By Derek Bonnett: As a boy, I wanted to be a fighter. That is if you can call "wanting" the passive dreaming of being a professional boxer without all the blood, sweat, tears, and, often, puke that comes along with the hard work required. No, I craved the natural ability that made the road to Olympic stardom and professional success easy. With maturity, I learned that no such road exists and, thus, never moved beyond the heavy bag. My combat sport experience was limited to the wrestling mat where I enjoyed only modest success at the high school level. A few bronze colored medals in place of Olympic gold and WBC green.
The rigors of daily roadwork, practice of technique, and a regimented diet are major struggles for most growing youths. It takes a special pedigree of young man to commit himself to the sport of boxing -- a sport with no off-season. I met with such a young man at a boxing club in Manchester, CT this week. The trip to Manchester Ring of Champions Society (ROCS) brought me back to the tri-town area in which I had grown up. It also gave me time to sit down with Mykquan Williams and Paul Cichon. Williams and Cichon are not new subject matter for SecondsOut as Williams’ amateur credentials have been chronicled as well as Cichon’s work with former featherweight contender Matt Remillard.
"The distractions are the hardest part," Williams, 2015 New England Golden Glove Champion at 141 pounds. "Being with friends and not doing what they want to do, knowing what I have to do to stay focused."
Staying focused can be a tall task for any young man, but Williams, from East Hartford, seems to be handling it well. Williams, 17, is a full-time student at A.I. Prince Technical School in Hartford. He also just received his first car, a used red Honda Civic. He lists spending quality time with his family and girlfriend as his top priority after training. His demeanor is neither loud nor bombastic, but thoughtful and soft-spoken.
"After high school, I’d like to do more school," Williams, a high school sophomore, explained. "I’d like to do something in business. I also thinking plumbing (an area of focus at Prince Tech) would be good for me."
It’s refreshing to see a young man so pensive about his future and keeping his options open giving his amateur success as a fighter. Along with his recent New England Golden Gloves title, Williams has won National Silver Gloves and Police Athletic League (PAL) championships. He also possesses other regional accolades.
Cichon has worked with "Mykey" since he was a small child. His charge’s interest in the sweet science stemmed from his aunt, Adelita "Addy" Irizarry, a crowd-pleasing New England welterweight who was a regular fixture on Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Casino boxing cards from 2007 to 2013. The rapport between Cichon and Williams is strong. Upon entering the gym, Paul shared a text from his pupil. The content was personal and respectful. It was indicative of the love and trust between mentor and student. It’s message was valuable and not mine to share.
While I caught up with Paul, Mykey began to warm up. The two of us discussed the explosive potential of Provodnikov-Matthysse, dissected Mayweather-Pacquiao, and expressed a difference of opinion regarding Amir Khan. Williams shuffled around one of two rings at the gym and shoe-shined slowly with hand weights. Today was a sparring day, so some other stretches and warm-up activities followed. Six rounds would follow -- two rounds against three different boxers. In order, Williams was matched with a mesomorph, an ectomorph, and an endomorph. Each sparring mate outweighed Williams and the first two were fully developed adults.
"Today will be light-sparring," Cichon said up-front. "Mykey’s still a little sore from yesterday’s workout. We will get more experienced sparring in the coming weeks once we visit Big Six in Providence. There’s an up and coming kid I want Mykey to work with."
Big Six Boxing Academy is run by Roland Estrada and is the home of U.S. Olympian and former heavyweight contender Jason Estrada. The father and son team have contributed much to New England boxing and their gym provides a greater opportunity for higher level sparring.
Williams fights at 141, but was bashful about sharing his current weight when I inquired. Cichon laughed it off and sent his charge back into the ring after securing his gloves and headgear. The gym-mate across the ring looked like a light heavyweight or a big super middleweight. Williams used his legs well over the first session. He used them to maneuver away from punches, to improve his punch position, and to level change for attacks to the body. The East Hartford teen blocked shots well under fire, but spent a little too much time on the ropes for his corner man’s liking.
"Get off the ropes," Cichon called out.
Williams worked his way back into the center of the ring started leading with his punches better against his busier teammate. He missed trying to lead with an uppercut.
"Set it up," Cichon spat.
Williams jabbed as his opponent led his way back in with his head down and his guard in front of his face. This time the uppercut landed cleanly, passing right under the defense of his practice partner. A bell rang and the two smashed gloves.
Williams had warmed up by the time the first six minutes elapsed and his new assignment stepped into the ring. This one looked like a junior middleweight, tall and lanky. Like the first, this new task wasted no time throwing shots and nothing seemed pulled. Williams countered well with a left hook after taking some straight shots on the gloves. He dug a pair of hooks to the body after he took an uncomfortable hit to the midsection himself.
"That’s something I have worked on with him," Cichon explained in regard to the body attack. "We are looking at the pros, so he needs to learn the importance of that. He might as well learn it now."
The last sparring mate for the day had a youthful face and the build of a budding heavyweight. He was clearly less experienced than Mykey and very respectful. His coach called for him to work out of the opposing corner. He would throw and Williams would block.
"If he’s not going to work, you work," Cichon advised.
Williams opened up. A straight right put his gym-mate back on his heels. A follow-up left hook smashed into unprotected face. A silence grew throughout the gym. If it were a competition, a standing eight would have been issued. Williams did not follow up since it was light sparring. The shock wore off and the young boxer advanced off the ropes back at Williams where the session continued.
Williams concluded the day’s workout with some abdominal work in solitude. I took the time to ask Paul about some personal observations and some fight history for Mykey.
"He’s a very composed kid. He adapts well," Cichon stated. "He’s been hurt and I have seen him go do down. He responded well though."
Due to his age, Williams is used to beating older or more experienced opposition. He once traveled to a tournament when he had about ten fights. He was matched with a youth with over fifty fights and had won the tournament three years running. The father of this fighter approached Cichon and offended Team Williams as politely as he could downplaying their chance of victory and promising a short stay. Williams dominated the action for a decision victory.
"I warned him," Paul said. " If my kid is on, he’s going to make it a tough one."
Williams expects to be "on" in the coming weeks. The 2015 National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions will take place May 11 - 16, 2015 at the WestGate Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Williams knows what it means to travel and what tourney time feels like. This, however, will be the biggest stage of his young career.
"I traveled to Missouri, California, and New York," Williams said. "Lowell was great. The environment was something. The people were so into it. It’s been good to have my family support me."
Support is one thing this young pugilist does not lack. Outside of the gym, Williams is thankful for the help he receives from his mother and step-father. He also mentioned his siblings and his nephew as a big help to him. Scanning the youthful fighter’s Facebook page the morning after my visit to the gym, I saw a pictured posted by Mykey’s mother: a plate of steamed broccoli, grilled chicken, and some noodles. In terms of boxing, "home-cooking" is something all teams try to avoid; in preparation for a fight, home-cooking is a necessity.
"Losing is not the worst thing that can happen to me in Las Vegas," Williams reasoned. "Everybody loses. I just have to stay focused and keep learning. This is still the amateurs and I can always be better."
Spoken like a true student of the sport. Williams is doing what most young men his age can only dream of doing. He’s already positioned himself well ahead of most participants of the sweet science and his dreams are still far from being met. The pressure is on Williams as he prepares for his first National Golden Gloves berth. He has caught the attention of boxing manager Jackie Kallen and, at this stage, that is attention he would like to keep. Yet, that is hardly on his mind.
"I just have to do as I have been taught," Williams concluded.
For some, winning just comes naturally.
For further boxing discussion, contact Derek Bonnett and SecondsOut on Facebook. Also, be sure to "LIKE" the SecondsOut Facebook page.
April 17, 2015