CHICAGO -- Confidence in boxing is often associated with people who speak with volume and force. There’s a certain swagger and cockiness that comes with some of the best in the game.
Seventeen-year-old Kenneth Sims Jr. defies that. He speaks quietly and bashfully, but what he says may possess more confidence than anyone in the amateur boxing world right now and for good reason.
“I want to turn pro and become a world champion,” Sims Jr. said in a hushed tone before a recent training session at Fuller Park on Chicago’s South Side. “I want to turn pro after the Olympics in 2012.”
There may be thousands of teenagers all over the world saying those same words. Sims Jr. is one of the few who has a real shot at achieving them.
At the age of 16, Sims Jr. earned a spot in the upcoming U.S. Olympic team trials by beating six older opponents in the 132-pound class at the 2010 national PAL tournament in Texas. It was the first time he had boxed adults in a competitive setting.
Now 17, the 5-foot-9 Sims Jr. is on the verge of his first Chicago Golden Gloves title and is among the favorites to take the national Golden Gloves title in Indianapolis later this month. The winner of the national event also earns an invitation to the Olympic team trials. If Sims Jr. were to win both, he’d have to choose which to accept.
The Chicago Golden Glove championships will be held at Gordon Tech High School in Chicago on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sims Jr. fights in the final bout on Friday evening.
Ted Ginza has been around amateur boxing for the last nearly 20 years and is also a professional boxing judge. He’s been on the Chicago Golden Gloves board of directors for the past 12 years. His word has weight in the sport, and what he believes is Sims Jr. is one of the special ones.
“The kid is amazingly good,” Ginza said. “It’s awe inspiring. The nice thing is he’s got Michael Jordan’s skills without Michael Jordan’s swagger. He’s a nice kid, modest, not cocky. But when he goes into the ring, he destroys people.”
Sims Jr.’s record is proof. He’s won 171 amateur fights and lost just 11. The last time he was defeated was June 17, 2010 in the U.S. junior national boxing championship semifinals to Julian Rodriguez, another one of the country’s rising stars, by a narrow margin. Sims Jr. has since won 19 consecutive fights, will go for No. 20 on Friday and will compete for the U.S. national team against Mexico’s national team in a dual match next week in Harvey, Ill.
The method by which Sims Jr. beats his opponents can’t be credited to one specific skill or even a couple. He’s the full package. He hits hard. He jabs with accuracy. He’s as comfortable with his offhand hand (left) as with his strong one. He’s quick. Plus, he knows how to fight. His mind is one of his strongest assets.
“I think he has the old expression -- hit and don’t be hit,” Ginza said. “He’s got that down to a science. His footwork is tremendous. His power is tremendous. His defense is tremendous. The kid is really dynamic.”
Sims Jr.’s father, Kenneth Sims Sr., has something to do with that. A former Golden Gloves winner himself, Sims Sr. got his son involved in boxing when he was eight years old after discovering he was one of the smallest kids in his class.
Sims Sr. thought his son needed to learn to protect himself and began teaching him how to box and later enrolled him in boxing classes. Sims Jr. wanted nothing to do with it.
“I used to ask my mom to take me to the park instead of the practice,” Sims Jr. said. “She said she didn’t want to hear [my dad’s] mouth.”
What eventually sold Sims Jr. on boxing was a shiny trophy. Although he lost his first competitive bout, he was still given a trophy. It was his first one, and he wanted more.
Now with more than 100 trophies to his name, Sims Jr. still wants more, and he’ll do anything to achieve that even if it means not being able to do what your average junior at King High School does.
“I can’t eat regular food like other teenagers do at school,” Sims Jr. said. “I have to eat fruits and salads. I can’t eat candy and fried food.”
That's not the only contrast between Sims Jr. and his peers.
Sims Jr.’s daily routine is he awakes at 4:30 a.m. with his father, and they go running 5-8 miles in their neighborhood. He returns home, eats, showers, dresses and leaves for school. After a full day of classes, Sims Jr. goes to Fuller Park and trains from 1-3 hours. He then goes home, eats dinner, does his homework and if he’s lucky gets to sleep around 10:30 p.m.
“There’s probably no one in the country in better shape than him in the sport,” said Sims Sr., who is now his son’s full-time coach. “I’ve always pushed him. My attitude was no one is going to push him harder than me. I didn’t give him a choice of the matter in being pushed. My attitude is if you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it right.”
Sims Jr. doesn’t mind the hard work. His goals are set on competing in the 2012 Olympics, becoming a professional and working up the ranks until he’s a world champion.
His father supports those dreams.
“Let me state it like this, the sky is the limit when it comes to boxing if he continues to dedicate himself as he has,” Sims Sr. said.
Ginza didn’t doubt it either and went a step further.
“Floyd Mayweather Jr. is just remarkable at everything,” Ginza said. “Not to compare him to Mayweather, but that’s how the kid is. He’s a Mayweather starting kit.
“I don’t invest in boxing or gamble on boxers, but if I did, I’d bet on him. I’ve seen thousands of kids, and he’s the best boxer I’ve ever seen. That’s quite a statement.”