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Darnell Boone: Youngstown's Unsung Hero
By José Santana Jr.
The first time Darnell Boone stepped into a boxing ring was perhaps a foretelling of his career to be. By now many in the boxing world know about Youngstown, Ohio, and the city it once was, and currently is. A city which cannot claim much, but proudly hangs on to what it still has. There’s the General Motors Assembly plant, a wealth of football talent, and of course, a still thriving boxing scene.
Part of that scene was former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, the most popular boxer from the area since Ray Mancini in the 1980s. Boone is no Pavlik, nor Mancini. His record isn’t pretty and his popularity not nearly to their level. He’s been an underdog ever since that initial visit to Jack Loew’s gym where he quickly found himself face-to-face with the biggest guy they could throw at him - Pavlik.
From that moment, Boone has been up against it. He turned pro at the age of 24 with only 10 amateur fights, but it was likely the best decision he could have made.
At the time, Boone wasn’t up to much. "I was doing the normal street guy thing," Boone said. "(Boxing) actually changed everything. I know exactly where I’d be if I didn’t start boxing."
It was Boone’s younger brother who led him to the gym.
"My little brother came to my house and was crying that nobody would take him to practice," Boone said. "I’m thinking he’s playing football. He said, ’No, I don’t play football, I box.’"
Being the person that he is, Boone took his brother to the gym and also decided he was going to spar somebody. "(The trainer) kept telling me no, no, no," Boone said. "I said I know how to fight. He said, ’You know how many guys come in here and say that all the time and then we have to clean them up?’"
Boone eventually got his chance against Pavlik. He lasted a couple of rounds that day, but chose boxing for life.
Learning on the fly hasn’t been too difficult for Boone. Despite a 19-20 (8 KOs) record, he hasn’t found fighting in a ring to be too big of a change - he did a lot of it in the streets. What has been hard for Boone is finding proper guidance, both from trainers and managers.
"I had hard fights from the gate," Boone said. That’s an understatement. Boone has been left as fodder many of the top upcoming fighters at super middleweight - Andre Ward, Enrique Ornelas, Jean Pascal, Fernando Zuniga, Erislady Lara, Edwin Rodriguez, and Adonis Stevenson.
The one outlier in the group is Stevenson. Boone ended his undefeated mark in 2012, and looks to take his No. 1 contender spot the second time around Friday at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
When Boone first started boxing he had no real representation. It was just him and his trainer going for the gusto. This past January, a well-known Youngstown management group decided to pick Boone up and get his career on-track.
"As we look to grow the fighter management aspect of our business, a local guy like Darnell was a perfect fit," said Michael Cefalde Jr., one of the partners in the Lights Out Management team. "He was without a promoter and manager at the time so we worked with him on his last fight against Derrick Webster. We know that from Darnell we will get an honest effort in training, his fights, and outside the ring."
Boone feels just as good about the move. He now trains with Andy Boehlke and Sam Calderon at the United City Boxing gym, another necessary change for his career. It wasn’t long ago when he wasn’t sure if even his trainer had faith in him.
"It feels great to have a team who has your best interests at heart," Boone said. "Everybody is on the same page. Before you never knew where my trainers mind was at; if he gave up on me or if he had the fire for me he had before. Come to find out, he gave up on me and was just getting a paycheck, but now I have a team where everybody is on the same accord and have the same goal in mind."
None of these changes are going to make Boone a world class fighter all of a sudden. But they certainly can help Boone become more than just a dangerous stepping stone. A world title opportunity isn’t too farfetched.
"I know for a fact with the trainers I got now we can (fight for a world title)," Boone said. "You’re not going to win them all, especially being where I’m at now in my career. I have to take the risk to fight this or that guy to get a step ahead. I’m willing to do that because you have to fight the best to be the best."
The second fight against Stevenson Friday was supposed to be for his NABA super middleweight title. Boone saw winning that belt as a small fruit for his labor, but unfortunately boxing politics took that away. After signing the contract, Boone and his team were notified by Stevenson’s promotion team - Groupe Yvon Michel - that the fight was being changed to 10 rounds and that Stevenson inexplicably no longer possesses the belt.
It’s all a part of the game. Boone knows he just needs to win. They can’t take away Stevenson’s No. 1 contender ranking with the IBF, only he can.
Shuffled throughout his 19 wins are some fighters who had promise. Boone is no cakewalk, and this time around he has had a full training camp.
"Darnell has spent many years with no training camps, one week’s notice for fights, and fighting out of his weight class," Cefalde said.
Couple a full camp with some added confidence and Boone seems to be feeling at the top of his game. "When you get a short notice fight you’re not mentally ready or physically ready," Boone said. "So with this camp, I’m more mentally ready and I’ve got the confidence right now."
It’s likely that Stevenson will try to do something different this fight - he was KOd with his last gameplan. Boone is preparing himself for it, and he’s not expecting to go to the judges. Not because he’s concerned about being in the other man’s territory, but because that’s just the type of fighter he is.
"I’ve been everybody’s backyard since day one," Boone said. "So it’s just another backyard that I’m going in."
Although there’s no title on the line, and Boone will likely have to jump through many more hoops if he ever wants to achieve boxing glory, this fight means a lot to him. He hasn’t given up on his career, settling for collecting paychecks. Boxing is his full-time job, and he puts all his effort into it.
"A win would be the culmination of many years of blood, sweat and tears," Cefalde said. "He deserves this."
Boone is an unsung hero of sorts for Youngstown. He’s a true representation of the struggle and perseverance.
"I’m representing the streets and it’s a big thing for me to bring the light of boxing back to Youngstown," Boone said.
To think that it all started in the same ring as the city’s biggest pride, a well-trained boxer against whom he didn’t stand a chance, Boone pushed on and has forged a career in the sport doing the same thing. Life can be funny in that way sometimes.
Boone has yet to witness the glory that Pavlik saw in his prime, but as those closest to him can attest, he is certainly most-deserving of it. Perhaps, he can get a new start this Friday.
Author’s note: Lights Out Management has Team Deezol T-shirts available on their website for purchase. Please visit their website at www.lightsout.lightsout-management.com if you are interested in supporting Darnell Boone.
March 22, 2013