By Jake Donovan
By the time spring season rolls around, the eight members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Boxing squad will have been decided.
The hope for former amateur standout Chris Pearson by then is to have already fought three or four times as a pro.
His sights once set on making it to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics, Pearson’s dream ended after falling short in last summer’s Olympic Trials. The Ohio native was tabbed as a co-favorite to go the distance. So too was the fighter he drew in the opening round of competition, Jesse Hart.
Pearson fell short against his former roommate, left to ponder what the future held for the Dayton (OH) native. His amateur career ended on a high-note, winning his final fight two weeks after the Trials before making the decision to turn pro later in the year.
“I had my chance to make it to the Olympics. After the Trials, I just didn’t feel like sticking around in the amateurs and dealing with any more politics,” stated Pearson, who ended his amateur career with a mark of 97-8.
Among the many accolades he earned in the non-pay ranks included four junior Golden Gloves championships and the U.S. National Amateur Championships. The crowning achievement of his amateur career came when he defeated reigning 2008 Olympic Gold medalist Bakhyt Sarsekbayev of Kazakhstan during the World Series of Boxing amateur series.
Despite not making the Olympics himself, Pearson ends his amateur career having gone a perfect 4-0 against those who have. Such a mark will have to serve as his honorary Gold medal, though with one dream denied comes another opportunity fulfilled.
Pearson turned pro in late November, two weeks after his 21st birthday. The night marked a number of celebratory moments, lending a family feel to his debut at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, about 90 minutes from his Dayton hometown.
His first round knockout of Steven Chadwick came a few fights prior to the HBO cameras going on air for the evening’s main event. By night’s end, close friend Adrien Broner would score the biggest win of his young career, stopping Vicente Rodriguez in the third round to win a vacant 130 lb. title.
The evening’s events as a whole created a surreal moment for Pearson, who nearly two months later still struggles at times to fully take it all in.
“(Broner) is like my big brother. Seeing him win a world title, Rau’shee (Warren, now a three-time member of the U.S. Olympic boxing squad after qualifying for the 2012 team) do his thing and go on to the Games, I’m just glad to see all these great things on the horizon. I look up to those guys and I’m glad to be alongside them.”
Given his talent, Pearson has the chance to go on to truly stand alone. The junior middleweight southpaw has already grown comfortable in the pro ranks, facing two different types of styles and opponents in his first two fights just six weeks apart.
His second win came in the first week of 2012, a fight perhaps more indicative of his thinking man’s style. Local journeyman Cleven Ishe provided the type of night’s work that Pearson expected to receive in his first fight, as he was forced to go the distance in settling for a unanimous decision.
“It was weird for me. The first guy I fought (Chadwick) seemed more skilled but I happened to catch him with something big. This guy was more awkward. I had to analyze him to make sure I didn’t walk into something stupid. It wasn’t the prettiest fight, but a good experience and I’m thankful to get the W. I’m glad to get in there against a fighter that can challenge me. On paper people thought I’d knock him. It’s a learning experience.”
An old school train of thought is that all fights are supposed to be learning experiences. It’s hardly the case in today’s game, when fighters’ records are padded on the way up, not being tested until absolutely necessary.
That’s not a world Pearson is remotely familiar with, nor does he want to get to know. In the early stages of his career, he prefers that it greater resembles the world he still knows and remains fond of, remaining active like he was in the amateurs. Unlike most, Pearson enjoyed his time in the unpaid ranks and all that it has to offer.
“The pro fights are more interesting, but for me there’s a greater feeling when you’re fighting top amateurs,” Pearson explains. “A lot of guys are down on the amateurs for the way they’re scored, but it’s a different taste for everyone. I thought it was more exciting because it’s busier, although the pro game better suits my style.”
The remark is in reference to Pearson’s approach in the ring. The amateur scoring system has reduced the fighters to throwing for the sake of scoring far ahead of putting anything behind their punches.
Pick whatever metaphor you choose – it’s chess, not checker; it’s not a race, it’s a marathon. It all applies to Pearson who likes to sit back, watch his opponents make a mistake and then move in on the attack. His fighting style isn’t designed to rack up a bunch of knockouts, at least not of the one shot variety. But make no mistake; it’s certainly designed to excel in the pro ranks.
“Amateur fights come at a much faster pace, because you have shorter rounds and less time to outfight your opponent,” Pearson explains. “The pros aren’t at as fast of a pace because you’re fighting longer rounds and against guys trying to hurt you. It’s about being smart and always being in the right position to make something happen.”
Pearson is in a terrific position early in his career. His first two fights have come on the undercard of events promoted by Golden Boy Promotions. However, the newcomer remains promotionally unattached as he already has one of the sport’s biggest powerbrokers in his corner.
“Al Haymon has been great to me,” said Pearson, who attracted the high-power – yet low-profile – advisor due both to his in-ring talent, and the class he carries beyond the ropes. “I put full trust in him and whatever he has in store for me, I will be ready.”
The union with Haymon was a no-brainer, as Broner enjoys the same type of relationship. Pearson will be reunited with his faux big brother when the two appear together on the same card in St. Louis on February 25.
Broner will be making the first defense of his 130 lb. title, while Pearson will be enjoying his third pro fight – perhaps more if he’s able to squeeze another in between - inside of two months. By then, Pearson should be able to work out perhaps the one slight flaw that exists in his game.
Self-humility can hardly be considered a bad thing, and Pearson is as humble as they come – a trait that prompted Haymon to sign him in efforts to market a new breed of athletes who truly respect the game and the fans that support it. But where Pearson realizes he needs to excel is in carrying the confidence – not arrogance – to believe in himself regardless of the situation presented.
“Sometimes I was working too hard against this guy,” Pearson said of his performance against Ishe. “It was a bit awkward and there were things I could’ve done different. I just got to trust in myself and believe that I’m getting better.”
With each performance comes more knowledge, which only makes a thinking man’s fighter that much wiser – and therefore that much more dangerous – in pursuit of eventual greatness.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]