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Articles of 2007

TSS Closer Look: Referee Benjy Esteves

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Referee Benjy Esteves Jr. has been an amateur or professional referee for the better part of the last quarter century. He is confident enough in his own abilities to admit that he is still learning, and will continue to learn until his officiating days are over.

While viewing fights on television, he says he watches the referee as much as he watches the boxers.

“Sometimes the referee will be out of the picture and I’ll say he should be over there,” said the 50-year-old Esteves, who was the third man in the ring for the WBC lightweight title fight between David Diaz and Erik Morales on August 4 in Rosemont, Illinois.

“Then, bingo, nine times out of ten he’s there. Watching other referees work helps keep you sharp. You can’t afford to be anything less than your best in there.”

Prior to Bernard Hopkins’ upset victory over Antonio Tarver in June 2006, the Tarver camp had expressed concern over what they said was Hopkins’ propensity to hit on the hip.

They brought it up so I had to address it,” said Esteves. “Bernard is a very poised professional, a seasoned veteran, and he’ll take whatever you give him. I believe that you gain control of the fight in the locker room. I told him I wouldn’t judge him on past performances, but that I would be watching him. Things worked out well.”

But, added Esteves, a good referee must realize they cannot focus all of their attention on one fighter. It takes two to tango, so Esteves realized that if he watched Hopkins too closely Tarver might try to gain an advantage.

“You always have to remember that there are two fighters in there,” said Esteves. “I always tell fighters I will give them what I expect from them: a professional effort.”

Esteves has been giving a professional effort since the early nineties. Prior to that he had a stellar career as an amateur referee, where he held the title of Chief of Officials in New York State for five years. In that capacity, he was responsible for mentoring all of the other referees.

He remembers one of the early professional fights he did in Atlantic City. A young Irish welterweight who was handled by a very prominent trainer received a nasty gash on the top of his head.

Esteves dutifully told the ringside physician to give it a look between rounds. Somehow the bleeding stopped and the Irish youngster went on to win a decision. Esteves was perplexed.

He later learned that the trainer curled up the fighter’s hair, shoved it in the cut and sealed it with Vaseline. “It was a tactical move, but it is not something that I would miss today,” said Esteves.

Having recently officiated fights with prospects like junior welterweight Kendall Holt, who lost a WBO title bid to Ricardo Torres on September 1st, and Irish middleweight Andy Lee, Esteves was asked if he is ever overwhelmed by his good fortune.

“In the ring, you can’t be,” he responded. “You have to always be watching the fighters, and thinking about other things too: I just passed the neutral corner [or] I just passed a judge and might be blocking him so I have to move. If a mouthpiece falls out I have to go to this or that corner. While you’re thinking all of this, you’re also looking for cuts, butts and fouls.

“Once you do it for a while, you get well-practiced at it,” he continued. “It’s like brushing your teeth. But you can never forget your importance in there. Your job is to keep the fighters safe and also maintain the integrity of the sport.”

Esteves was the third man in the ring when Arturo Gatti brutally knocked out Joey Gamache in the second round in February 2000 at Madison Square Garden. It has since been alleged in court papers that Gatti was allowed to come in overweight. The controversy resulted in a total revamping of the then beleaguered New York State Athletic Commission, which is now considered one of the finest in the country.

Esteves remembers that fight all too well. “It’s a referee’s worst nightmare to lose a fighter in the ring,” he said. “I was running into stop the fight whenGatti caught Gamache with a three-punch combination. As I came in with my arms up, Gamache went down. I really thought he might have been more seriously hurt. When I saw it on the video, it looked horrible.”

More recently, in March 2007, he refereed a middleweight fight between Andy Lee and Carl Daniels. The highly touted Lee knocked out the former junior middleweight titlist in the third round, also at MSG.

“As soon as he hit the ground, I wanted the doctor to see him,” said Esteves. “I didn’t want to move him in any way, even to take the mouthpiece out. Thankfully, he’s okay.”

At least twice a week Esteves speaks with Joe Cortez, who many people consider the dean of contemporary referees. It was from Cortez, says Esteves, that he has learned to be calm and cool. In a business where character assassination is an art form, Cortez is one of the few people you never hear anything remotely negative about.

“I try to pattern myself after Joe,” said Esteves. “I go to his seminars and listen closely to whatever he says.”

Two other early mentors were Larry Hazzard and Tony Orlando, both of whom were longtime New Jersey referees but are now involved in the administrative aspect of boxing. It was Hazzard who culled Esteves from the amateur ranks and “turned” him pro.

“I picked up so much from those guys,” said Esteves. “I am very grateful for all that I learned from them.”

Growing up in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan, Esteves had only a passing interest in boxing. His brother Norberto, a retired New York City social services worker boxed, as did his uncle, featherweight Victor Melendez, a solid pro who compiled a 16-0-4 (0KOS) record between 1963-69. His two losses were decisions to Ismael Laguna and Carlos “Teo” Cruz, both of whom held world titles.

His cousins Carlos Pacheco and Angel Nieves also boxed competitively, but by the time Esteves’ interest was piqued he considered himself too old to get started in such a challenging sport.

He still remembers being mesmerized by the first fight card he ever saw live. It was July 1973 at MSG, and Harold Weston Jr. stopped future middleweight champion VitoAntuofermo on cuts in five rounds. Esteves was hooked.

“It was so cool, so exciting,” said Esteves. “I always knew my uncle was a pro boxer, but never gave it much thought. After seeing my first fight live, I wanted to be involved in a big way.”

For some inexplicable reason, becoming a referee appealed to him. To that end, he called the offices of The RING magazine, which were then in Manhattan. VinceShomo, a multiple Golden Gloves champion, picked up the phone.

Shomo was helpful and led him to Bruce Silverglade, the current owner of Gleason’s Gym. At the time, Silverglade headed the New York State amateur system. He and Shomo helped guide Esteves in the right direction but, Esteves says, “It was Frankie Martinez who made me what I am today.”

Esteves met Martinez while trying to locate Dick McGuire, who for many years was a top amateur official in the city. Every time he’d go looking fort him at a show, he’d find Martinez instead. After the third or fourth time, Martinez asked if he could help him.

“He was also from Hell’s Kitchen, and he took me under his wing,” said Esteves. “He taught me so much. He told me to never comment about a boxer before a fight, to never make predictions, to be clean, to be on time, and to be strong with your commands.”

Esteves said that there were times he’d leave the ring proud of his work, only to be criticized by Martinez. “He taught me to never get complacent and to always know there is room for improvement,” said Esteves. “If you forget that, you can’t help but get complacent.”

Esteves also learned invaluable lessons from his mother, Irene Nieves, who instilled in him his work ethic, honesty and devotion to personal and professional integrity. All of these traits have come to define the man that he is today.

She raised Esteves and his brother by herself, and even taught them the importance of physical fitness by her own example. Like Joe Cortez, she was firm but fair, gracious and giving. Although she was a single mother raising two boys in a neighborhood plagued by drugs and prostitution, Nieves found the time run a workout club in a local senior citizen center, as well as the bingo club at the church.

“My mother, God rest her soul, was a very special person,” said Esteves. “I always knew she was special, but after she died I found out about things I never knew about her. She was very popular. Everyone knew her and she did so much for everyone. She was the original Jenny on the block.”

Nieves was struck by a car and killed in Manhattan in July 2003. She was a youthful 70 years old at the time of her death. After her passing, Esteves learned of the countless errands and favors she did for people in the building. Never once did she complain, much less tell her children how much she did for others. She let her actions speak louder than her words.

Another invaluable lesson she taught Esteves and his brother was forgiveness. The woman who struck their mother was wracked with grief and guilt. On more than one occasion, she or her sister called the hospital to check on Nieves’ condition.

“We realized right away it was an accident,” said Esteves. “As devastated as we were, there was no reason for anger. We forgave her. I wished I could have had a few more years with my Mom, but am grateful for all that I had.”

Although Esteves did not know his late father growing up, he has since come to realize that he was a good man. After his untimely death a few years back, Esteves learned that he also had two half-sisters and a half-brother. They have since become very close and he loves them as if he’s known them his whole life.

Equally important to having the new family is the fact that he got to know his father through them. His namesake was employed as a laborer, and circumstances kept him and Esteves’ mother apart. Still, Esteves realizes now that he was, at his core, a very decent man.

“I even sign my name like him,” said Esteves. “It’s kind of eerie.”

If Esteves was employed in a military or a quasi-military organization such as a police department, people would consider him “squared away.”

He presents a good appearance, is articulate and competent, and exudes an air about him that makes you trust him and believe that he will do what he says, not only correctly, but in the time he says it will take him to do it. That is apparent in his everyday demeanor, as well as in his voice mail at IBM, where he is employed as an accounts receivable representative in the marketing division.

Besides being eternally optimistic and positive, he seems totally incorruptible and extremely professional in all of his daily dealings.

“I’m a naturally friendly guy, so when I see fighters I ask them how they are doing and inquire about their families,” he said. “But I try not to have conversations with fighters, because it can give someone the opening to say something. And I won’t schmooze with promoters. That’s a no-no. If I’m out of town doing a fight, I stay clear of the promoters.”

Esteves regularly attends small club shows, not only because he enjoys them but also to watch other referees in action. Never, he asserts, does he expect to enter for free. “I always pay my way,” he said. “I never flick my badge to get in.”

He also keeps himself in peak physical condition. On alternate days he runs four miles, rides a stationary bicycle, bangs the heavy bag and does loads of sit-ups. All of that hard work pays off because even after a fight as fast-paced as Diaz-Morales, he was barely winded.

“I like to stay limber and in shape at all times,” he said. “But if a fight is coming up, I do a little extra of everything.”

Esteves and his wife Nelsie, who have been together for 28 years, reside in Sayreville, New Jersey, which is about 40 minutes from Manhattan. Their two sons are successful in their own right. Benjamin III, 26, is an insurance representative and 21-year-old Julian just graduated from Rutgers University and is now working toward an advanced degree in criminal justice.

“I don’t have a wild side,” said Esteves. “But even though I live in a good neighborhood, where there is very little crime, I still put the Club on my steering wheel and I don’t leave my house windows open. Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, it’s hard to change.”

Esteves starts each day with a daily prayer to “put everything in focus.” His prayers and daily readings are as important to him as his exercise regimen.

He also believes in helping out those less fortunate than himself. Every third Saturday of the month, he and two IBM co-workers volunteer at a pantry in the City of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. They distribute canned, boxed and bagged goods to needy residents.

“That is very important to me,” said Esteves. “I feel it is important for us as human beings to give something back in any way to those less fortunate.

“No matter how bad you might think you have it, there are always people who have it worse. People at work say how tough their job is. I tell them at least you got a job.”

In his spare time, Esteves likes to detail other people’s cars. He has his own transitory equipment. If he works at the customers’ home, he gives them a discount because he’s using their electricity.

“That’s my nature, to put forth my best effort and to always be honest and open,” he said. “When customers get their car back and say ‘awesome,’ I feel good. When I referee a good fight, I feel good.

“As long as I do my best, I feel good. I never give less than a professional effort in anything I do. My reputation speaks for itself.”

Articles of 2007

St-Pierre, Liddell, Clementi Win @ UFC 79

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LAS VEGAS-A reinvented Georges St. Pierre proved he’s ready for the true Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title with a dominating win over Matt Hughes and Chuck Liddell returned to the win column in his big showdown on Saturday.

St. Pierre took the final chapter in the trilogy with Hughes and now is the UFC interim champion at the 170-pound division.

Hughes just shook his head after tapping out before a sold out audience at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. It was called “Nemesis” and St. Pierre conquered his nemesis.

“Georges is just a better fighter,” said Hughes (43-6) who beat St. Pierre several years ago, but lost two years ago in a title match. “I just don’t know how much longer I got.”

St. Pierre (15-2) found Hughes using a left-handed stance to change up his attack, but the Canadian quickly adapted and used his quickness, skills and raw strength to take Hughes to the ground.

“If it wasn’t for my wrestling training I wouldn’t have been able to adjust,” said St. Pierre who had been preparing to represent Canada’s Olympic wrestling team.

Inside the Octagon the Canadian was never in danger. In fact, Hughes was the fighter teetering for the entire fight that ended in 4:54 of the second round.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

Hughes, known for his wrestling skills, just couldn’t solve St. Pierre’s quickness. Every move the Illinois fighter attempted was squashed.

St. Pierre is now promised a fight against the current UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, who pulled out of the fight with Hughes because of injury.

“If I don’t get my belt back, I’m going to consider myself champion,” said St. Pierre filled in for Serra with less than a month of training.

After dominating the first round on top of Hughes, the second round was even worse as St. Pierre landed elbows and fists. Though the Illinois fighter escaped from underneath, he was quickly thrown down. Within seconds St. Pierre grabbed Hughes left arm and turned it into an inescapable arm bar.

Hughes screamed out: “I tap!”

St. Pierre now awaits Serra to recover from his back injury.

The semi-main event was no less intense.

The light heavyweight showdown between Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell and Brazil’s Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva was a three-round punch out between two famous sluggers. In the end Liddell’s sharper punches in the first and third round decided the fight despite a knockdown in the second scored by Silva.

Silva (31-8-1) dominated the second round for four minutes and 30 seconds but Liddell rallied and took the Brazilian to the ground. Two judges were somehow impressed by Liddell’s last 30 seconds and inexplicably gave him that round.

With both fighters huffing and puffing, and Silva with a bad cut over his right eye, Liddell seemed the stronger puncher and landed a back-handed fist and a right hand that stunned the former Pride FC fighter Silva. But he survived the round.

The judges scored it 29-28, 30-27 twice for Liddell who won his first bout after back-to-back losses.

“I knew it was a big fight for everybody and especially for me to get back on track,” said Liddell (21-5). “He had a lot more than I thought he had.”

Silva, who was making his first UFC appearance, was gracious in defeat.

“He won,” said Silva. “I gave my best.”

Temecula’s Rameau Sokoudjou fell short against Brazil’s undefeated Lyoto Machida (12-0) in their light heavyweight contest. The Cameroon native was unable to use his punching power with effectiveness against the karate-trained fighter. Then, unexpectedly, Machida landed a left hand that dropped Sokoudjou (4-2) and proceeded to gain an arm triangle that forced a submission at 4:20 of the second round.

“I’ve been working on my ground game,” said Machida who wants a world title match. “I beat the Alaska assassin, the African assassin, what other assassins are left?”

A heavyweight bout featured two Southern Californians eager to punch out. But San Diego’s Eddie “Manic Hispanic” Sanchez’s experience proved decisive in beating Temecula’s Soa Palelei (8-2) with uppercuts for three rounds. With his nose bleeding profusely and sustaining three consecutive uppercuts, referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the fight at 3:24 of the third and final round for a technical knockout.

“He was out of gas,” said Sanchez (10-1). “He was always putting his head down.”

Undercard

A grudge fight between two Louisiana fighters ended in a decisive submission victory by Rich Clementi of Slidell over the favored Melvin Guillard of New Orleans. A rear naked choke at 4:40 seconds of the first round forced Guillard, who had been predicting domination, to tap out. Though the fight was definitively over, Guillard attempted to assault Clementi but referee Herb Dean grabbed the fighter.

“He still didn’t learn his lesson,” said Clementi after Guillard attempted to rush him after the fight. “I validated what he’s known for six years, I’m the better man.”

James “The Sandman” Irvin (13-5-1) was nearly put to sleep by an illegal knee to the eye from Brazil’s newcomer Luis Cane (8-1) in the first round of a light heavyweight fight. Unable to continue, Irvin was declared the winner by disqualification at 1:51. Cane seemed unaware that UFC rules disallow knees to the head while the person is on the ground. Some mixed martial arts organizations allow it.

Former Ultimate Fighter participant Manny Gamburyan (6-3) quickly took his fight to the ground with former boxer Nate Mohr (6-5). Once on the ground the lightweight used his quickness to grab an ankle and twist. Mohr screamed to stop the fight at 1:31 of the first round.

“I’m so sorry for you man,” said Gamburyan who suspects he broke Mohr’s leg. “Nate’s a great guy.”

San Diego’s Dean Lister (10-5) scraped out a unanimous decision win over Bulgaria’s punch-crazy Jordan Rachev (16-2) in a middleweight bout. The judges scored it 29-28 for Lister.

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Articles of 2007

Pavlik Or 'Money': Fighter of the Year Is…

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There’s nothing like the terror felt when you have a big black bear snarling and snorting and hunting you down, eager to stuff your tender head into his mouth, to make you run as fast as you’ve ever run.

Thanks, Dana White, aka the big black bear.

Thanks for waking up the semi-slumbering powers that be, and forcing them to acknowledge that boxing needed to step up its game, or be eaten alive, and shifted even further back in the sports world’s relevance race, in 2007.

With UFC threatening to snarf up those much lusted after PPV dollars, the suits went into overdrive, and worked smarter, and harder, to give fans compelling matchups.

They agreed to get along to get money, and they relegated the sanctioning bodies, with those moronic mandatories, and instead listened to you, the consumer, and booked the fights that made sense.

Nobody worked smarter or harder than the PR arms for HBO, and “Money” Mayweather, the artist formerly known as Pretty Boy Floyd. Through his appearance on the ABC reality dance competition “Dancing with the Stars,” and stubbornly effective marketing by HBO (24/7 before the De La Hoy and Hatton showdowns were masterful mini-movies which whet appetites of even non fight fans), “Money” emerged as a pay per view attraction who can take the baton as the premier earner from Oscar De La Hoya.

He transcended the sport, and boxing added another player to the mix of fighters that even non-fight fans in the US recognize the name of. Now there’s Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, and Floyd Mayweather…

Boxing, a sprawling mess of interests lacking a central organization that insures cohesiveness in marketing, and message, and mission, relies on a central figurehead to maintain its precarious perch in the mainstream sports information flow. Mayweather, a savvy marketer who has outgrown his periodic outbreaks of youthful indiscretions, is a superstar that fits our age to a T.

He knows exactly what buttons to push to keep his name in the papers-—or, more accurately today, on computer screens—and feeds us rabid presshounds of negativity and turmoil red meat, with his intra-familial beefs and 50 Cent-inspired rants proclaiming his peerlessness.

The only thing holding Mayweather back is his own talent, probably, as he owns too much of it. He blew out De La Hoya, and Hatton, and like Roy Jones in his heyday, he so dominates his opposition, that drama is missing from his fights. Most of us tune in to the sport to savor the drama that comes from one man reaching deep into the well of heart and guts to bring forth reserves even he didn’t know he possesses, and imposing his will on an opponent who had been imposing his will upon him. That sort of drama, as manufactured by the late Diego Corrales, is the variety that the sweet science can deliver like no other sport.

We saw it in excess in 2007, from my personal choice for 2007 Fighter of the Year, Ohio’s Kelly Pavlik.

He dug into his well, after getting knocked to the floor in the second round of his tussle with middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, and refused to lose.

All of us could apply his tenacity in staying on his feet, and roaring back to topple Taylor with a furious flurry in the seventh round of their Sept. 29 battle, in our own lives. We all could identify with, and root for, the TSS Fighter of the Year.

One could argue that Mayweather, with ultra high profile wins over De La Hoya and Hatton, who did as much as anyone to keep the sport relevant in the last 12 months, deserves the TSS FOTY honor. As referenced before, maybe his superior level of talent has set the bar too high for us nitpickers. We may be prone to be too hesitant to bestow praise on Floyd, because he makes it look too easy. Sorry, Money, it’s possible you are being penalized for just being too damned good. You certainly are the runaway frontrunner for Fighter of the Decade…

Pavlik, we didn’t know how good he was coming in to this year. We knew how good his promoter, Bob Arum, thought he was. But we reserved judgment, unwilling to make too much of wins over Lenord Pierre and Bronco McKart. We became believers, to a point, when the Ohio native showed boxing skill and a closer’s mentality with his January win over Jose Luis Zertuche (KO8), and true believers with his dominant march over Edison Miranda (TKO7), the heavily hyped Colombian who was no match for the Youngstown hitter’s work rate in their May match.

But we still withheld a measure of respect before Pavlik met Taylor, the middleweight king, in Atlantic City. Maybe we had been burned by (not as great as we were led to believe) white hopes in the past, and were worried that hype and marketing were his greatest attributes as a boxer. The respect came pouring forth when he stayed on his trembling legs in the second round of his September scrap with Taylor, and intensified when he closed the show with a KO crack in the seventh.

The fighter has to be rewarded for staying the course, and not allowing himself to be knocked off the title path since turning pro in 2000, and progressing at a sometimes snailish pace, and sticking with his no-name trainer Jack Loew even though some experts urged him to trade Loew in for a flashier model, and battling frail hands, and getting pinched for slugging an off-duty cop in 2005.

Pavlik’s rise in 2007 came the old fashioned way, via training his tail off, and staying on message mentally, and rising to the occasion when the situation offered a softer, easier choice.

There was no mega marketing machine bombarding our short attention spans with a campaign to make Kelly Pavlik into the torchbearer for the sport in 2007.

But the 2007 leg of his march to prominence reaffirms the best of what the sport has to offer, and reminds us that with talents like Pavlik, the sweet science will never crumble into obsolescence.

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Articles of 2007

Resolution Time For Harold Sconiers

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When Harold Sconiers of Tampa, Florida, looks in the mirror these days he doesn’t see the journeyman heavyweight with a 15-17-2 (10 KOs) record that most other people do.

What he sees is the dynamic, hard-hitting heavyweight who made it to the finals of the 1996 Olympic Trials, and began his pro career with six straight knockouts and one decision victory.

Since being stopped in the first round by then undefeated Bermane Stiverne, who had won all nine of his fights by knockout, in February 2007, Sconiers has completely reassessed his life and career.

He has come to understand what transformed him from an exciting amateur and fledgling young pro with seemingly limitless future to a nominal heavyweight who had at one point lost 10 fights in a row.

Now aligned with a new manager, David Selwyn of New York, he plans on utilizing that newfound knowledge to embark on what he believes will be the comeback story of 2008.

“I always knew I had a lot of talent, but I never let that talent completely develop,” said the 31-year-old Sconiers, who has lost to such notables as Clifford Etienne, Maurice Harris, Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, David Defiagbon, DaVarryl Williamson and Eric Kirkland.

“I had a lot of different problems, but my biggest problems were self doubt and self sabotage. I would do things to make sure I never rose above a certain level.”

During his intensive, exhaustive and brutally honest re-examination of himself, he chose to forego all of the negative aspects of his career and instead focus only on the positive. Through lots of reading and candid discussions with his former trainer Larry Berrien, he went about changing the mindset that made him so comfortable with losing.

The first thing he did was look at his complete record from a totally different perspective. Rather than just dwell on the losses, Sconiers lauded himself for beating six previously unbeaten or once beaten fighters. Among them was Ray Austin, who was 14-1 at the time and later challenged Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight title.

He also fought Edward Escobedo, who was 12-1, to a draw, and lost a split decision to Ruddock, who has always been a formidable ring presence.

When he examined his 10 fight losing streak, he realized that his opponents had a combined record of 164-32-8. Of the 32 losses, Harris, who had revitalized his once dismal career in much the same way Sconiers hopes to, had incurred 10 of them.

And the always competitive Sherman Williams, accounted for another 10, which means eight other opponents had only 12 losses between them. Several were undefeated at the time they faced Sconiers.

“Losing to all of those guys gave the boxing world the perception that I was washed up and just didn’t care anymore,” said Sconiers. “I realized I had to change that perception, and the only way to change it was to change my old habits and my old ways of thinking, dissect everything I’d been doing wrong, and working really hard to establish a new belief system.”

Tapping deep into his own psyche, Sconiers came to realize that much of his lack of self worth was rooted in childhood issues. As a kid he had a passive personality, and both of his parents were college graduates who held what he calls high ranking positions in the corporate world.

He was bright enough to skip grades in school and he scored high on IQ tests. In no way was he destined to become a boxer. His parents had told him on many occasions that he would be well-suited as psychiatrist or attorney.

His life changed when his father held a Mike Tyson fight party at the family home. To say that Sconiers was mesmerized would be a gross understatement.

“I was instantly locked in,” said Sconiers. “I told myself that I have to do this.”

Sconiers ventured to the Frontline Outreach Gym in Orlando, where he met Antonio Tarver, who was roaring through the amateur ranks en route to the 1996 Olympics. Because Tarver was a few years older than Sconiers, he became a surrogate big brother to him. To this day, Sconiers has the utmost respect for Tarver as both a fighter and a friend.

During Sconiers’ amateur career, which consisted of 77 fights, of which he lost 9, his mother continuously reminded him that, in her opinion, “boxing was for dummies.”

Still, he managed to win a silver medal in the 1996 U.S. Nationals, where he beat eventual Olympic representative and future heavyweight title challenger Calvin Brock, as well as the finals of the 1996 Olympic Trials. In that tournament he lost to Williamson and Lamon Brewster.

When his pro career began to get derailed, the young and immature Sconiers blamed everyone but himself for his shift in fortune.

“I thought the problem was outside me, and thought everyone was responsible but me,” he said. “I dumped Larry in order to self-manage myself. I left what had always kept me grounded. Some of the fights I lost I could or should have won. There’s no way I should have lost to Etienne, but all I did was show up. The Ruddock fight should have been mine.”

As Sconiers lost interest and motivation, he also began dabbling in drugs and alcohol. More times than not, he would take fights on short notice. Even if he had time to train, he never cared if his opponents were switched or where he was lacing them up. Resigned to the fact that he was just fighting for money, he didn’t train hard, if at all.

He’d also pick up a few dollars working as a sparring partner for the likes of Etienne, Shannon Briggs, Jameel McCline, Larry Donald and Kirk Johnson, but the passion was gone. Many of those fighters, as well as their trainers, told Sconiers to snap out of his trance because he was a lot better fighter than he gave himself credit for.

While working with Etienne, the esteemed trainer Don Turner told Sconiers he could make him heavyweight champion of the world if only he’d “get his (stuff) together.”

Sconiers said he was at his personal abyss in mid-2003, when he was stopped by Kirkland, who was 16-1, in the first round in Vallejo, California.

“That was a real bad time for me,” he said. “I was up all night using drugs and alcohol and just didn’t care about anything.”

Although it would be nearly four more years before Sconiers embarked on his personal renaissance, when he looks back on his sordid past that is his most vivid memory. He has learned to use that memory to his advantage.

“A lot of people go down the same route I did and destroy themselves completely,” he said. “I was close to that point around the time of the Kirkland fight, but managed to survive another four years. It is so obvious to me now that I was trying to destroy myself.”

Sconiers is the first to concede that once you fall into the role of an opponent, it is hard to extricate yourself.

“A lot of guys go through this and fall by the wayside,” he said. “Look at Emanuel Burton (Augustus). He’s an immensely talented guy who’s good enough to be competitive and probably beat anyone. But he is in that opponent role, which is hard to snap out of.”

Having done lots of reading on positive thinking and overcoming psychological roadblocks, as well as completely revising his physical training regimen, Sconiers believes he has snapped out of it.

Besides the steadfast support of his beloved wife of six years, Jennifer, who just earned her master’s degree, he believes that his association with Selwyn is a pivotal component to the success he foresees for himself.

They plan on having a momentous and memorable 2008.

“Harold says he is going to be the Cinderella Man of 2008,” said Selwyn. “We plan on keeping a very busy schedule. History has shown that heavyweights are always just a few wins away from redemption. At his best, Harold is very good. It is undeniable that he was his own worst enemy in the past. Now he believes in himself, Larry believes in him, and I believe in him. I’m really looking forward to working with him so he can reach his full potential.”

“We plan on a busy schedule and a lot of upsets,” added Sconiers. “After my first couple of wins, people will probably say they were a fluke. I’m not quite the Cinderella Man and I’m not quite Rocky, but I am an underdog who can make it. Hope sells in boxing, and I plan on being one of the biggest stories of the new year.”

Manager Dave Selwyn can be contacted at: Boxingkid@aol.com or 845-893-2829.

*photo courtesy Harold Sconiers

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