The subject of this profile is a highly touted young prospect who everyone on the Minnesota boxing scene knows a little bit about, but about whom no one seems to know much.
Willshaun Devon Boxley was born in 1981 in Indiana, then spent a few years of his childhood in Detroit before arriving in Minneapolis around the age of ten. Boxley considers himself a Minnesotan, though he draws a distinction between his residency in Minnesota and native born citizenship.
Boxley’s interest in boxing, like himself, was born in Indiana. “I always knew that I was going to be a good boxer, even when I was a boy. I was just a good little Christian boy in Elkhart, Indiana but…you know, sometimes you just know without even trying that you’re going to be good at something…I just knew.”
When Boxley began his amateur career in 2000 he was already a young adult. Over seven years he compiled a record of 45-15 or so – “Ballpark,” he says. “Your book gets lost sometimes! I always just say that I had about sixty fights and lost about fifteen of them,” he explains. Other accomplishments as an amateur include 3 Upper Midwest Golden Gloves championships, 5 trips to the Golden Gloves national tournament including 3 trips to the quarterfinals, and 2 USA 4-State championships.
Like every other young pro ever interviewed, Boxley feels that his style is better suited to the pros than the amateurs. He has let go of that amateur past, saying “I still love those guys at COD [Circle of Discipline, his amateur gym in Minneapolis], but I don’t want to stay caught up in the amateur scene. This,” he says, gesturing expansively at the interior of the little ACR Gym in Coon Rapids, “this is where I am now.” Boxley is unusually soft spoken but he exudes confidence, becoming animated and frequently leaving his seat to demonstrate strategies and punch sequences.
Why go pro? Boxley is quick to acknowledge that some of the best fighters he faced as an amateur have given up on fighting without turning pro. “A lot of guys do it just to say, ‘Son, I used to fight. I used to do it. I was in Golden Gloves.’ Not me. I want people to look me up, to know who I am. I want to leave a legacy.” Later Boxley continues down the same path: “I got an old-school heart with a new-school game. I’d like to fight ten times a year if I could. It can be done; Jason [Litzau] did it.” I pointed out to Boxley that Litzau has been a road warrior and ask whether Boxley is willing to travel so much. “Of course! I want to buy a home and live here, but party elsewhere.” [Editor’s note: in his busiest calendar year Litzau fought 8 times between December 5 of 2003 and December 3 of 2004, but Willshaun’s point is well taken.]
The internal drive of Willshaun Boxley is considerable. Those who follow the local scene are aware of his pride, his relentless self-promotion, and his reputed willingness to fight any potential foe – though few proposed bouts actually materialize. “My passion for boxing is amazing, even to me,” he acknowledges. It’s also clear that unlike some gifted fighters, Boxley is an enthusiastic fan of the sport. “I want my own gym. Once my career is going good I want a gym of my own.”
What kind of fighter is Boxley? “Nobody knows what I’m going to do in the ring. I’m unpredictable. That’s why I would hate to give anyone rematches, and that’s why I want to stop everybody, knock them all out.” Trainer Ron Lyke thinks Boxley has what it takes to do so. “Willshaun is talented as hell. He’s so talented, no one has ever really made him work. I’m trying to straighten him out, sort out his fundamentals, and get him to do things right. When he punches straight and keeps his weight back, doesn’t just use his arms but really does it right, he has as much punching power as some good super middleweights who work out here. He’s tripled his power in the two weeks since he started working out with me.” Says Boxley, “I don’t back up – I’m up front and center and I’m in your grill, or if I’m backing up I’m cracking you – BAM! BAM! BAM! – while I’m doing it.”
With introductions completed and the formal interview concluded, Boxley begins to prepare for six rounds of sparring with another good young pro. To the Fistic Mystic, he leans in and confides: “I want this guy to fight me, so I’m going to make him look good. Watch this.”
The sparring session is revealing. In the opposite corner is a good young pro, taller and lankier than the 5’3″ Boxley, a practitioner of the Mexican style of boxing: tremendous aggression mated with exceptional conditioning and a never-say-die attitude. Boxley is short, but he’s a big short. Instead of a delicately built, small-boned small man, he is one whose hands and feet are generously proportioned. Compact rather than tiny, Boxley is square shouldered and well-muscled. It’s easy to see him adding weight as his career progresses. The sparring match begins slowly, both men pushing their punches and taking it relatively easy in the first round. The second round sees both men accelerate their workrate and punch with greater earnestness. By the third, with his partner throwing cruel hooks to the body, Boxley begins to punch with more evil intent. One begins to suspect that he is holding something back. Boxley lays back on the ropes, rope-a-dope style, allowing his opponent to dig at his body like Ali in Zaire. He plays with a halfhearted peekaboo style in the manner of James Toney, then roars back to life with extended combinations of power shots like Tyson. He leans in to land single hooks and overhand punches from unlikely angles, emulating Pretty Boy Floyd Mayweather, and dances about the ring like Emmanuel Augustus.
All the clowning draws exasperated grins from onlookers. Afterwards when trainer Ron Lyke is asked what he saw from Boxley, Lyke responds sharply, “I saw Willshaun playing.” Pressed for more, Lyke goes on. “This is okay for now, for the kind of opponents he’s facing at this level. But when he steps up to a higher level this kind of shit isn’t going to fly. Willshaun wants to put on a good show, so he does all this stuff for the crowd. But people love knockouts, that’s what they want to see. I’m a fan, and that’s what I want to see. Knockouts sell tickets, and if Willshaun wants to, he can knock people out.”
The Fistic Mystic says: Willshaun Boxley has the potential to be a great ambassador for boxing in Minnesota. Fast and fluid with impressive natural athleticism, Boxley is a striking example of the relationship between quickness and speed: quickness relates to the rapidity with which one begins and completes a task, while speed relates to the swiftness with which one performs the task. Boxley fights with both quickness and speed, as well as with commendable power. Time and competition will reveal just how much of that other valued commodity, toughness, Willshaun Boxley possesses. Let’s keep an eye on this young man, and see how his career unfolds.