By Mitch Abramson
When it comes to talent, Shemuel Pagan, the 23-year-old lightweight from Brooklyn, has always been well-stocked in that department. Pagan won the New York Golden Gloves titles five times, once gave Zab Judah a black eye in sparring when he was a teenager, and is a former U.S. Olympic team alternate. And then he sort of disappeared.
Pagan, currently 2-0 as a professional, hasn’t fought since March of last year after taking off eight months for personal reasons. Now, the precocious Pagan is making up for lost time.
For the past two weeks, Pagan has been serving as a sparring partner for Marcos Maidana in his upcoming fight with Devon Alexander on Feb. 25 in Saint Louis, Missouri. Pagan is also preparing for a fight of his own. A day before Maidana defends his WBA junior welterweight title, Pagan said he's scheduled to fight on the undercard of Zab Judah and Vernon Parris at the Aviator Sports Complex in Brooklyn. Kathy Duva of Main Events said the undercard is being finalized and that Pagan may be on it.
“This has been an awesome experience,” Pagan said from Carolina, Puerto Rico, where Maidana is training with several local sparring partners, as well as Pagan. “[Maidana] is showing me day by day that this is where I need to be. I need to be working with a world champion. People are scared of this guy. But I’m stepping in with no fear in my heart. It’s good work. He can really crack but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Pagan is working as a sparring partner. But it may come as a surprise that his career hasn’t taken off like most people expected. Pagan is one of the most decorated amateurs to come from New York in recent memory. But he says personal issues derailed his career for the time being.
Pagan declined to get into the personal issues he was facing over the eight months he took off, only saying:
“It was a matter of mental stress,” he said. “A lot of issues, something where I was going on and off to the gym. You know what, I’m not going to [play around and not be fully committed]. I’m still this person that when you’re not there mentally, it’s not good to step in the ring. Now I'm back to where I need to be.”
Pagan, who is not signed with a promoter, was recommended for the assignment with Maidana by fellow Brooklynite, Paulie Malignaggi, according to Pagan. Malignaggi and Maidana, who nearly turned a Twitter battle into a tangible fight, are both promoted by Golden Boy. As far as the actual sparring, Pagan is holding his own against Maidana, Pagan said. The first time they sparred, he admitted the heavy-handed Maidana caught him with a few good shots but Pagan adjusted, and has been boxing him ever since, moving around more instead of trying to match his power shots.
Outside of the sparring in Puerto Rico, Pagan is currently training at Sadam Ali’s gym in Bay Ridge and is working with Andre Rozier and Lenny Wilson. Pagan is grateful to be back in the gym, grateful to be working with Maidana because it’s forcing him to be on his ‘A’ game.
“I’m an elite fighter,” he says. “I’m supposed to act like this and be around other elite fighters.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.