By Thomas Gerbasi
There was always something more for Marcus Browne. Even in his early years as a boxer, the Staten Island native consistently had his eyes on the next prize - literally.
“I wanted to be a boxing champion,” Browne laughs. “I didn’t say world champion, but a boxing champion. When I was younger I just wanted a belt and that’s what used to drive me. We’d go to the tournaments and get belts, and when I got older, people like Danny Jacobs and Sadam Ali, they were winning Golden Gloves and I wanted Golden Gloves. That’s what drove me. Then they won the Nationals and I wanted that. Then Sadam made the Olympic team and Danny almost made it, that’s what drove me. Now, he (Jacobs) is about to win his first world title, and that’s what’s driving me. People that I’m around every day that are doing great things, and it pushes me to want to be even better.”
Notice you don’t hear him talking about money or fame, even though both of those things are nice byproducts of his success. Instead, the 23-year-old wants belts, gold, and titles. Sure, they’re all tangible, but they’re also representations of being the best, and that’s the real goal for the 2012 U.S. Olympian, who returns to the ring this Saturday for a bout against California’s Paul Vasquez at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
In a lot of ways, it’s exactly the fight Browne doesn’t want, even if you won’t hear those words out of his mouth. Vasquez is 10-5-1 as a pro, 36 years old, and obviously the B-side of the equation against the local hero. Unless Browne trips on the way to the ring and turns an ankle, his 11-0 (8 KOs) record is likely to be 12-0 by the end of the night. And though that’s part of the gig when you’re a hot prospect, this light heavyweight is ready for more.
“I’m in a good space, and this is the time when we’re going to have to get ready for step-up fights,” he said. “The growing period is basically over. You never stop learning in boxing, but that period is about to be over.”
Many believed it was over already, considering that he was matched up with veteran contender Yusaf Mack for a June 27 bout in Las Vegas. Yes, it wasn’t the same Yusaf Mack of a few years back, but he was only a couple fights removed from fighting guys like Carl Froch and Tavoris Cloud, so it was a big step up for Browne. Of course, Mack got ill and was forced out of the fight, leaving Browne to blast out Donta Woods in 91 seconds.
“That broke my heart,” Browne said of not getting to fight Mack. “I know what I present, and guys like that are the ones I’m supposed to fight to display my skills and show the boxing community that I’m here.”
You feel bad for Browne, not because of what a win over Mack would have done for his career, but because he sounds so earnest about being ready for that next level. Simply put, you don’t hear that too often – if at all – these days. Most prospects are content with being coddled through their first 20-25 fights. Not Browne.
“I don’t want to rush, but at the same time it’s just in me because I know what I can do,” he said. “Last year, I would watch a guy like (light heavyweight champion Sergey) Kovalev fight and say ‘I’m probably not ready for this guy.’ But last Saturday I watched him, and I was like ‘this guy’s not as scary as these writers try to make him seem.’ And honestly, if he fights a young, sharp fighter that can continue to turn him and keep touching him, I feel like I could give him some problems, and I feel like I can beat a guy like that. But of course my time is not now, and I understand that. Right now, I’m taking it a fight at a time, but I want to continue to step it up and grow.”
Until then, there will be the Paul Vasquezes of the world to fight, and when Browne does, he can usually tell within seconds whether it’s going to be an easy night or not.
“When I’m in there with a guy that doesn’t belong with me, I can tell from his first combination, from the first time I hit him, his facial expressions,” he explains. “Even in my last fight (against Woods), I caught him with a 1-2 early in the round, and his facial expression changed just a little bit, enough so that when I did it again, I doubled up on it and got him out of there.”
Looks and records can be deceiving though, as Browne found out in his seventh pro bout against 5-1-1 Lamont Williams last September.
“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Browne said of his toughest fight to date, one that looked like a near whitewash on two of the judges’ scorecards, but that was more in line with one judge’s 76-75 nod for Browne, who figured out an unorthodox opponent, adjusted, and finished strong. “I looked at his record and I thought it was going to be a breeze. Everything was a knockout up until that point, and then I got in the ring with him. He was awkward and he was doing little subtle things that made me realize he could fight a little bit.”
That night Browne showed that he could fight a little bit too, because you don’t see too much with knockout after knockout over one hapless foe after another. But in a fight like that, you see the grit and savvy that often doesn’t come a lot later in a prospect’s career. Browne is far from a finished product, but with fights like that, wins over solid competition like Otis Griffin, and recent sparring sessions with super middleweight contender Edwin Rodriguez, he’s moving pretty fast.
With that rapid development also comes more television time, more media requests, and more people wanting a piece of the rising star. How he handles that will determine his future both in and out of the ring, but he seems to be doing just fine at the moment, even as his community is ravaged by everything but good news, with Browne alone losing four people he knew over the last month. But he is not about to become a casualty. He’s got goals to reach, and he doesn’t have time for any nonsense.
“I experience this all the time,” he said. “How do I deal with it? I know what I wanted to be then, I know what I want to be in life and I’m gonna get there by any means necessary. I’m not going to let anything deter me.”