Brooklyn boxer looks to knock out hunger

Claude Staten Jr. plans to use part of his Barclays pay to help feed the homeless. Elsa/Golden Boy/Getty Images/Golden Boy

Sometime after he steps out of the ring at Barclays Center on Monday night, Claude Staten Jr. is going to take stock of the prize money from his second professional fight.

Staten Jr. might set aside some money to buy clothes, shoes and other accessories befitting a 25-year-old from Brooklyn.

But he also has bigger plans for his paycheck.

"I want to give back," he said.

For Staten Jr., giving back means spending his own money to help feed the homeless.

"No matter how many mistakes they've made or how many wrong things they've done, everyone deserves to eat a meal," Staten Jr. said.

The Brooklyn-born Staten Jr. was living in Los Angeles in 2012 when he funded a "Knockout Hunger Day" there, feeding hundreds of homeless people in L.A.'s Skid Row neighborhood. He and his friends dispensed sandwiches, bottles of water and shoes.

Staten Jr. plans to do the same in New York after this fight and, eventually, to expand his "Knockout Hunger" program to other cities.

"That day in L.A. really motivated me, it really drove me," Staten Jr. said. "I want to help these people."

Staten Jr. has come a long way in boxing in a short time. He had only a handful of amateur fights before his pro debut last March (a four-round unanimous decision over Mike Hill at Barclays Center). Most fighters gain experience by fighting dozens if not hundreds of amateur fights, but Staten Jr. is different.

"It seems to just come naturally to him," said his Atlanta-based trainer, Kennie Johnson. "He's still learning a lot, but there's so much that he knows without the experience. ... It's pretty rare to see."

There was a time not long ago when boxing wasn't on Staten Jr.'s radar. As a teen in Brooklyn, he was raised mostly by his grandmother. His grandfather died when he was 12 and his mother was just 14 when Claude was born. He fell in with the wrong crowd while attending Lafayette High School in his sophomore year.

"He got into some trouble," his uncle, Francisco Valdez said. "It was tough for a while."

Staten Jr. said he got caught selling drugs with his friends when he was 17. He was charged with drug possession and sentenced to six months probation after spending more than a month at the Riker's Island Correctional Facility.

"I grew up where there are a lot of negative things that you can do -- it's easy to do that," he said. "But that's when I realized, 'Look man, I don't want to be separated from my grandmother.'"

Upon his release, Staten Jr. knew he couldn't go back to selling drugs ("I wasn't Pablo Escobar. I was making $1,000 to $1,500 a week"), so he took up boxing.

"I started going to Gleason's [gym in Brooklyn] and I got obsessed with it," Staten Jr. said. "I was reading everything, watching everything. I just gravitated towards the sport."

After a handful of amateur fights, Staten Jr. turned pro. His trainers and the members of Golden Boy Promotions who handle his fights rave about Staten Jr.'s hand speed and power at super bantam weight.

"He's special," Johnson said. "I've seen a lot of fighters and he's the real deal."

One July afternoon, Staten was sitting in an office on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, reflecting on his journey from Riker's Island inmate to up-and-coming fighter.

"It's just amazing," he said, growing emotional, "that I've come this far. I'm finally here."

For Staten Jr., though, the best might be yet to come.