Given the first name of one of boxing’s true legends, Cassius Chaney was apparently born to box.
But he didn’t necessarily agree.
“I jokingly say that I think the doctors were like, ‘You're gonna name him this, you gotta let him figure it out for himself that he's supposed to box,’” said Chaney.
His mother, Brenda, was on board with that line of thinking, making sure that when his older brother went to the local boxing gym in Baltimore that Cassius wasn’t going to be invited. Dad Arthur did have other plans, hoping that when he saw Joe Frazier in the park one day that the former heavyweight champion would be the spark for his eight-year-old to want to box.
“I met Joe Frazier when I was about eight, but it wasn't like a warming meeting where he was like, 'Oh yeah, this kid should box,'” said Chaney. “He really didn't like my first name that much. (Laughs) Yeah, he wasn't too thrilled when I told him my name.”
Specifically, Frazier asked Arthur Chaney, “You named him after that guy?”
With that out of the way and boxing seemingly out of Chaney’s system before it even got embedded there, the youngster turned to basketball, and he was pretty damn good at it, getting All-State recognition in his new home state of Connecticut in high school and then going on to become a standout forward for the University New Haven. There, the 6-foot-6 Chaney became one of the best to ever play at UNH and the sixth leading scorer in school history.
But before he shot his last shot on the hardwood, he already had plans to fulfill the dreams attached to that famous first name. He kept his chops on the court up by practicing with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, but the ring turned out to be his calling. After graduation, he began a 27-bout amateur career that saw him win National Golden Gloves and PAL titles, and in 2015, he turned pro.
On Thursday, Chaney will put his 21-0 (14 KOs) record on the line against fellow unbeaten George Arias. It’s in New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom on a heavyweight card getting some buzz because it’s under the Triller umbrella, and it may be the first exposure of Chaney to a wider audience. In other words, it’s time for him to grab a piece of the spotlight.
“It took some time, and I had to go through a lot of growing pains that they wanted to make sure I got through and things like that, but I did put in the work, so I earned it,” he said.
So the 34-year-old is a grown up, now?
“I'm getting there,” he laughs. “I'm almost there.”
Talk to Chaney for any length of time and you’ll notice immediately that he’s got an affable personality and a great backstory. And at 21-0, he can obviously fight a little bit. But that “big” fight hasn’t shown up until now. That can stall anyone’s progress, but especially that of someone who started late and is approaching his mid-thirties. Chaney hasn’t gotten discouraged (too much) though, as he’s picked up plenty of experience working in the camps of Tyson Fury, Luis Ortiz and Bryant Jennings.
“Everybody I've gone in the ring with and sparred with, they always say, 'Man, you've got talent, you really do,'” said Chaney. “I have a certain type of poise and maybe a weird aura that my personality is just cool. I'm not too high or too low, so I don't really stress too much. I just want to do what I have to do and move on from it. I want to fight, and then move on.”
Now training with Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, Chaney has found a connection with the respected coach, one that he needed after a year in Miami with Ortiz that got him plenty of experience and good work, but not the outlet to show what he had learned.
“Every time I seen Luis, I was like, 'I know I'm gonna learn something today,'” said Chaney. “He'd come in and we'd do sparring drills for like 15 rounds and he would just teach me. And it was like, 'All right, cool.' But it only works out being there if you're fighting consistently. It was hard just living in that room. It was like boxing boot camp. I'm happy for the experience there, but it was tough just basically being in boarding school every day.”
After graduating from “boarding school,” Chaney and Edwards began working together and they broke in that relationship in an August bout in Worcester - one that didn’t begin until a quarter to one in the morning.
“Mentally, I'm not gonna lie, I was sleepy as hell,” said Chaney, who defeated Shawndell Winters over ten rounds. “I was tired. It was a lot. And I'm sure he was a little tired, too, but my mindset was just win the fight. Win and just move on. Did I want to knock him out? Absolutely. But winning makes me more happy than anything.”
It was a learning experience, one that fighters who become world champions never forget, and one they might even laugh about, even if it wasn’t funny at the time.
"That was basically like me fighting a swing bout but nobody knew,” he laughs. “Even the people who came to support me, they were like, ‘Knock him out’ because they wanted to go home. I'm like, ‘I’m sleepy like y'all sleepy.’ (Laughs) But that last camp, honestly, if it weren't for me going through that experience and me coming here and training with Breadman, I don't know if I do ten rounds the way I did. And that was my first ten-round fight after an eight-month layoff.”
But it’s over and done with, and now he moves on to Arias. It’s been an even better camp the second time around with Edwards, and he’s confident that it will all show in his performance on Thursday.
“I think the biggest transition for me from my last fight to this fight was I knew what to expect from Bread, it was a quick turnaround, and I was already in shape,” Chaney said. “Me being back, I'm gonna take the challenge on and scrap everything. And I changed my diet. It was a lot of things like that, and mentally I came into this camp relaxed. I'm not putting too much unnecessary pressure on myself and I think it's been going well.”
Now all that’s left is the fight, and Chaney promises that he will do whatever it takes to get his hand raised after a long four years of being on the losing end on the hardwood.
“I went through college basketball for four years and we won a total of 28 games, maybe,” he said. “That was horrible. I'm used to winning, so of course my mindset is to win first. But it does feel good to be able to say, boom, I'm finally getting able to showcase my ability and put on some good fights, because I do think with a certain type of energy, I'm exciting. I've been through some exciting fights where I slipped up and been dropped and I've gotten up and I'm gonna fight. So I think those type of situations, people want to see stuff like that. They want to see (Deontay) Wilder and Fury go down and get up and keep pushing forward. That's what I want to be in - I want to be in smart, classic fights. Now if I just gotta outpoint you, then that's what I gotta do, but if I can put in some excitement, that makes me feel happy, too. But winning makes me feel happy the most.”