Momentum is a frequent flyer, and it often travels in disguise. Those who think they have it are often surprised to find that it has gone, and those who talk the most about it are sometimes the least attuned to it. Counterintuitive: Sometimes momentum is most easily recognized in hindsight.
In the spring of 2009 no fighter in the upper midwest had more momentum than Willshaun Boxley. The bantamweight from Coon Rapids was sporting a jaunty 5-0 record and had notched his career-best win, a six-round domination of then 12-7 Torrence Daniels, in January.
That victory against Daniels had marked Boxley as a serious professional boxer, drawing rave reviews from eyewitnesses. Boxley had beaten a veteran with a winning record and he had done so decisively. Boxley and Daniels “stole the show in a bout reminiscent of a high speed chess match,” wrote Jesse Kelley. Things were really looking up for the ultraconfident little powerhouse.
That’s when things began to go wrong. That’s when they usually do.
In June Boxley suffered a tough loss to out-of-towner Thomas Snow in a bout that exposed a weakness: Boxley struggles with dirty, foxy, clever fighters. Though Snow hardly laid a real lick on Boxley, he pulled off a scorecard victory by reducing the fight to what this writer referred to as a “touching contest.” Boxley’s next fight was staged outdoors and was rained out after two out of six rounds had been completed. The result was a no-decision. Subsequently Boxley seemed to lose his direction along with his momentum, taking on a quick succession of six hot prospects with a combined record of 50-1. Every single fight went down in the record books as a loss, though some stunk of fishy scoring and one in particular – a UD loss to Canadian Pier Olivier Cote – was booed by the crowd and mocked by broadcasters at ringside.
By the end of the summer of 2010 rumors were swirling that Boxley had retired from professional boxing. Though he never confirmed the rumor to me, he was enrolled in college at Moorhead State University, far from the big city and his old gym, and he seemed happy to let his situation speak for itself. It looked like one of the bright young stars of Minnesota boxing had flashed out, leaving behind only a trail of regrets and a 5-7 record.
Now comes word that Boxley has signed to fight again. Without any fanfare, Boxley’s name was penciled in last week to fight a 2-2 clubfighter from Washington state, Josh Dahl, in Winnipeg. I asked Boxley how it happened. “I was offered…to fight on that Showtime [ShoBox] card…against Mickey Bey Jr, but the price that was offered didn’t sound good against the prospect that I would fight. So I made a few calls to see if there was something else out there. It didn’t have to be better pay, but it had to make sense for the opponent that I would be facing. John Hoffman found something [for me].”
What about Boxley’s rumored retirement? “I didn’t even want another fight for a couple months; I really wanted to surprise everyone by being back on top of my game by training secretly. Plus right now I’m in school. [I’m training] at my school’s gym, but…there’s a new gym in Fargo owned by Jesse Barbot that I will start training at for upcoming fights until I move back to the Twin Cities.”
And that’s not all. Evidently the young man who used to call himself “The Fist of Legend” is interested in helping to train young fighters. “I’ve always trained, taught, and sparred with the kids and anyone else that need some help in whatever gym I was at, so it will not be a problem to help out at this new gym whenever I’m able to have a set schedule. It will lift my spirits.”
Visiting with Boxley is always illuminating. After dealing with the relentlessly self-promoting alter-ego, “The One,” the “Fist of Legend,” it’s easy to forget just how genuine the real Willshaun Boxley is. In a one-on-one situation Willshaun is unexpectedly unguarded, low-key and sometimes almost even humble.
What does the future hold for the man who a local promoter once called “the second best fighter in Minnesota?” It’s impossible to say. Like most fighters Boxley is a bit of a contrarian; if you think he should zig most likely he’ll want to zag. But here’s a pretty safe bet: the old swagger isn’t all gone. Willshaun Boxley has the skill set and the cocksure attitude to be very Emanuel Augustus-like, if that’s the role he decides to play. That means that it might not take more than a couple of quick wins to put momentum back into this young man’s corner.