Butler senior Justin DeLoach was thrilled to be heading to Colorado next week to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic boxing team. Only trouble is, a welterweight berth isn’t one of the seven at stake in the USA Boxing National Championships.
“After we won the states last month, our reps stated that it was open,” said Ray Whitfield, DeLoach’s trainer and director of the Augusta Boxing Club. “So we still are going to the nationals.”
Not that fighting for a national title is too shabby for a growing boxer who just turned 18. But DeLoach believed he was ready to represent his country in the 2012 Olympics in London.
“I’m so excited,” DeLoach said before it was clarified that three-time national champ Errol Spence, of Dallas, already held the designated spot at 152 pounds for the U.S. team. “I’m training hard and I’m ready for it. The feeling is unbelievable. I’ve been waiting a long time for this and finally got the opportunity. I always told myself if I work hard and stay focused, I’d get a shot at the Olympics by the time I was in high school.”
DeLoach and Whitfield will still travel Saturday to Colorado Springs, Colo., where the 6-footer will be one of 51 entries in the welterweight division that begins Monday at the Fort Carson Special Events Center. With a 41-5 amateur record including a National Silver Gloves title at 119 pounds when he was 13, DeLoach is confident of his chances next week.
“I know I can pull it off,” DeLoach said.
DeLoach first fell in love with boxing when he was 9 and saw Roy Jones Jr. fight Antonio Tarver, two former U.S. Olympians who waged an epic trilogy of bouts from 2003-05.
“After I saw that I just wanted to do it,” DeLoach said.
He showed up at the Augusta Boxing Club to make that a reality. By the time DeLoach was 13, Whitfield was getting ready for his first hometown fight as a pro. That only inspired DeLoach more, and he committed himself to becoming a champion-caliber boxer.
“I like the individuality of it and standing up for yourself,” he said.
While all of his best friends at Butler play basketball, including Dan Lambert, DeLoach has remained committed to boxing.
“We keep each other on our toes,” he said of his friends. “During basketball season I was behind them and now they’re behind me.”
DeLoach shared his passion at the Walton Way gym with his older brother, Patrick Thompkins. But when Thompkins drowned last Aug. 25, DeLoach had to recommit himself in the ring.
“He was my backbone and kept me focused,” he said. “After I lost him I got stuck. He used to motivate me and push me to my limits. But then I knew I had to do it and train harder. I knew I had my family on my back to motivate me a lot.”
Whitfield has also been an important mentor to DeLoach, stressing not only the fundamentals but the need to sacrifice in order to be great. Few understand that better, since Whitfield holds a pro record of 24-1 and twice won vacant NABO flyweights titles.
“He keeps it real and is going to give it to you straight up,” DeLoach said of Whitfield. “That’s the thing about the gym, they’re always going to give it to you straight up. They don’t sugarcoat nothing.”
Whitfield suffered his own Olympic trials heartbreak in 2004 when he lost in Tunica, Miss., as the No. 1 seed and missed out on his dream of representing the U.S. in the Athens Olympics. Currently, Whitfield put his pro goals on two-year hiatus to take over the Augusta Boxing Club and work with guys like DeLoach before he plans to return to the ring later this year.
“I took him under my wing as my protégé and he’s kind of got a long, rangy style like myself,” said Whitfield of the quick right-hander.
“He’s got a bright future in this game.”