Dominic Breazeale always had a lifelong dream of becoming a professional athlete. So when he starred at Northern Colorado University as a 6-foot-7-inch quarterback with a rocket arm, his chances of making the NFL seemed reasonable. But Breazeale went undrafted in 2009, effectively halting his football dreams.
Enter Michael King, the founder of All-American Heavyweights (AAH), a Los Angeles program that recruits and develops prospects from college athletic programs. His idea was simple: poach elite NCAA athletes from other sports who didn’t make the pros and turn them into boxers.
King did just that with Breazeale, and years after having his dreams dashed, the former football star finds himself headed to London to represent the United States in the Super-Heavyweight division.
"We have some very exciting people that want to compete professionally, but the door has been shut, and that is how we found phenomenal athletes like Dominic Breazeale," King told The Huffington Post.
Unlike the NFL or NBA, which draft a combined 300-plus athletes out of thousands every year, boxing is a very limited pool of competition, King said. As a result, converting a high caliber athlete like Breazeale is challenging, but very feasible.
“The real paradox with boxing is that it has a mass appeal and yet, at the same time, the sport has been going downhill because of the lack of new athletes coming to it,” King said.
King assesses the athletes by testing hand-eye coordination, endurance and balance. Once they start to spar after five or six weeks, 40 percent of the athletes quit because they don't want to get hit or they don't have the necessary skills, he said. Breazeale, 26, went through a rigorous AAH training program, which consists of four levels, starting with green and progressing to bronze, silver and then gold.
One of the most important parts of training is showing athletes the videos of former boxing stars, King said.
"We show them how [Muhammad] Ali, [George] Foreman and [Mike] Tyson handled the basics. We can say, ‘All the greats have been at 60 and 64 degrees with their hands. You’re at 47 degrees, so lift your hands up.’”
Despite the intensity of the training program, Breazeale said he still wrestled with the transition from a sport he played his entire life to a sport he’d never even tried.
“I actually had to leave the thought of football behind and lead the lifestyle of being a boxer as far as studying film and creating my style,” he said. “The switch from football to boxing is two different worlds. Football is a sport that can be played, and boxing is a lifestyle.”
His new “lifestyle” meant an entirely new level of commitment to his body and mental mindset.
“The conditioning level [was my hardest adjustment],” Breazeale added. “In football, you can always audible from a pass into a run. In boxing, you have three hard minutes; you have to go, go, go. You get tired and you want a substitute; there’s no timeouts, no break.
“When you get hit with a good shot in the ring, it always hurts; you get a nice little buzz or a ringing in your ear. There’s no comparison at all to getting hit straight in the face to getting sacked; it’s two different feelings to the body. I definitely would rather be on a football field getting hit than in a boxing ring.”
Breazeale remains in the infancy stages of a sport where most of his competitors have over a decade of fighting experience more than him. Still, he said he is confident that his first and only Olympics (he plans to turn pro after the Games) will be a success, thanks to his commitment to his jab and pounding style that he modeled after Riddick Bowe. Like the 6-foot-5-inch Bowe -- a former two-time World Heavyweight Champion -- Breazeale is a behemoth who uses his power and sheer size to win fights.
“Over the last six to eight months, I’ve learned to use my jab,” he said. “Before, it’s not that I was being lazy, I just didn’t believe in it. I control the ring and I wouldn’t be going to London for anything less than a gold medal.”
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