By Thomas Gerbasi
Last summer, everything changed for Donovan George. Before marrying his girlfriend Aleksandra, the popular Chicago fighter was like a lot of his peers. What mattered was the next fight, not the day after, and if he didn’t leave that fight the way he went into it, that was a price he had accepted long ago.
“Before I got married, my attitude was ‘I don’t give a s**t, I’m gonna die in that ring,’” he said. “That’s where I want to be, that’s where I’m happy, so I’m willing to die in the ring. Now, I don’t want to die in the ring. I want to have a family, and I want to have a good life outside of boxing and after boxing. So I’m willing to do whatever it takes right now to give myself the best chance at having success in my career.”
You don’t hear other pro athletes talking about dying on the field of play; it’s something unique to combat sports because, yes, people do die in the ring. It reminds you what’s at stake every time the bell rings, and what mental gymnastics fighters have to go through before lacing on the gloves. George has done that for much of his life, and he has no regrets when it comes to the vocation he chose for himself.
“I love it,” he said. “I’ve loved boxing since I was a baby, my father loved boxing and he always instilled it in me and my brothers. All three of us fought, but I’m the only one who went pro and ended up sticking with it. Now boxing is such a big part of my life, and besides family and God, it’s boxing for me.”
That family grew when he got married though, and as he started this new chapter in his life, the 29-year-old realized that he couldn’t put his new bride through any more nights like the one of June 21, 2013. On that night in Minneapolis, George’s middleweight experiment hit a road block as he was stopped in six rounds by Caleb Truax in an ESPN Friday Night Fights bout.
“I don’t want her to see me like I looked the last fight,” said George, bluntly assessing his most recent effort. “I looked like a shell of myself, I was terrible, I got my butt kicked on national television, and it’s embarrassing. And she sat there and watched it live. You hurt for weeks after a fight like that and it takes a toll on you. And I said I’m not gonna do this to her anymore.”
In response, George decided that he had one more run left in him, and he was going to make it back at the place where he fought the majority of his career – 168 pounds. There was just one more problem: while enjoying his wedding and honeymoon in Europe, he put on a little weight. Okay, a lot of weight.
“When I went to Serbia this summer for my wedding, I came back and I was 216,” said George with a laugh. “It was not a pretty sight to look in the mirror. I said ‘I’ve got to change.’ So I completely changed my lifestyle, my diet, everything, and I’m walking around at 175-178.”
Friday night, following the loss to Truax and subsequent hand surgery, George is back in the ring at The Belvedere in Elk Grove, Illinois. The opponent at the moment is the dreaded TBA, there is no TV, but that’s fine for now, as George is just looking forward to feeling good when fighting again.
“I’m not cutting any corners, I’m working out six days a week twice a day, I got a whole new team, a new trainer, a new manager, and a new promoter,” he said. “It’s totally revamped and I’m gonna give it one last final run. I’m only 29, but I’ve been around, and I’m not gonna be fighting until I’m 40 years old. This is my last run, and I think I’m finally dedicated the right way. I thought I was training right before and I convinced myself of that, but I wasn’t training hard. I’m training hard now. As you get older you get a little wiser and I know that there’s more out there for me to accomplish and I’m gonna do it.”
A year ago, George made a stab at middleweight, drawing with veteran David Lopez and losing to Truax. At the time, he was five months removed from a 12th round TKO loss to Adonis Stevenson in an IBF super middleweight title elimination bout, and one of the primary reasons for him moving eight pounds south was that the idea of facing punchers like the current light heavyweight champ on a regular basis wasn’t very appealing. But after struggles to make 160 ensued, he decided to give 168 another try, assuming that in terms of punchers, there is only one Stevenson.
“I realized that I cannot make 160 healthy,” said George, 24-4-2 with 21 KOs. “I did absolutely everything the right way to make 160 and it was just not coming off me. I thought I could make it and I just thought I wasn’t strong enough to fight with the Adonis Stevensons at 168. But when I go back and look at it, Adonis Stevenson is a super freak. (Laughs) He fights at 175 now and he’s the current champion and he’s a freak. I didn’t want to get hit like that anymore. If 168ers hit like this, I’m out of here because I know I don’t hit like that. Then it turns out he’s a super freak, megatron monster and he’s killing everybody at 175, and I felt a little better about myself at 168.”
The affable George laughs, knowing that this form of boxing logic is something that fighters often have to tell themselves to continue in the hardest game. But if he runs into another loss like the ones against Stevenson or Truax, it won’t be a laughing matter, and he says that he will be done.
“I promised my wife if I take another beating I will quit,” he said. “I’m not in this to get my head beat in. If you hear me talk, I’m kind of articulate in a very small way (Laughs) and kind of sharp, and I don’t feel like getting my brains beat in. So I’m gonna give it one last run at 168 and if it works out, God bless, and if it doesn’t, then it’s not in God’s plan for me. I don’t need the money that bad. I’m not totally uneducated that I can’t find a job and make a good living. I’ll be okay.”
George isn’t thinking negatively though; it’s all positive these days, and he admits that some of that has to do with the reality that for the first time in his decade-long pro career, he’ll be able to eat on the morning of the weigh in. It’s the little things sometimes, and as he begins his final run, he’s confident that whatever happens in the future, when he does decide to walk away, it will be on his own terms.
“I want to make history, I want to become a champion, and if I can’t, at least I tried my best,” he said. “As long as I can hold my head up high and be proud of myself, I don’t mind.”Tags: Donovan George