Heavyweight Michael Polite Coffie is living the dream right now. Maybe not his dream, per se, but the dream of every boxing fan who had delusions of grandeur when it came to stepping through the ropes and competing.
The 34-year-old New Yorker actually did it. And he’s got promise in his new profession, compiling an 11-0 professional record that he will look to improve on this Saturday in Los Angeles when he faces fellow unbeaten Darmani Rock on FOX.
“Honestly, I never really thought of it like that,” he laughs. “Recently I've been hearing that from people, but I never really thought of it. I just felt like I found something that I really like to do and that I'm good at. And my friend said why not pursue it, and I agreed.”
That friend, Jamal Phipps, was Coffie’s corporal in the United States Marine Corps, and when Coffie was done with his eight years of service, Phipps decided it was a good idea to sign his buddy up for the 2016 New York Golden Gloves.
There was just one thing. Coffie had never fought in the ring before. He wasn’t even training. But he was all-in anyway. And at 6-5, 285, he was quite the imposing figure, despite having no previous ring time.
“Everybody there had more experience than I did because I never fought before, ever,” Coffie said. “I had only been training for a few weeks. So everybody there had more experience than me and I knew that, but I felt if I could catch him with a good shot, I could hurt somebody. That got me all the way to the finals the first year, but it didn't get me to winning the gold the first year. That's when I got the eye opener that it took more than just the power.”
Encouraged by his quick start, Coffie decided that he would stick around for a year and fight in the Gloves once more before turning pro. And now that he was going to be in the Open division for year two in 2017, he set his sights high.
“I was 29 at the time and it was just before I turned 30,” he recalled. “So I only wanted to be in the amateurs for one year, but I said I'm gonna try to get as many fights as I could. And I wanted to go after whoever was being considered the best in the amateurs in my weight class.”
He got his wish, avenging an earlier loss to the number one-ranked Nkosi Solomon to win the 2017 Gloves. By the end of that year, he was making his pro debut with a 61-second knockout of Ralph Alexander.
I ask him where he would be if not for Phipps signing him up to be a boxer.
“Probably Kuwait or something like that,” said Coffie. “I was actually in the process where I was trying to get into contracting. I was in the Marine Corps, I got out and I was going to school, so I was going through the process of doing that, but then once I got that first knockout in the first fight in the Gloves, things changed.”
And once he won his first pro bout in a little over a minute, things changed even more, as the boxing world began to pay attention to that 30-something heavyweight with the size and power to make a run at the top. And while he’s stayed busy and slowly increased the level of competition in front of him, he’s made up for his lack of experience by sparring with the likes of Deontay Wilder, Adam Kownacki and Jarrell Miller. As for the fights, he believes he’s still getting tested, even though six of his 11 wins have come in two rounds or less.
“It's just a different type of pressure when you're in the actual fight than it is when you're in sparring,” Coffie said. “I would say the people who I've sparred were definitely higher level than the people that I fought, but it's a different type of pressure in a fight. And, at the end of the day, you're standing in front of another man who's over 200 pounds and they always say, one shot could change everything.”
One shot could be the deciding factor when Coffie meets Philadelphia’s Rock, a 24-year-old former amateur standout who is no stranger to scoring early knockouts. But if it becomes a dogfight, Coffie believes he’s got some life experience that will serve him well.
“I'm ready to dig deep if I have to,” he said. “If he's ready to do the same, then it's gonna be an even better fight. But I know for a fact that I'm ready to dig deep, and the past experience, I feel like it gives me the ability to compartmentalize and I know how to handle certain situations at certain times, including when I'm in the ring.”
Unbeaten, fighting a highly-regarded prospect on FOX, at 34. It bears repeating that this is some story.
“I'm pretty much just locked in,” he admits. “As I get a name, I'm just preparing for that name. Usually, it's the people around me who really put me on to that fact - 'Yo, do you understand what you're doing?' Yeah, I guess. I'm just trying to train and get ready for the fight because I just want to do my thing.”
But what does his corporal think about this crazy ride he started?
“He's excited and, at the same time, I can tell he gets nervous for me,” said Coffie of Phipps, who lives less than a half hour away from him. “He gets nervous because he feels that I'm not nervous. At the end of the day, this is a sanctioned fight. Ain't too much to be nervous about when it comes to the guy standing across the ring from me.”
So Phipps gets ringside tickets for life, then?
“What's understood don't ever have to be said,” laughs Coffie.