Calvin Brock, decades before he matured into the best American heavyweight boxer on the scene, used to sit in his room and contemplate his future.
Who am I? What is my purpose?
The other kids were riding bikes, roughhousing, busy manufacturing scrapes that cried out for Mom's attention. But Brock, who faces the stiffest test of his career when he meets unbeaten Uzbekistani Timur Ibragimov in Las Vegas on Saturday, was different. He pondered heavier questions.
At age six, living in Charlotte, N.C., with his parents, young Cal was in his room, daydreaming about topics adults are often hesitant to touch.
"What's my purpose in life?" he asked himself. The answer didn't immediately spring to mind, so Brock repeated the query, this time to God.
"God, what's the purpose of my life?" Again, silence.
He waited. And asked again. And kept asking.
Two years later, it was the Christmas season. His Uncle Cornell was in town and he put a gift under the tree for young Cal, who tore into the package. He unwrapped a box, reached in and pulled out a soft, puffy object. It was a boxing glove.
He wasn't displeased, but he was slightly puzzled. He had never expressed an interest in boxing. He never watched fights on TV. He asked Cornell why, and Cornell sort of shrugged. He didn't know why he bought the boxing gloves for his sister's son either. He just did.
But unlike so many baubles that are flash-in-the-pan faves on Christmas morning, young Cal didn't obsess over the gloves and then toss them into his closet on Jan. 1, never to be seen again until it was time for a yard sale cleanout.
The gloves fit Cal. And the sport fit him too. At age 8, in 1983, Calvin Brock decided what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to box.
The gift of gloves, he decided, came from God, through Uncle Cornell. Brock is sure of that.
That knowledge, that God's hands were bestowing the mitts, is unshakable. That certitude comes from Brock's faith, which was cemented in 1981. One day, he was in his room again, asking those heavy-duty questions. This time, he was pondering heaven and hell. "Where am I headed?" he asked himself.
With no answer apparent, he went to his mom.
"Mom, when I die, will I go to heaven or hell?"
"You have to be saved to go to heaven," his mom answered.
"Are you saved?" Cal asked.
"Yes," she replied.
"Is Daddy saved?"
"Yes," she said.
Now, the big one.
"Am I saved?"
"No," his mother said.
Cal went to his dad to learn more. He needed a second opinion.
"Daddy, I want to be saved. How do I go about it?"
"You have to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior," his dad said.
He then launched into the prayer of salvation with Calvin. At the age of 6, Calvin Brock, who really had just been born in the grand scheme of things, was born again.
In North Carolina, Brock set out to learn the craft of the sweet science. His skills and killer instinct made his wish to master the sport, and not quit until he won a professional championship, look more and more viable as he grew. Brock climbed his way up the amateur ladder, and fought in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He lost to Paolo Vidoz at super heavyweight class and moved into the professional ranks, finishing his amateur tenure with a 150-38 mark.
His first punch-for-pay appearance came on Feb. 11, 2001, against Zibielee Kimbrough, whom he defeated with a TKO in the third round. Since then, he has amassed 28 wins against no losses, and has notched 22 KOs en route. His biggest test, though, looms large.
On Saturday, Brock, 31, will lace up against another undefeated boxer in Ibragimov (21-0, 13 KOs). They will meet at Caesars Palace in Vegas, and the stakes are considerable. Brock is rated No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 by the IBF, WBA and WBC, respectively. If he handles the 31-year-old Ibragimov, a schooled battler with more than 200 amateur fights under his belt, a title shot will certainly come by the end of the year. The born-again brawler doesn't try to hide his intent come Saturday, which is to knock out Ibragimov.
"Knockout artists are born," he says. "I'm a knockout artist. I've always had that killer instinct."
The God-fearin' Charlotte resident continues to share his M.O. when he has a foe in peril. "I smell blood, I finish 'em," he says. His right hand and his left hook are capable of delivering consequential blows.
Coming into this challenge against Ibragimov, one of the wave of ascendant Eastern and Central Europeans making their way up the rungs, Brock is regarded as the best American heavyweight. Why aren't more Americans dazzling fight fans? Do they lack a work ethic?
"Maybe the Euros work harder," Brock says. "They leave home early, and they go to Germany, or they come here and they make a big sacrifice. The sacrifice makes them hungry."
But Brock's stomach is making growling noises as he waits for a meaningful shot. And he has sacrificed too, he points out. In 2000, Brock, a 1999 UNC-Charlotte grad, left his job as an operations call analyst at the Bank of America in Charlotte and leapt into his Olympic quest with both feet.
Brock will get a chance Saturday to show his finishing instincts to fight fans on Saturday. If he imposes his will and his fists on Ibragimov, his promotional outfit, Main Events, is looking to match Brock with titleholders Wladimir Klitschko, Nicolay Valuev or Sergei Liakhovich.
"As soon as Brock gets in the ring with one of them, the U.S. heavyweight picture will turn around," says Main Events VP Carl Moretti.
Brock is known as "The Boxing Banker" for promotional purposes, but perhaps a better handle is "The Born-Again Battler." His 22 KOs are proof positive that a hardcore Christian can get nasty when push comes to shove in the ring. He's planning on getting nasty Saturday.
"I am good at finding my opponent and landing my shots," Brock says. "Once I land my shots, Ibragimov will be out of there."
Michael Woods, the news editor for TheSweetScience.com, has written for GQ and the New York Observer.