February 2001: The Battle of Troy
6 February 2001 – Toronto Star
By Morgan Campbell
“It only takes one second to lose everything that you trained for. I’d been training for the Olympics for the last four years. All of a sudden, one match – not even eight minutes – it was all taken away from me.” – Troy Ross
Troy Ross is getting warm now. His ebony skin glistens with sweat and he grunts as he sends low, hard shots at a black leather heavy bag.
He fires an overhand left, then steps around the bag as it swings. A right-left-right, then he dances away again.
On a Monday night at the Premier Boxing Club in Brampton, the 25-year-old former Olympian wishes he was preparing for a professional fight. But he isn’t. He’s just trying to stay in shape.
Before the Sydney Olympics, promoters followed Ross from tournament to tournament, hoping to sign him once he turned pro. But since losing his first fight at the Sydney Games, Ross has struggled to secure a suitable contract offer. For now, the five-time national amateur champion is a fighter without a fight.
“It has been a little bit frustrating,” says Ross, who wants to make his pro debut by the end of the month. “But I have to make the right deal and I’ve got to make sure that I can secure myself with the right people.”
It’s not that promoters have lost interest in Ross. According to his cousin and de facto adviser Egerton Marcus, numerous contracts have been offered. The problem is that after his controversial knockout loss in Sydney, Ross has lost bargaining power.
“It takes away an option when you don’t win a medal,” says Marcus, a professional boxer who won a silver medal for Canada in the 1988 Olympics. “He’s still a top athlete and they’re going to want him for next to nothing.”
Having an Olympic medal makes any boxer more valuable. Example: the U.S. cable network HBO recently spent $2.75 million (U.S.) on signing bonuses for six Olympians – five Americans and one from the Dominican Republic – who made their debut as professionals on Jan. 27.
Ross solicits advice from family – his father Charles and brother Shawn are former pro boxers – but Troy says he alone will decide when and with whom he signs a pro contract. Marcus respects Ross’s autonomy, but counsels his cousin to bargain hard and choose carefully.
“People are not going to give you what you’re worth, but you have to convince them that you deserve it,” Marcus says.
Ross returned to Toronto from Sydney on Oct. 5 and planned to turn pro on Oct. 20 on a card that was subsequently cancelled. Two weeks may seem like a short break between the Olympics and a pro debut, but for Dewith Fraser, Ross’s trainer, the days couldn’t pass quickly enough.
“The longer Troy stays outside the ring, the more sympathy people start to feel for him, and he doesn’t need that,” says Fraser, Ross’s trainer for 13 years. “I personally believe the quicker he gets in the ring, the better because he has already waited four years. Four years ago he was ready to turn professional.”
Ross reached the light-heavyweight quarterfinals at the 1996 Olympics, but didn’t win a medal. Instead of turning pro after Atlanta, he began training for the Sydney Games. To him, the four extra years as an amateur weren’t a gamble, but an investment that would pay off when he won a gold medal (Sports Illustrated actually picked him to win the silver). For Ross, the 2000 Olympics lasted less than six minutes.
In his only Olympic bout Ross met Nigerian Jegbefumere Albert and fell behind in the first round. By Round 3 the fight was tied 7-7.
Ross was looking for the right cross when a short left hook to the chin sent him sprawling to the canvas.
He blinked, stared at the ceiling, and got up at the count of six. The referee stopped the bout anyway.
Ross protested to the ref, but the fight was finished and Ross, again, left the Olympics without a medal.
Ross sits on the apron of the ring after an hour-long workout. In front of him the club’s name is written in white letters on a bright red wall, just above a row of photos of boxing legends: Muhammad Ali, Michael Spinks, Larry Holmes, George Foreman.
Ross peeks up at the pictures as he removes the sweat-soaked gauze wrapped around his hands.
“I figure in four years I should have a world title,” he says. “If I don’t have that world title I’ll have to basically go back and look at what I’ve done wrong.”
And things can go wrong. At the far right of the row of photos is a picture of 1984 Olympic silver medalist Shawn O’Sullivan shadowboxing in a white T-shirt. In his 12th pro bout, O’Sullivan faced world-ranked welterweight Simon Brown, who was 22-1 at the time. In the third round of that bout, Brown trapped O’Sullivan in a corner and rained punches on him until the referee stepped in and declared Brown the winner by technical knockout.
Fraser hopes whoever steps in to manage Ross doesn’t try to similarly fast-track the fighter to a title.
The gauze is off of Ross’s hands now and a reporter marvells at the scar tissue in the grooves of his knuckles. Ross says it’s normal and that his hands look good compared with most other boxers he knows.
Ross doesn’t need to box. The Ross Wear clothing company he runs with his brother Charles is doing very well. So, a visitor asks Ross, why does he keep boxing?
Ross pauses, then replies: “I’ve been boxing since I was eight years old. If I don’t try turning pro, I’ll always wonder how good I could have been.
“I don’t want to have to wonder. I’m young now. I’m in shape now. I can do it now.”
|Copyright ©2001 Toronto Star|