Tongues wagged when the story came out in the NY Times, on Feb. 5, 2006.
Accusatory fingers were pointed, the whispering campaign was intense and harsh condemnations were issued. Fair to say, there was no shortage of people ready to say "I told ya so" after reading about Junior Younan, who was 10 years old at the time. The Brooklyn boy was pushed in training by his father/trainer Sherif Younan Sr. Myriad critics predicted imminent burnout.
They read that dad had Junior would run miles on the treadmill. They read that the boy sometimes cried because the workout became too much. Dad said that he knew his son. Boxing was in his blood.
We would have to wait to see how this would play out down the line. Would the pressure to excel repel Younan Jr. from the sweet science?
Fast forward to today.
Far from being repelled from boxing, Junior's ardor for the game hasn't dimmed. If anything he seems to adore all elements of the sport even more. He told New York Times writer Geoffrey Gray, "I'm like Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather Jr. combined"
"I feel in love with boxing," the now 17-year-old Junior told me, right after signing a contract to turn pro with NYC promoter Lou DiBella.
Junior's self-respect for his ring skills hasn't lessened, either. The teen, who lives with his dad in Bensonhurst, was asked to assess his skill set. How good are you, I wondered? "I'm not good, I'm great," said the teen, who turns 18 on Oct. 14.
His titles don't contradict him. With a 90-5 record, Younan won the National Junior Olympic championship in 2011, he is a nine-time Junior Olympic champion, a nine-time Junior Metro champion, an eight-time NY State Silver Gloves champion, a five-time Regional Silver Gloves champion, a four-time National Silver Gloves champion, a three-time Ringside World champion, a three-time National PAL champion and a two-time National Junior Golden Gloves champion.
His father recalls that his only child was in Gleason's when dad was readying to spar. The 15-month-old toddler pushed away a milk bottle, and crawled for some ratty headgear. He put it on his head, lopsided, and peered out through the ear hole. He had chosen his course. "I grew up in Gleason's," said Junior, whose nickname is "Sugar Boy," because of a past fondness for candy. "My second birthday was in the gym. I had a big cake with gloves on it."
Well wishers and opportunists have approached the kid, looking to join a posse, soak in the optimism and possible fortune on the horizon. But Junior says he's not falling for that, and doesn't see signing on with DiBella, and advisors James Prince and Josh Dubin, as a goal completed. It's more like a starting point. "It's not time to celebrate. The job is not even close to being done," he said. "I'm content for now, I will be happy when I'm world champion."
Neither Younan fired up an "I told ya so" to me in response to the 2006 bad buzz, which has dissipated. But one takeaway for me is clear. Dad was a stern tutor, and his methods seemed mad to many. But today, the path he cleared for Junior was the one both of them envisioned, not the one the critics railed would unfold.
I just wanted to make sure I did my due dilligence. I wanted to make very sure Junior has confounded the naysayers, isn't putting on a front, and is, in fact, in love with boxing.
Most of us are familiar with the age old deal where dad sees son as a future champ, in boxing, or tennis, or Nascar, and grinds down an original zest for competition, until the child is burnt out on the discipline, and walks away, nose turned up, headed for the shrink's couch and a lifetime's worth of wrestling with lingering resentment. I asked Junior, who has been boxing for 14 years, has he ever veered into burnout mode, considered quitting?
"You ever get burnt out on writing?" he countered, as sharply and effectively as anything Floyd Mayweather has ever thrown.