By Mitch Abramson
The heavyweight Tor Hamer is famously bad at giving interviews after his fights. He knows this. He’s trying to get better. But he still needs work. Following his surprising win against Kevin Johnson to win the Prizefighter heavyweight tournament in June, Hamer was harder on himself than Johnson was on him in the fight.
To win the tournament, Hamer had to win three three-round bouts in a single evening. Yet, in several memorable moments, captured on Youtube for generations of athletes to study, Hamer put on an incredible performance: He dismissed the three-round format as gimmicky to a ringside interviewer, rejected the idea his career was better off for beating Johnson, and basically acted as though he had a stomachache, all while the tournament’s organizer, Eddie Hearn looked on, puzzled. Hamer’s answers would have been comical if he was trying to be funny, but he wasn’t. He was just being himself- blunt, smart, quirky, and very, very interesting.
Nearly a month after his career-changing night, Hamer smiled and let out a sigh when reminded of his post-fight act, which really wasn’t an act. He was just being honest.
“I’m not that good at post-fight interviews,” he said as he sat on a stool before a training session at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan. “I’m still in fight mode, and it’s a skill that I have to acquire, like any other athlete. I need to calm down and think about what actually happens.”
Analyzing a situation is a skill that comes naturally to the 6-2, 225-pound Hamer. The smallish heavyweight graduated from Penn State with a degree in business. He’s a product of the private and charter school system in New York City and suburban Baltimore. Hamer (18-1) wasn’t supposed to be a professional fighter. For one, there's his dad, Dr. Irving Hamer. How many fighters can say their father is a Harvard-educated former superintendent of the Memphis school system?
“Both of my parents are academics and they couldn’t understand where I got [being a boxer] from,” says Hamer, who had a highly decorated amateur career before turning pro in 2008. “And then when the pro thing was on the table, [my dad] didn’t think it made any sense. But I didn’t want to regret not doing it- that was the biggest thing.”
A smallish heavyweight with hands that look like they’re attached to a middleweight, Hamer is always at a disadvantage against bigger foes. Yet, he makes up for a lack of size with a bigger brain, establishing comprehensive game plans for his opponents with his longtime trainer, Shawn Razor. Though he took the prizefighter tournament on just a week’s notice, he claims he and Razor still devised a thorough strategy for each of his three opponents, Marcelo Luiz Nascimento, Tom Dallas and Johnson.
“I have to think more than I would say most guys do in my position,” he says. “I have two options. I can hurt you eventually because I’m still 225 pounds, maybe not with one shot but I can still hurt you. Conversely, if I can’t knock out, I can score on you. And how I score on you is where the analysis comes into play.”
Hamer did admit, after a little prodding, that winning the tournament did rejuvenate his career, which had stalled after losing to 6-7 Kelvin Price in 2010 and sitting out all of 2011 with a hand injury.
“The funny part about is that [my name] is back out there,” he said of winning the tournament. “But most guys don’t have that when they’re 18-1. This should be my first coming out party, but because of the kind of profile I have, my background, it looks like I’m making a comeback- I just had 19 fights,” he said laughing.
But, he added: “Now we’re in a spot where I’m getting TV-fight offers now,” he said. “I have a serious record that reflects the time and hard work I’ve put into this sport, which makes me feel infinitely better. Knowing this year I should be finishing a 10-round Showbox card or an HBO After Dark or even an undercard of a major fight. Next year, we’ll look toward ten and 12-rounders. This is where I should be, going into the fourth year of my career.”
The offers are starting to come in. Hamer’s promoter, the Manhattan based Lou DiBella confirmed that Main Events made Hamer an offer to fight the Polish heavyweight, Tomasz Adamek. DiBella declined the tender, saying the money wasn’t right. DiBella has yet to reach out to Hamer to discuss his next move, giving his young fighter a chance to rest. But it's clear that Hamer has more options now than he did before the heavyweight tournament.
“Nothing is lined up yet,” DiBella said. “Even though it was one night he fought a number of fights and it took its toll physically. I want to give him some time off to rest.”
DiBella would love to capitalize off Hamer’s winning the Prizefighter tournament in London by having him face the likes of David Haye or another big-name European fighter.
“It gave him some recognition and made him an international name in the heavyweight division,” DiBella said. “I think it did revive his career. It made a statement. He’s a well spoken kid who can fight. And now he’s a known commodity in England. There are fights in Europe. It’s just a matter of if the economics are right. The aim is for Tor to get paid.”
Not that Hamer is overly concerned with his bank account. He still lives at home in Harlem.
He doesn’t have a manager, because frankly, he doesn’t need one. If he has a question concerning a contract or a business decision, he can ask one of his former high school buddies.
“I’m lucky because I have more than enough intelligent people helping me,” Hamer says. “I have my father, my mother. I can go to guys in my gym, especially in [the New York Athletic Club]. I have kids that I grew up with, kids who went to private school who have moved on with their lives. They went to college, they went to graduate school, and I have their networks, their parents. I have unlimited networks. These are people that I spend time with anyway, so I have constant feedback, even if I don’t want it.”
Listening to Hamer talk boxing is somewhat of a treat. Talking about journeyman Galen Brown, whom he won a decision against in March of this year, Hamer’s face lights up. He marveled at the way Brown was able to switch his stance from southpaw to conventional, how he threw hard punches but also threw punches to score points. Suddenly, Hamer was the ultimate boxing nerd.
“That guy is tricky,” he said. “He’s one of those kind of guys that you’ll get no respect for fighting, but anyone who knows boxing and has taken the time to look at what kind of opponent he is- he’s by far the trickiest guy I ever faced, even going back to the amateurs, and I’ve fought some weird guys. He’ll dance, he’ll call you names. He’ll whisper in your ear in a clinch. If you’re mentally young, you will lose.”
Then for good measure, he described the locale of the fight in Miami, Oklahoma, as filled with fans who think that “Kimbo Slice is the next best thing,” a subtle dig at the fans there.
When it comes to speaking his mind, Hamer doesn’t exactly have a system of checks and balances that vetoes some thoughts and submits others.
While most fighters would have taken full credit for beating a Top-10 heavyweight in Kevin Johnson, who went the distance with Vitali Klitschko, Hamer seemed to go in the opposite direction. He told Johnson after the fight the result was somewhat of a fluke, even though Hamer clearly won the fight.
“I told him after the fight, ‘Yo, I beat you in a three-round fight,’” Hamer recalled. “It’s a fight. It counts. But if it had gone longer, it would have been a different fight altogether.”
Hamer was just being honest. He beat Johnson in a three-round bout. It counts on both fighters’ records but it was the equivalent of an amateur tussle without the benefit of headgear.
“I don’t want to make assumptions in there,” Hamer explained. “I don’t want to belittle his ability and I don’t want to push myself and make something that I’m not. I beat him in a three-round fight. That’s how it will go down in the books. Besides that, it’s back to the gym and go fight someone else.”
When he was sidelined for all of 2011 with a hand injury, rather than sit around idly, he got his helicopter’s license, thereby setting up a career he can draw on once he’s through with boxing. He doesn’t put a time frame on how much longer he wants to pursue boxing as a career, however.
“Until I’m done with it, until I’m bored with it,” he says. “I look at this as my first career. I want to be able to leave this on my own terms with some money in my own pocket and some pride in my heart and do something else. By no means do I want to keep doing this if it doesn’t make sense.”
And in Hamer's world, everything has to make sense. And if it doesn't, he'll tell you so.
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.