By Thomas Gerbasi
The Cleveland Indians may be in first place in the AL Central and the Browns could have a future franchise quarterback in rookie Baker Mayfield, but as of late, it’s been a rough go for “The Land,” considering LeBron James left town for Los Angeles and Stipe Miocic lost his UFC heavyweight title last weekend.
Is this where Charles Conwell comes in?
“I think so,” he laughs. “They’re looking for a new king, and why not Charles Conwell?”
Why not, indeed? Sure, he’s only 7-0 as a pro, hoping to move to 8-0 this Saturday when he faces Travis Scott in New Orleans, but he does represent a city that has always embraced their own when it comes to sports, and Conwell already experienced a taste of that when he represented the United States in the 2016 Olympics.
“The city’s been behind me the whole time,” he said. “I was a big face as an Olympian coming out of Cleveland, so I had them on my shoulders.”
He wasn’t able to bring a medal back from Rio de Janeiro, but two summers later, he’s on a steady climb towards gold of a different sort in the world of pro boxing, and there are expectations that two summers from now, he will have the phrase “world champion” next to his name.
The junior middleweight certainly has the raw talent to fulfill those predictions, even though it’s still early in his career. With five knockouts thus far, he’s shown power, doing what he’s supposed to do to the opposition lined up against him. But it’s how he’s winning that’s impressive, and it’s not just a sharp right hand getting the job done. Case in point, his win on ShoBox last November against Roque Zapata showcased a body attack that produced three knockdowns, and that’s something you don’t see too often from a young fighter.
But Conwell has said that making deep dives on YouTube for fight footage is part of his usual routine, and it’s clear that he appreciates the fighters that came before him. It almost makes you wonder if someone switched some numbers around on his birth certificate, because there aren’t too many 20-year-olds taking his approach to his craft, or to life in general.
Want more proof? Take a look at his social media accounts and you won’t see someone spending more time on Twitter and Instagram than in the gym. Now you know he’s not like his peers.
“I hear that a lot,” he said. “I’m real reserved, real calm, real mature for my age. I like social media. I like watching it, but I don’t want to be posting that much. And I don’t think I take good pictures, so I don’t know.”
He laughs, but behind that laugh is someone smart enough to know that in this day and age, one slip-up on social media can cost an athlete in more ways than one.
“I’m learning from other people’s experiences and I have good people around me – good mentors, good coaches, good family and friends – telling me what to do and what not to do. And I’m just watching different people on social media going through problems.”
Yeah, he’s 20 years old. How many of us can claim to be that aware at such a young age? And consider that Conwell didn’t have a normal childhood and adolescence by any means, putting the gloves on for the first time at the age of 11. I ask him if he ever thinks about the fact that he’s been doing this almost half his life.
“I’ve really got to think back and see old pictures of me,” he said. “That’s the only time I can think about that. If I do that, I’m like, ‘Wow, this was a long time ago.’ I’ll watch super old fights or old sparring, and I’ll see how far I’ve come. I don’t feel like I’ve been boxing that long, but seeing myself in old pictures and videos, I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’ve done this for a long time.’”
It could be the perfect recipe for early burnout, yet that’s not evident in the voice of Conwell, who admits to thinking about college instead of boxing for a spell. But when he realized that he had championship potential between the ropes, his focus shifted.
“When I was younger, I always used to say that I wanted to go to college,” he said. “I can still go, and college is never not an option, but ever since I got real good, I said I’m about to focus on my boxing career. I can always go back to college. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since the eighth grade. I’ve just been focused on boxing.”
Maybe that kind of focus for so long raises someone’s level of maturity when they’re looking at one goal and not worried about hanging out with their buddies, the latest video games, or who is subtweeting who. So while Baton Rouge’s Scott has the chronological (37) and fistic (19-3) edge on Conwell this weekend, this former amateur star has the intangibles and talent to even things up on his veteran foe. But what about fighting an opponent from Louisiana in “The Big Easy?”
No problem, says Conwell, who is comfortable in the role of bad guy for one night.
“I’ll use that same not so great energy that the Louisianans will have toward me and use it as positive energy,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m the underdog as well, so that gives me a little bit more fire under my feet in the ring.”
And when it comes to fighting in an opponent’s backyard, it’s not his first rodeo when it comes to that aspect of the game.
“I’ve done that multiple times and still came out victorious,” he said. “And at the end of the day, they start to like you because gave them a good fight and you’re a good fighter. So hopefully I can steal his fans and make them become my fans.”
If and when he does, it’s another mark on the “to do” list of a young fighter. You’ve got to fight a fellow prospect, a journeyman, a southpaw, a guy in his own hometown, a guy in your hometown, etc, etc, until the time comes for the big fight. Conwell is a patient sort, so while he hasn’t been in a fight where he’s felt like he had to dig deep to get the win, he is taking every trip to the ring as an opportunity to build on his fighting foundation.
“I’m not gonna say I haven’t been tested because each fight brings different tests,” he said. “And each step gets greater and bigger. So they’re all challenging in their own ways, but I always think positive, I think of the win, and I’m ready to overcome each challenge each fight brings.”
Eventually, the challenge will be to take somebody’s title. Conwell occasionally lets his mind wander there, but not for too long.
“I only think about it when people tell me about it,” he said. “People say, ‘Man, you’re so good, you’re gonna be world champ. You’re gonna do this, you’re gonna do that.’ And I don’t think about that. I’m about to get through this dude and do what I do best, work my craft and do what I’ve been training so hard to do and come out with this win. And then I can’t wait for the next fight. But different things play through my head at different times. Sometimes I think about the future and I can’t wait. I see myself sitting right next to my belt on my bed, thinking about all the stuff I’ve been through and how far I’ve come.”
But what about that recently removed banner of James on the Sherwin-Williams building in Cleveland? Could a Charles Conwell banner replace it?
“That would be so dope,” he laughs. “Hopefully one day.”