By Thomas Gerbasi
In the world of boxing, talent can take you places you normally wouldn’t be able to go to, but eventually, there comes a time when you have to take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize when something’s not working.
For longtime super middleweight prospect Donovan George, that realization came on the tail end of 2012 losses to Edwin Rodriguez and Adonis Stevenson. For the Chicago native, while skill and a blood and guts attitude allowed him to tear through most of his opposition, when he got in with fighters who had talent and size, he was giving away too much.
“It’s just the whole size and strength factor,” said the 28-year-old. “When you’re fighting a guy like Stevenson, he’s just so powerful and so strong. I felt like I could have hit him with a baseball bat and he would just keep coming. It was discouraging. I knew I was a small super middleweight my entire career, but I never had the right people around me to tell me, ‘you know Don, it’s time to make the sacrifice and get down to middleweight.’ My promoter Leon (Margules) told me ‘if you want to be a world champion, you better do it.’ So Leon and (8 Count Productions’) Dominic Pesoli really helped me with that.”
Tonight, George makes his middleweight debut in an ESPN Friday Night Fights bout against rugged veteran David Lopez. Yeah, cutting down to 160 is no picnic after a career spent at super middleweight, but the way George sees it, he had no other option if he wants to eventually contend for a world title.
“I was a lot smaller and I just don’t have that big frame up at super middleweight, and I was getting pushed around,” he said. “I don’t want to be bullied around; I want to be the bully, I want to be the tough guy. So I decided to make the sacrifice, and we’re gonna give it a shot at middleweight. I feel like I have a brand new lease on my career.”
It’s a career that had a huge upside when he turned pro in 2004. Blessed with a fan friendly fight style, looks, and a solid following in the Windy City, George was seemingly destined for big things. Yet by 2008, George’s in the ring performances were eclipsed by issues with the law and a reckless attitude, and everything came screeching to a halt in a matter of months.
Nearly five years later, George says he is no longer the same person he was then. In fact, he doesn’t even recognize that version of himself. Subsequently, a boxing public that got turned off by George has tuned back in for the comeback.
“People are talking about me again, I’m starting to stumble across my name on all the social media and the websites and it feels good,” said George of his second coming. “I’m a different fighter than I was then. I was a real cocky, ignorant kid. I said the stupidest stuff, and when I go back and read my interviews, I hate myself for it. I was so disrespectful, and I’m not like that anymore. I’m 28 years old, I’m just about to enter my prime, and I’m a man now. I understand that I made some mistakes in and out of the ring, and I truly am sorry for everything I’ve ever done. I want to be a good person, I believe in God, I want good things to happen to me and I want to be good to other people. So even when I’m fighting Lopez, I’m trying to hurt him, but just for ten seconds. I just want enough to count him out, and I don’t want to seriously hurt anybody. All these tough guys are talking about how they want to kill everybody; I’m not that kind of person anymore. I want to win, I want to take care of my family, my fiancée deserves a good life and I’m gonna give it to her. I’m just excited to be at 160 and have people talking about me again.”
9-3 since returning to active duty in 2009, George’s only real dismal effort came in a technical decision loss against Francisco Sierra in July of 2010. When it was over, he knew that even though he had straightened out his life outside the ring, he needed to do the same inside it as well.
“I thought I couldn’t be beat, I thought I couldn’t be touched, and I fought Sierra one night and I went in there with a broken nose,” he said. “I was sparring with Gennady Golovkin, the champion, who is an absolute monster by the way, and he broke my nose in training camp. And I’m like ‘I can fight him, I’m gonna blow him out,’ and it didn’t work out that way. I took a horrific beating, and I realized that this is a grown man’s sport, you don’t play boxing, it’s serious, and you can get seriously hurt. So I really rededicated my entire life to it and I sacrificed absolutely everything.”
To show his dedication, George supplemented his normal training camp routine for this fight with a trip to the Kronk Gym in Detroit to work with Emanuel Steward’s nephew Sugar Hill as well as a familiar face in Adonis Stevenson, who stopped George in 12 rounds last October.
“We had rounds 13 through, I don’t know, 50 or 60,” laughed George. “It was fun, it was a great experience, and he’s a real, real down to Earth good guy. Sugar Hill, Emanuel Steward’s nephew, he does a great job with the fighters and he helped me a lot with a lot of one-on-one stuff, and it was a great three weeks. I was really happy and I definitely plan on going back.”
So it was just like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed at the end of Rocky III?
“When I talked to Sugar Hill I said ‘all right, tell Stevenson to be ready for round 13 because I’m coming after him,’” said George. “And we weren’t pulling no punches in the sparring sessions. We were going at it, and it would definitely be entertaining to watch.”
Tonight’s bout with Lopez should fit that bill as well. A southpaw with nearly 18 years in the pro game under his belt, the Nogales, Mexico native has only lost once since 2005, and that was to current junior middleweight champ Austin Trout. He’s a tough out for anyone, and a stiff test for George’s first visit to 160.
“He (Lopez) is a 6-foot-2 guy but doesn’t fight 6-2,” said George. “He fights like a shorter guy, he wants to get inside and fight, and he doesn’t know what going backwards or taking a step back means. He’s gonna be right in my face, and it makes for an exciting fight because I fight with a very similar style. So it’s gonna fit well. And what better statement to make than against a guy who’s only lost one time in eight years and he went the distance with Austin Trout and made a good showing for himself? If I can go out there, make a statement, and possibly wear him down and stop him, I think it will put the whole middleweight division on notice.”
At 160, there are plenty of good matchups for George, and with his popularity in Chicago and his pleasing style, a big opportunity could arise should he put together a decent winning streak at middleweight. If he does, he thinks he has a shot at getting a ‘for real’ fight against Golovkin.
“In my opinion, the top guy is GGG,” said George. “Sergio Martinez, he’s looking for megafights and I don’t think I’ll ever have the privilege of stepping into the ring with a guy like him because who am I to him? He’s not gonna make any money off a guy like me. But GGG I think is gonna be around for a while, and if he stays at middleweight, he already broke my nose in training camp and I’d like to get him back a little bit. (Laughs) I remember sparring with him in Big Bear and I hit him with an uppercut and I made him bleed. And I went back to the corner and I said ‘oh my God, this guy bleeds,’ because we thought he was just invincible. Then the next round he broke my face (Laughs), but he does bleed. It’s cool though. I just want to make a name for myself. I want to retire and be able to say I gave it my all.”
He had a name, lost it, now he’s getting it back the old fashioned way: with his fists. That’s the redemptive power of boxing right there, and George knows it.
“I’m gonna lay it all on the line and go for the knockout as usual, and I think the fans are gonna get exactly what they expect and what they deserve, and that’s a blood and guts war,” he said. “Plus I sharpened up a little bit in Detroit, and Sugar Hill worked on my boxing a lot, and I might surprise some people with head movement, and don’t cross your fingers, but it’s possible that I might maneuver my way around the ring and show that I’ve been a pro for nine years. (Laughs) Let’s see what happens.”