By Ryan Maquiñana
The heavyweight division hasn’t been kind to the United States in recent memory. Over a decade has passed since Hasim Rahman’s one-bout reign as lineal champion, and while Chris Byrd, John Ruiz, and Shannon Briggs have each secured a piece of the title at some point during this period, no American-born fighter has accomplished the feat in five years.
Dominic Breazeale, a 2012 Olympian, looks to throw his hat into the ring when he embarks on his pro career this Friday at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif., as part of Showtime’s “Night of Olympians” card.
“I thank Al Haymon, Golden Boy, and Showtime for the opportunity,” said Breazeale, who faces Curtis Tate (4-3, 4 KOs) of Oakland, Tennessee. “I couldn’t ask for anything else, to be able to make my debut so close to home, and to do it on such a big stage.”
A native of Alhambra, Calif., the 27-year-old Breazeale has enjoyed a swift ascension from relative obscurity. Having only picked up the sport four years ago following a football career at Northern Colorado University, the 6-foot-6, 248-pound former quarterback marched all the way to London before dropping his opener against Magomed Omarov, 19-8.
“I wish I had stuck to the gameplan a little more,” Breazeale said. “Being an Olympian is always going to be with me, but as far as losing, I hope I can close that chapter and close that door this Friday. I want to show that I can be a dominant heavyweight, and that’s why I turned pro.”
Soon after making the decision, Breazeale already noticed a difference as far as fighting at the next level, sparring quality pros like Lateef Kayode and receiving pointers in technique from his new team of trainer John Bray, John Pullman, and Mike Rodriguez.
“The past six weeks, I’ve been working on rotating my hips on my shots, and now, my jab isn’t just a tool to set things up, but I can really sit down and punish guys with it,” said Breazeale, an alumnus of the All-American Heavyweights program who now calls Pullman’s gym in Burbank his home.
“We work from the body up, and when I can land my right hand, my opponent usually doesn’t have a chance after that. I tell you, though, I think my left hook is more powerful than my straight right, and working with John, I can hear a different pop coming off the bag.”
Despite the difficulties he faced in the Olympics, Breazeale hopes that removing the headgear and the change in the scoring system will be more advantageous to his style of fighting.
“I’m super excited about wearing gloves that are better designed to do some damage,” he said. “I just can’t wait. The amateurs is glorified tag, and instead of trying to score points, you’re trying to impose your will.”
After all, if former Michigan State linebacker Seth Mitchell can find life after football as a promising heavyweight contender, Breazeale feels that he can follow the same path to relevance.
“At first, I could never see myself doing this for a living when I was done with football,” he said. “Now I’m confident enough to make bringing the heavyweight title back to America my goal one day.”
Ryan Maquiñana was the boxing producer for NBCOlympics.com during London 2012 and writes a weekly column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected], check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.