“Northern Michigan University Has Produced Many Boxing Champions!” By Ken Hissner (Oct 24, 2009) DoghouseBoxing
Since 1988 Northern Michigan University has developed some of the top boxers in the country not only in the amateur ranks but later among the professionals. There have been six world champions and one Olympic Gold medalist that have come out of the prestigious university. They include four former world champions in Vernon Forrest, David Reid (also Gold medalist), Jermain Taylor and Byron Mitchell along with two current in Brian Viloria and Tim Bradley. There have been Olympic team members such as Augusta’s Forrest (1992), Philadelphia’s Reid, Gold medalist (1996) and Philadelphia’s Zahir Raheem (1996) Little Rock’s Taylor
(2000), Seattle’s David Jackson (2000), Hawaii’s Viloria (2000), DC’s Clarence Vinson (2000) and Brooklyn’s Roberto Benitez (2004).
In the 90’s the funding came from the athletes actually filling out financial aide packages and grants through financial aide. The Education Center also got support from the United States Olympic Committee (USOEC). In 1998 Congressman Bart Stupak went to Congress and got a scholarship for the training center and now the scholarship is called the Stupak Scholarship named after his son who died tragically while still in high school in May 2000. There was a time 24 slots were open for boxers and now it’s been reduced to only 8. When the funding was in question last year Forrest offered to help out until his untimely death this year. Forrest won the World Championships in 1991. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Forrest got food poisoning the day before his first bout. He was a favorite to meet the Cuban Hector Vinent, but lost Peter Richardson (GB). In 2009 the funding stopped. World champion Vernon Forrest, who had attended NMU, informed me he would supply the funding before his untimely death. The semester cost is now $2500.00 and still a good deal.
Philadelphia’s Al Mitchell arrived in Marquette as the head coach of the Junior Olympics and the regional coach in 1989. He was the LBC coach from 1989-91 for the Junior National Championships there. In 1992 he would become the head coach at Northern Michigan University. One of his nationally ranked boxers in 1991, Larry Nicholson, would later become an assistant of his. Reid is at NMU with him now along with his assistant coach Luis Gomez. I talked with Mitchell in August as he and 1976 Olympian Charles Mooney were helping instruct the Chinese silver medalist from the 2008 Olympics Zhang Zhilei at Fernwood Resort in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. One of Mitchell’s former boxers, Nate James, was serving as a sparring partner.
I met the first Philadelphia boxer to attend NMU, Jerome McIntyre, who was at the ABC Recreation center in North Philly where Mitchell and Fred Jenkins helped develop such fighters as Reid and Raheem who were both members of the 1996 Olympic team. While Reid won Gold and Raheem lost in the 2nd round. They also produced Charley “Choo Choo” Brown, IBF lightweight champion. Currently Jesse Hart, son of Philly’s well known boxer Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, finished his first year at NMU, winning a silver medal at the US Nationals. His teammate Trevor Bryan, Jr. won a bronze medal. Mitchell served as head coach. The “Philly Connection” has included McIntyre, Reid, Raheem, Dennis Hasson, Ray Robinson, Teon Kennedy, Saeed Hawkins, Malik Scott, Hart, Rock and Tiger Allen.
Some of the many professionals still active are the following: Tim “Desert Storm” Bradley 24-0 WBC/WBO #140, Brian Viloria 26-2 IBF light fly; DaVarryl Williamson 26-5; Dominick Guinn 31-6-1, “I bonded with my teammates, especially Vernon Forrest, Teaunce Shepherd and DaVarryl Williamson. I believe if I hadn’t left NMU a year early I would have had a better chance to make the Olympic team”. Francisco Palacios, 18-0, the #3 cruiserweight. “It was good and hard, but cold, especially being from Puerto Rico. “I got along with everyone like family. I was the oldest but the newest member.” Teon Kennedy 13-0-1, Nate James 2-0, getting his wins while in Germany sparring with Klitschko brothers. “It changed my life. All distractions were gone and complete focus. My wife Rosa is in the nursing program there now”; Adrien Broner 11-0, “I only spent about two months there, before turning pro,” who is an exciting banger with Golden Boy; Sechew Powell 25-2; Dat Nguyen 17-1, “A lot more confident and with a national team at that level. I put too much pressure on myself to succeed. I did well at school.” Jessie Carradine 4-0; Ray Robinson 11-0, said “it was really good there. I sparred with different style boxers. I traveled a lot. Al Mitchell taught us to get up at 5 and run at 5:30”. Malik Scott 32-0; Rudy Cisneros 11-2-1; Zahir Raheem 29-3; Chuckie Mussachio 13-1-2 (2x NACB champion at Lock Haven), “Good time. Free education and got to meet a lot of good people that I applied to in my profession. Sparring was the best. Good conditioning”. Shaun George 18-3-2; Jaidon Codrington 19-2; Clarence Vinson 17-2; Omar Henry 5-0 and Dennis Hasson 8-0, “everything was laid out for you whether it was the conditioning or what meals you were to eat. You couldn’t beat the structure set by Al Mitchell and David Reid”. Roberto Benitez, 6-0, just had his first fight in three years in September an impressed winning a 6 round decision. Rock 15-0 and Tiger Allen 3-0 and Ricky Williams 15-2.
Some of the boxers not active at this time are the following: Mark Burse 11-8-1; Chad Aquino 7-0-1. “I was all boxing and didn’t realize the education was as good as it was. I met life long friends there”. David Jackson 9-1; Dana Rucker 13-5; Vaughn Bean 45-6, Dave Pareja 6-2, Robert Geer 2-3; Tommie Stepp 0-1; Jimmie Zeikle 37-11-1; Derrell Dixon 12-5; Frank Gentile 3-1; Dustin Kim 19-7; Ray Biggs, Jr. 9-0; Saeed Hawkins 12-0; Teaunce Shepherd 4-0; LeChaunce Shepherd 4-1; Tim Skolnik 1-0; Donta Woods 3-0; Maxwell Taylor 13-2-1; Francisco Tafoya 5-1; Doug Gray 14-5-2, Mike Rafferty 10-1-1 and Van Oscar Penoveroff 4-0.
Jesse Briseno was the 1990 and 2002 National GG champ; Vernon Forrest was the 1992 World Championships champion; 1992 produced 5 National PAL champions in Larry Nicholson (ass’t coach 99-07), LeChaunce Shepherd, Briseno, Dixon (1993-94 US Am champ) and Pheotis Upshaw. Same year had two Junior National champs in Chad Kirby and Abayomi Miller. 1994 Mike Nunally and Rucker were GG champs; 1995 Reid was Pan Am Gold winner and 1996 Olympic Gold winner; Raheem was a team member on 1996 Olympic team; Mitchell and Williamson were National GG champs in 1996; Mark Burse and Williamson were alternates on the 1996 team; 1997 Clarence Vinson and David Jackson were Gold winners at US Nationals; 1997 Roberto Benitez won under 19 US championships; Anthony Stewart 1996-97 US am champion; 1998 Dominick Guinn and Williamson won gold at US Nationals; 1999 Brian Viloria, Vinson, Malik Scott and Benitez were US National champions; 1999 GG National champs were Viloria, Benitez, Taylor and Guinn; 1999 World Champion was Viloria; 199 US Challenge Gold went to Mahlon Kerwick, Viloria and Vinson, 2000 Everlast US Champions were Benitez and Lechaunce Shepherd; Teon Kennedy 2006 National GG champ.
In the 2007 US Olympic Trials Bruno Escalante won a Bronze medal. In 2008 US National champions DeRae Crane and Gregory Carter won Silver medals. “Both Crane and Carter will be entering the US Army,” said Mitchell.
Many fighters who came through the program didn’t turn pro like Samson “Quiet Storm” Guillermo, Davin King, Reynaldo and Ricky Alvarez, Manuel Lopez, Rafael Santos, Greg Cuyler, Hank Markin, David Clark, Frisco Baggio, Keola McKee, Walter Sarnori, Vincent Montoya, Ray Rivera, Joseph Silva, Francisco Tafoya, Courtney Patterson, Troy Randall, Karoz Norman, Kelly Wright, Mahon Kerwick, Eric Fagan, Dino Oliver, Jerome Booker, Troy Porter, Mack McLin, Karoz Norman, Todd Gile, Doug Boliantz, Kelly Wright, Edwin Ferguson, Adrian Sarmiento, Eric Fagon, Dino Oliver, Isaiah Williams-Windley and Jacob Gentry.
Dennis Hasson talked about two of the top boxers there who never turned professional. The first was Eric Kelly, from Brooklyn, who was the 165# National GG champion in 1999, Two-time Junior Olympic National Champion and the Under-19 National champion. He was also the 2000 Olympic alternate. He earned his BA in English, and is currently becoming a successful entrepreneur as a fashion designer. “Knowing Eric Kelly has been a great pleasure for me and many others of the programs athletes. He is truly one of a kind and always tells it like it is. You could put this guy on a stage in front of a crowd and he will entertain! I remember us new young guys in my first year of the program all naturally took ka liking to him for his unique wardrobes and his humorist personality, hence his nick name “Erixtraordinary”. “We could have easily turned that place into a documentary or a movie. We were the best ever. The footage we have and the memories are surreal”, said Kelly.
The other was Anthony Stewart, from Chicago. Multiple national and international champion at 178#-201 1997 Gold at US nationals and the Muhammad Ali Cup. In 1998 the Silver at the Nationals and Gold at the US Challenge). “He’s a two time Olympic alternate and in my eyes would have been a world champion for he had more of a pro style. He retired and came back at 33 years old, dropped down from 230 and made 178, in an attempt to make the 2004 team. He had one warm up fight three weeks before the US Nationals fighting Devin Vargas, the eventual heavyweight Olympian, on a Wisconsin show at a catch weight. He floored him three times in a balls to the wall slugout which seemed like a sure thing win, however he didn’t get the decision. Following that was the US Championships which was the first entrance for the Olympic trials. It appeared that everyone seemed to be surprised to see him back and at 178. He hammered out three really good guys to start the tournament off and looked like he was on his way to a championship until he bumped heads with the favorite Andre Ward 8-8 on a tie breaker in the quarter-finals. I thought he won.”
Mitchell was awarded 1988 “Coach of the Year” in Philadelphia; 1992 Marquette Senior H.S. Parent of the Year; 1994 USA Boxing’s Coach of the Year; 1996 Head Olympic Boxing Coach; 1997 “Olympic Ring of Gold Award” Person of the Year and 2004 Olympic Team Technical Advisor. He currently has Jesse Hart on the team, who is the son of Philadelphia legend, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart. “I have Anthony Stewart, Dave Reid and Luis Gomez helping me with the coaching,” said Mitchell.
Former boxers now coaches at NMU are Mike Vail at Atlanta PAL who was coach of the year there. Doug Gray is in upstate New York running a gym and fitness center. Ricky Ray Taylor has the BOXERDRILLZ.COM program and had over 140 amateur fights.
Coach Mitchell summed up his boxing experience: I had gotten started in boxing growing up at 18th & Norris in North Philadelphia. Fred Jenkins at the ABC Recreation Center taught me a lot about money and management. We worked together with the young boxers at the gym for years. After we parted ways I took the kids who came to me to still train them to Fairmount Park. Fortunately it was the summer time. Jack Costello of the Harrowgate Gym in Philly told me to bring any kids I had and train at his gym. This was 8-10 black kids into a white area of the city and he made it home to us. He was an unbelievable person. When he got sick and passed on I was at NMU. I cried when I got the news. I learned a lot from people like Sloan Harrison and Woody Marcus (AAU). Wesley Mouzon once told me he saw me work the corner on television and said I was a heck of a coach. Coming from him meant a lot. Moses Mosely and Al Fennel were two others. As a matter of fact Fennel helped me when David Reid turned pro. I wanted him to go with another trainer but he insisted. In the 2000 Olympics I had four boxers in Jermain Taylor, David Jackson, Brian Viloria and Clarence Vinson. I had worked with both the 1996 and 2004 team as a coach. I got a chance to travel the world through boxing. David Reid has come to NMU and is one of my assistant coaches.
They say boxing can be an education in many ways that are good and bad. Northern Michigan is a place where you can learn or continue your boxing and get a good education. A combination you cannot beat.