By Lyle Fitzsimmons
At last count, he’s still got 68 days.
Assuming all goes well in training and competing between now and Aug. 12, it’ll be on a summer Sunday in the ExCel Exhibition Centre that put up or shut up time will come for Dominic Breazeale.
Or, to be more precise… tear up or clam up time.
And while the super heavyweight hopeful – who won Olympic entry with a second-place finish at the AIBA Americas qualifier in Brazil – claims to still not know how exactly he’ll react upon hearing the “Star Spangled Banner” from a podium-top perch in London, it’s a problem he won’t mind having.
“I’ve got a pretty good drive, about 45 minutes, from my house to the gym and I probably think about it five or 10 times each way,” the 26-year-old Californian said. “Every day when I’m in the shower I’m thinking about the Olympics. Every time I see red, white and blue.
“I’m not usually an emotional guy, but sure it’s a really emotional situation and I can’t say that I won’t shed a tear. I’d love to look back and see my expression when they put the medal around my neck.
“Either way, if I’m standing on the podium with the flag waving and the best anthem in the world playing it’ll be a dream come true.”
A dream he couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago in shoulders and pads.
Back then and back there, the hulking Breazeale – who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs in at 260 pounds – was a quarterback pining for an NFL chance after two junior college seasons at Mt. San Antonio in suburban Los Angeles and two more Division II years with the University of Northern Colorado, located about 55 miles north of Denver in Greeley, Colo.
In the final two years with the Bears, though they won just three times in 23 games, Breazeale completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 2,468 yards and 10 touchdowns with a 106.7 QB rating.
His pro prospects faded after he was neither chosen in the 2008 draft nor signed as a free agent, so, while initially hesitant upon recruitment by All-American Heavyweights – a training entity founded by “Wheel of Fortune” TV syndicator Michael King – he eventually bought into the mission of bringing premier athletes from all sports together to groom the sport’s next great big man.
“At first I was determined and I told the guy, ‘You’re crazy, I’m a football player,’ but a few weeks later I came in and did the workout and it was a lot better than I anticipated,” he said.
Several weeks in, upon getting tagged for the first time in a sparring session, Breazeale’s transformation from signal-caller to prize fighter was complete.
“It takes a different breed of man to be a boxer,” he said. “I took a good shot and I knew right then it was either quit, or bite down and go to work. I didn’t think at all about football. It came down right then to fight or flight and the instinct kicked in. How it got there, I have no idea. But it was there.”
And once the instinct was apparent, the affection kicked in soon after.
“When did I know it? Probably when I landed the first flush right hand,” he said. “When I landed it and I knew that it landed, I saw the guy’s eyes roll back in his head.
“I was damned sure I loved it at that point.”
His fast-track climb through the amateur ranks included a few dozen fights and culminated with his runner-up slot in Rio de Janeiro, where he defeated Venezuela’s Jose Payares, Brazil’s Gidelson Silva and Puerto Rico’s Gerardo Bisbal before falling to Ecuador’s Italo Perea in the super heavy finals.
Competition in London begins on Aug. 1.
The field narrows to eight on Aug. 6, with semifinals and finals set for Aug. 10 and 12, respectively.
The last U.S. gold medalist in the super heavyweight class was Tyrell Biggs in 1984.
Since Biggs, the six gold winners have been heavyweight champions Lennox Lewis in 1988, Wladimir Klitschko in 1996 and Alexander Povetkin in 2004.
The last U.S gold medalist in any class was light heavyweight Andre Ward in 2004.
Breazeale has similar professionals as both an amateur and a pro.
“The gold medal itself is the best title you can hold at that moment, but my eyes are definitely set on going pro,” Breazeale said. “Winning at the Olympics would signify me being the best in the world in my division and achieving my goal.
“But no matter what, I will be a pro this summer. I’m going to give it my all and try to have success, medal or no medal. I’ve definitely got my mind on going pro.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBF welterweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Mike Jones (No. 1 contender) vs. Randall Bailey (No. 2 contender)
Jones (26-0, 19 KO): First title fight; Third fight in Las Vegas (2-0, 1 KO)
Bailey (42-7, 36 KO): Ninth title fight (3-5); Held WBO title at 140 (two defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Jones might not be ready for the truly elite in the division, but he should pass any test presented by a 37-year-old whose last title-fight win came when Jones was 17.” Jones by decision
WBA super bantamweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (champion) vs. Teon Kennedy (No. 14 contender)
Rigondeaux (9-0, 7 KO): First title defense; Third fight in Las Vegas (2-0, 2 KO)
Kennedy (17- 1-2, 7 KO): First title fight; Winless since March 2011 (0-1-1)
Fitzbitz says: “Cuban-born professional prodigy chalks up another resume-builder while staying in the mix for big-money fights in corridor between 118 and 126.” Rigondeaux in 9
WBO welterweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Manny Pacquiao (champion) vs. Timothy Bradley (unranked)
Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KO): Fourth title defense; Fifth opponent with no losses/draws (3-1, 3 KO)
Bradley (28-0, 12 KO): Eighth title fight; Second fight above 140 since 2007 (1-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Bradley promises an intense and action-filled challenge, but it says here that he won’t have the pop in his punches to deter Pacquiao from his usual punishment.” Pacquiao by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. For example, fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 4-0
Overall picks record: 315-104 (75.1 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.