Lorenzo Simp­son still swing­ing for the top

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Erica L. Green

When Lorenzo “Truck” Simp­son stepped into the box­ing ring six years ago for his first na­tional cham­pi­onship fight, the emo­tional bag­gage of his mur­dered men­tor weighed on his mind.

The then 10-year-old was a year into train­ing at Up­ton Box­ing Cen­ter and some won­dered whether he’d con­tinue the line of great box­ers to come out of Bal­ti­more.

Lorenzo knew he needed to punch his way through the pain — phys­i­cal and men­tal — to prove him­self.

To­day, the 16-year-old has knocked out any doubts.

Nowa­days, the only weight he car­ries are 165 pounds of mus­cle and a three­p­ound gold medal from the Ju­nior Olympics Na­tional Box­ing Tour­na­ment, as well as the high ex­pec­ta­tions that come with cap­tur­ing more ama­teur cham­pi­onship ti­tles than Os­car De La Hoya and the at­ten­tion of world cham­pion Floyd May­weather.

“There are a lot of peo­ple talk­ing about

“There are a lot of peo­ple talk­ing about me. But I just laugh a lot, smile a lot and stay fo­cused.”

me,” said Lorenzo, a sheep­ish smile spread­ing across his face, on a re­cent day at Up­ton Box­ing Cen­ter on Pennsylvania Av­enue. “But I just laugh a lot, smile a lot and stay fo­cused.”

It was at Up­ton, a West Bal­ti­more haven for Bal­ti­more youth that has pro­duced some of the city’s most ac­com­plished ama­teur box­ers, that Lorenzo was given the nick­name “Truck” for the shape of his head. Now the name adorns T-shirts and trends as a hash­tag.

Hewent from hang­ing around the box­ing cen­ter watch­ing and em­u­lat­ing his un­cle, for­mer pro­fes­sional boxer and heavy­weight world cham­pion, Hasim Rahman Sr., to tak­ing on his own six-day-a week train­ing.

It’s a sched­ule he has main­tained for six years since his mother al­lowed him to start box­ing, hop­ing it would be an out­let for the anger that haunted him af­ter his fa­ther’s mur­der and man­i­fested it­self in ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior at home and at school.

A 2011 Bal­ti­more Sun ar­ti­cle doc­u­mented how Lorenzo’s box­ing ac­com­plish­ments trans­formed his ex­pe­ri­ence at City Springs Ele­men­tary/Mid­dle School in East Bal­ti­more, where he be­came a star af­ter he won the first of six Ring­side Na­tional Sil­ver Gloves Cham­pi­onship ti­tles. He won that ti­tle the same week his gym­mate Ron­ald T. Gibbs, a promis­ing ama­teur boxer known as “Rock,” was stabbed to death.

“Back at that time, it was just a sport for me, and I had a lot to prove,” Lorenzo said. “Now, I see it could be a ca­reer.”

Up­ton’s lead coach, Calvin Ford, sees even more.

He’s pre­par­ing the nine-time na­tional cham­pion with a near-flaw­less 161-2 record for the 2020 Olympics. Lorenzo will be the most dec­o­rated ama­teur he’s ever taken to the U.S. tri­als.

In ad­di­tion to win­ning gold in this year’s Ju­nior Olympics in Dal­las, Lorenzo was named “Most Out­stand­ing Male Boxer” of the more than 900 youth who com­peted in the tour­na­ment. He is cur­rently ranked first na­tion­ally in his weight class by USA Box­ing.

He won his last Na­tional Sil­ver Gloves Cham­pi­onship — De La Hoya had five — in Fe­bru­ary af­ter win­ning three fights in three Lorenzo “Truck” Simp­son trains with box­ing coach Calvin Ford of Lex­ing­ton Ter­race. Simp­son won a gold medal at the Ju­nior Olympics Na­tional Box­ing Tour­na­ment in July. days. He took the Ju­nior Olympic gold in July af­ter win­ning three fights in four days.

“This city, we’ve had good box­ers, but every­body says Truck is the one,” Ford said. “You can just feel it. You can see it.”

May­weather, widely rated as one of the great­est box­ers of all time, agrees.

He was be­ing in­ter­viewed by TMZ, the celebrity news web­site, at a box­ing event in Wash­ing­ton last March, when sud­denly his gaze shifted to the crowd be­hind the cam­era. He pointed at some­one in the crowd.

“That kid can fight right there, I can tell,” said May­weather, com­pletely ig­nor­ing the ques­tion.

Be­fore he even knew Lorenzo’s name and sum­moned him for­ward to size up his frame, May­weather in­sisted Lorenzo had the goods. “I can see it,” May­weather said. When told of Lorenzo’s record, May­weather turned to his en­tourage and said: “I told you!”

The boxer turned pro­moter told Lorenzo he’d be the next ad­di­tion to his heavy­weight team and said he would sign him when he

Lorenzo “Truck” Simp­son

turned 18.

The en­tire ex­change, which made na­tional head­lines, was cap­tured on video and is avail­able on YouTube.

“It was cool. He is just a good guy. And we’re cool,” Lorenzo said.

This sum­mer, May­weather in­vited Lorenzo to train at his Ve­gas gym, which he did in July.

Lorenzo says very lit­tle about his ac­com­plish­ments, but in me­dia in­ter­views af­ter his wins, and on his fan page on­line, there’s one con­sis­tent mes­sage: “Thank you, Bal­ti­more.”

“I just want peo­ple who come be­hind me to know that we can make it,” Lorenzo said.

His mother, Danica Ward, moved out of the city three years ago af­ter Lorenzo’s older brother was jumped walk­ing home from school.

Af­ter Lorenzo’s fa­ther was killed — he won his gold medal 12 years and a day af­ter the an­niver­sary of his fa­ther’s mur­der dur­ing a home in­va­sion while Lorenzo and his sib­lings were in school — Ward vowed that she wouldn’t lose an­other one of her black men to vi­o­lence.

“I love Bal­ti­more,” she said. “But we had to go.”

The fam­ily now lives in Reis­ter­stown, and Lorenzo at­tends Franklin High School, where he has a 3.1 grade point av­er­age.

Ward re­mains her son’s big­gest fan, but she hasn’t lost sight of why she got him in­volved in box­ing in the first place.

“I never thought I’d wake up one day and have my son be a Ju­nior Olympic Cham­pion,” she said. “I never put my sons in sports to make a ca­reer of it, I just put them in it to stay fo­cused and out of the streets. So, if it turns into that, that’s a bonus. I don’t care what he does with it, as long as he’s here.”

Lorenzo still talks ev­ery­day to his mid­dle school prin­ci­pal, Rhonda Richetta, who he said was “al­ways like fam­ily, al­ways cared, and was al­ways there.”

Richetta, who is still the prin­ci­pal at City Springs, said she has watched Lorenzo stay fo­cused and not fol­low some of his friends down the wrong path.

“I have stayed in touch with him be­cause I just knew he was go­ing to ac­com­plish big things,” she said. “He has, and it’s not over yet.”

Lorenzo has more than just the Olympic tri­als ahead, Ford said.

“All this recog­ni­tion — it’s a kiss and a curse at the same time, be­cause ev­ery­one’s look­ing at him and say­ing ‘I can get him,’ ‘I can get on him,’” Ford said. “It’s hard to keep that sta­tus.”

“He’s al­ready claimed vic­tory as an ama­teur,” he added. “But his job is to make sure he keeps his grades up, and stay away from the streets, and up­lift the city and so that the next kid can have some­thing to look for­ward to. That’s the goal.”

CAITLIN FAW/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

Lorenzo “Truck” Simp­son trains six days a week, stok­ing high ex­pec­ta­tions. Three years ago his fam­ily left Bal­ti­more for Reis­ter­stown, and Lorenzo at­tends Franklin High School, where he has a 3.1 grade point av­er­age.

CAITLIN FAW/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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