter hurt Rivers at the outset of the bout with an overhand right.
Hunter showed off a tight, compact style while Rivers appeared more rangy and less confident early. The female ref in charge of the bout did an excellent job controlling the action as Rivers began to regain his footing and caught Hunter with a left in the second round that scored a knockdown. A straight right landed next and appeared to hurt Hunter badly, resulting in another standing eight count. Hunter survived to the bell but the tide had clearly turned.
Rivers came out for the third, using his jab effectively before unleashing another combination that scored a third knockdown and prompted Hunter’s corner to stop the fight. Given the quality of his opponent and his ability to rally from being hurt early, Rivers arguably delivered the most impressive performance of the evening.
A charming and engaging young man, afterward Keith credited his opponent’s toughness and said his conditioning had pulled him through. He proclaimed himself ready to contend at both Nationals as well as the upcoming Olympic trials.
During the subsequent break to award Waldorf’s Michael Reed the 141 lb. title in a walkover, I caught up with local junior welterweight contender Lamont Peterson, in attendance to show his support for David “Day-Day” Grayton fighting in the next bout. Peterson said in addition to Grayton he was eager to see D’Mitrius Ballard take on Antoine Douglas in the 165 lb. division.
Peterson said he is currently training hard for his bout against Victor Cayo in two weeks at the Cosmopolitan Resort in Las Vegas. He called Cayo a good boxer who would struggle against someone with a similar skillset. Lamont said he plans to box early before going for a knockout in the later rounds.
As for his previous opponent Victor Ortiz, who is taking on welterweight belt-holder Andre Berto Saturday night, Peterson gave Ortiz a shot at the “W” thanks to his power but said he favors the Haitian by odds of 60 to 40.
Back to the action, Grayton took the ring for a 152 lb. title bout against Moshea Aleem of Richmond, Va. with the crowd noticeably in his corner. Rodriguez told me Day-Day is known as a brawler and the only chance for Aleem is to stay out of the path of his heavy left hand.
"If this guy [Aleem] can’t box, he’s going to sleep," Rodriguez promised.
But Aleem could box and did so to great effect in the early going, avoiding sustained exchanges by sticking, moving and dancing around the ring. The strategy appeared to be working in round two but something lit a fire under Day-Day going into the third because he came out like gangbusters.
Soon after, the ref deducted a point from Aleem for excessive holding and Grayton won a close decision thanks to his unrelenting pressure. After just one bout it was easy to see both why Grayton is one of the most exciting local prospects to watch and the deficiencies that may be exposed by a more skilled pugilist.
Lamont Peterson proved prescient after just 30 seconds of action in the following bout between Ballard and Douglas, with the latter forcing Ballard up against the ropes in the first round hurting him with a straight right to score a standing eight. Rodriguez has seen Ballard get off the mat to win before and told me the kid is tough and won’t quit, both of which proved to be true.
The second round was compelling enough that the sum total of my notes follows:
"Douglas is a beast."
"But Ballard is a tough SOB."
"Trading heavy blows."
The toe-to-toe exchanges continued into round three and shook the ring with such ferocity it threatened to come tumbling down beneath the fighters. Douglas appeared to be getting the better of the action and came away with the victory, but both men deserved to leave the arena with their heads held high.
Unfortunately that contest also signaled the end of the more competitive fights of the evening. Many casual followers of the sport lament the lack of quality competitors at the higher weight classes and the paucity of talent was on full display once again Friday night, much like my experience at the New York Golden Gloves finals last week.
Jerry Odom of Bowie, Md. bullied Antoine Ward to win the 178 lb. title while Jerrell Reeves won a forgettable superheavyweight bout against Dennis Benson. Only Zakki Scott of Temple Hills, Md. showed any real promise in triumphing over the physically imposing Keith Robertson of Virginia Beach. While Robertson appeared positively svelte for someone in the 201-lb. weight class, he was clearly gassed by the end of the fight.
Rodriguez and I both agreed Scott had shown some flashes of ability in outlasting the bigger man along with a fighting spirit that had him taunting his opponent well after the final bell. Of course like most amateur fighters, any potential success Scott may have at the next level would likely require him to drop a weight class or three in order to find his natural level.
—Gautham Nagesh from ringside.