Speaking to 21-year-old U.S. Olympic boxer Marcus Browne on Monday kept giving me flashbacks to when I was 21, and setting new records for doing stupid stuff. During a recent phoner, I told the young light-heavyweight, who grew up and lives on Staten Island, as much, because I couldn't help myself. I was that impressed with his sense of humor, his easygoing manner of communicating and his humility. Bottom line, the kid impressed the hell out of me and I found myself doing what "they" say you shouldn't do as an objective reporter ... I found myself rooting for the kid to get gold.
A three-time NY Golden Gloves champ, two-time National PAL Champion and 2012 USA Boxing National Champion, Browne qualified to take part in the London games on May 8, when he beat Dominican Felix Valera, 12-6, at the Americas Qualifier in Rio de Janeiro. He'd already gotten over the hump to make the U.S. Team when he won at the Olympic Trials last August. But he didn't finish in the top 10 at the Worlds in October, so he had to beat Valera in the quarterfinals, to actually solidify a place in the ring in London.
I asked Browne how it felt, following in the footsteps of the last American to win gold, fellow light heavyweight Andre Ward (2008), who is today seen as one of the five best pound-for-pound pros in the world.
"It's definitely a great feeling," he said, "but I'm still hungry. It's cool to do this step in the journey. But I've been working on the strategy for years, it was not unexpected. I'm not really surprised. Now, I'm focused on the goal."
I liked Browne's mix of confidence (not cockiness), introspection and humility. He said that Varela wasn't a tough out ("He didn't have the legs and speed, he was trying to load up and I was seeing everything"), and that he didn't get the buzz he maybe expected from the win. "I didn't get the crazy feeling I thought I'd get," Browne said. "I celebrated for like ten minutes." That's because he had to fight two more times; he won both bouts, and got a taste of international gold when he beat Brazilian Yamaguchi Florentino in the tourney final, 12-6.
The lefty, who comes out of the Teddy Atlas Cops N Kids Gym and is trained by Gary Stark Sr., describes himself as "a boxer-puncher. I use a lot of lateral movement. I'm not stationary, I'm slick. Go on YouTube, and be the judge for yourself. I don't like talking about myself. They say the trumpeter who toots his own horn is not going to be as famous as one who lets others do it for him. I've got to stay humble and hungry."
Check back for more on Browne, including how he got into the sport, and how he felt when he got verified. The kids will know what that last reference means ...