|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - May 05, 2015|
Heavyweights Amir Mansour, 21-1, 16 KOs, and Joey Dawejko, 14-3-2, 7 KOs, are scheduled to square off Friday night for the vacant Pennsylvania state championship in the hottest Philly matchup of the year. The 10-rounder is expected to pack South Philly’s 2300 Arena and offer up serious thumps and drama for a national TV audience watching at home on ESPN2.
For local boxing fans, this is a match made in heaven, with scowling knockout artist “Hardcore” Mansour in one corner, and a smiling Joey “The Tank” across the way. Mansour’s reputation offers the possibility of another brutal beat down, while Dawejko’s recent winning streak suggests that he’s finally decided to try to reach his potential as a boxer.
It’s a fight that both men need to win and one that both can win, but as always is the case in boxing, something’s got to give when the bell rings.
Outside the square, these are two of the nicer guys on the local scene, but ambition and circumstance have pitted them against each other. In the preceding months, the bout has become a grudge fight – between the fighters, their camps, and their respective fan bases. Everyone is invested in this fight and that is what makes it feel like Friday might be a very special night for Philly boxing.
There are two basic schools of thought on this match.
The first says that Joey Dawejko, a floundering underachiever until 2014, has bitten off far more than he can chew in Mansour, a fighter who has seen more pro bouts against a generally higher level of competition, and scored many frightening knockouts along the way.
However the opposing view on Mansour-Dawejko says that Joey, a decorated amateur, has always had the talent to make it to the top of the pros, and that Mansour is just another over-hyped bully who runs out of ideas when his punch doesn’t send him home early.
I’m not sure if either theory is true, but Friday’s fight might just supply an answer. That’s why Philly is buzzing about the fight and the unsuspecting ESPN2 audience just may be in for a treat with this one.
The fight has blown up on social media with shots fired from both sides. One of the testiest arguments has been about Dawejko’s ever-growing facial hair. As his current six-fight winning streak unfolded, Joey’s prickly beard sprouted in every direction and decorated his face like an upside down crown.
A month or so ago, Mansour took exception to the growth and insisted that Dawejko’s beard must go by fight night.
“There’s a reason why the boxing rules say he’s not allowed to come into the ring with his beard over a certain length,” Mansour said. “I want it shaved. I want him uncomfortable. He isn’t going to hide behind that beard.”
Dawejko, away at training camp in California, was surprised to hear that his beard was causing such a fuss.
“If he was the fighter that he says he is, he wouldn’t be worried about it,” Dawejko said. “I really think he’s worried about me. He’s worried about what I’m doing with my beard. He should be worried about what I’m doing with my fists. I think Mansour didn’t want to fight me in the first place, and I think he was always looking for excuses to get out of the fight.”
Regardless of Joey’s reluctance to trim his whiskers, it appears that he won’t have a choice. The PA Commission has stated that the beard, or most of it, must be gone by May 8th.
Dawejko’s claim that Mansour did not want this fight may be true, but not necessarily for the reason’s he suggests. Mansour, who has won regional belts in the past and has fought former champs and contenders during his rise, sees himself as having a much sharper downside with the Dawejko fight.
“Shortly after my November 8th fight, this kid was talking about he wanted to fight me,” Mansour said. “I guess he thought he saw something that he felt he could challenge or beat me. So shortly after that, him and his manager started campaigning to fight me. And then when we got the ESPN date, nobody (else) would fight me. But lo and behold, this kid said he would fight me. In the beginning, I really didn’t want it. I wanted to fight a bigger name. But, you know, at the end of the day, you got to take what comes to you. You want to fight. It don’t matter who it is. You just want to fight; you want to stay busy.”
So the fight was made and slotted into one of the final dates for the popular “Friday Night Fights” series on ESPN2.
“He didn’t think that I was the right opponent for some reason,” Dawejko said. “He wanted more of a name opponent. I’m going to prove to him that it doesn’t matter where I’m ranked right now, I’m just a contender.”
Dawejko’s chase of Mansour and Amir’s understandable disinterest in a bout with a “no win situation” feel to it, added a grudge flavor to this already tasty fight.
“Social media made it that way,” Dawejko said. “It wasn’t necessarily me and him talking, but it was the people around us. It kind of is a grudge fight. He trains out of Philly. So we could call him a Philly guy. We’re two of the top fighters in Philly. So, the better man is going to win that night.”
“When I go into the ring, I don’t personally have anything against an opponent,” Mansour said. “I mean this kid never did anything to me. I’m from the streets. You have to really do something to me for me to dislike you. A lot of the things he was saying, and even the audacity to come at me… that sparks a fire. But on a personal level, we’re all businessmen. We’re all good human beings. You know, at the end of the day, nobody’s really angry at another person.”
Still, tempers are simmering. Both fighters show signs of resentment. Mansour only refers to Dawejko as “this kid”, and Joey seems to take every opportunity to poke at Amir. Real or theater, it’s helping to sell the fight.
In his last outing, Dawejko starched Enobong Umohette in just 27 seconds with Mansour at ringside doing commentary for that fight’s TV broadcast. It was the perfect set up for their May 8th meeting.
“Everything was riding on that fight,” Dawejko said of his fourth consecutive opening-round KO. “That fight (result) was whether I was fighting Mansour or not. So having a big impact like that, knocking him out like that, it just made it that much more special.”
As soon as the fight was set, Dawejko left for California to begin training camp and to work for the first time with his new trainer, Buddy McGirt.
“From the first day I got out there, Buddy McGirt had a game plan for me, and we’ve been following it ever since,” Dawejko said. “It’s different because a lot of guys think you have to put so much into it. Buddy’s kind of teaching us that you don’t. It’s just basically that you have to use your mind, and the rest just fits right in. Basically it’s more strategic and working with the game plan.”
The new regimen has resulted in a seemingly better-conditioned Dawejko. Training was always his shortcoming, but not so with this camp.
“For the fight, I’m saying I’m going to be in the mid-220s,” Dawejko said of his projected fight weight. “I’ll be lighter than my last fight and a lot lighter than fights in the past,” he said with a laugh. “It’s helping me a lot. Buddy’s giving me confidence every day with what he’s showing me. The things that he’s shown me, I believe in, I trust them.”
Meanwhile, Mansour has stuck with his usual no-frills Spartan lifestyle, working hard daily at Philadelphia’s Joe Hand Boxing Gym.
“I’m pretty much a hermit,” Mansour said. “I come to the gym, I go straight home. I don’t hang out. I don’t socialize with a lot of people. Every time we prepare for a fight, we prepare as if this is a championship fight. We go into every fight never underestimating our opponent, never underestimating their record. You know, I don’t take his three losses for granted at all. He could have been out of shape, he could have been off his game plan, whatever. He could come in May 8th and fight the best fight of his life. You know what I’m saying? I have to train as if this guy is going to come in and fight the best fight of his life.”
Mansour has been in tough before, especially in last year’s “Philly Fight of the Year” against Steve Cunningham. In the breathtaking bout, Mansour floored Cunningham twice, but lost the 10-round verdict.
“The learning experience was huge,” Mansour said. “We just went back to the drawing board and really built everything from the ground up. Each time you see me fight, you see progression. So my advantage here, entering this fight (with Dawejko), is the look that they’re gonna get is a look that nobody’s seen before. So you really can’t prepare for Amir Mansour right now. You’re going to see a whole new different quality of fighter. You’re going to see a whole different style. You’re going to see me doing a lot of things you never seen me do before.”
“I think he’s a good fighter,” Dawejko said. “He’s a good puncher. He’s a little quicker than people know. But I have all the tools and I have the skills to be able to beat him. He’s never beaten a legitimate contender. I don’t think he’s the fighter that he thinks he is. He’s not at the top and he thinks that he is.”
Mansour, 42, believes that he brings much more to the table than his 24 year old opponent.
“My skill set,” Mansour identified as his key asset. “I just don’t feel as though there’s anything that this kid can possibly pick up within a couple of months in order to beat me, from a skill point of view. Like I said, he’s got power, but he ain’t got the type of power that I have. And he’s never been in the ring with any opposition even remotely close to me.”
“A lot of people don’t realize how smart I am,” Dawejko said. “I’m taking this fight and I’m focusing 100%. So, everything that’s going on outside of my training is not affecting me whatsoever. Like this stuff with the beard, and people saying that he’s going to knock me out, that I’m nobody, and I’m fat, and all that – it’s not going to mean anything. I’m just going to go out there and do what I have to do to get the win. It’s not going to affect me at all.”
The debate continues.
“He punches hard, but so does my mother,” Mansour said. “He has good power, you know what I mean? So of course I’m not going to stand there and let him go upside my head. The only thing he has is, I think he carries his weight good. His physique is very deceptive in terms of what he can really do on his feet and with his hands. He has a nice punch and he has some good speed. Good foot speed as well. But obviously so do I. “
“He’s a great puncher,” Dawejko said of Mansour. “He swings a lot of wild shots. I know that I can get under them and get to him. I have a whole game plan and I’m ready to go, but the number one thing overall is to outsmart him.”
That’s exactly what Cunningham did. He endured Mansour’s heavy artillery and went on to outbox the bruiser over the course of the fight. This will be the first time Dawejko has been scheduled for a ten rounder. He’s shown stamina issues in previous shorter fights, but says that was then.
“I’ve always wanted to fight a 10-round fight,” Dawejko said. “And now that I’m actually in the mindset and in shape to fight ten rounds, it makes it even better. I’m working hard out here. I’m ready to go ten rounds with anybody.”
“One thing I don’t do as a fighter is underestimate any man,” Mansour said. “If this guy had zero wins and thirty losses, I still would train like my life depended on it. Because any time you go in that ring with heavyweights, anything can happen. I want to be considered a great fighter. And when you’re on a quest for greatness and not just a paycheck, you can’t limit yourself by the quality of opponents. Like I said, in the heavyweight division, one punch can change the whole fight – can change the whole night, can change your whole career. And so, you can’t go in there underestimating any man.”
The fight is important to both boxers. An impressive victory on TV and before the Philly fight fans could propel the winner forward into a big fight, while the loser might just find themselves at a dead end.
“It means a lot,” Dawejko said of the spotlight the bout will receive. “It’s going to be the first time everybody is going to be able see my skills. And Amir Mansour, people do know him. So, it’s going to be great exposure for me when I beat him.”
“Any televised fight is important for a fighter to get exposed, to get their name out there,” Mansour said. “I think my ESPN debut is long overdue. But it is what it is. I know when I enter that ring, it’s going to be a packed house. I don’t let the lights and the camera and the action get into my head. I don’t focus on that at all. I focus on the task at hand.”
“I have a lot of people coming,” Dawejko said. “There’s going to be a lot of people there for him and there’s going to be a lot of people there for me. So it doesn’t really add any pressure on me, because I’ve fought in front of crowds before. I’m just ready to go out there and do my thing.”
And when that bell rings, the fight could play out exactly the way we all like to see heavyweight fights play out.
“I believe that the quality of knockouts that I have can really go up against any knockout in the history of boxing,” Mansour said. “Some of the knockouts that I have are very brutal. Since day one that I started working with Moses (trainer Howard Mosley aka Moses Robinson), one of the things that he taught me is pin-point accuracy. I do have a lot of power, but one of my gifts is being trained to punch accurately, and to land that shot exactly where it needs to be landed.”
“I see him coming out and trying to kill me within the first couple rounds,” Dawejko said. “We’re preparing for everything – whether he’s going to box, whether he’s going to bang, whether he’s going to do whatever he wants. You never know until the first bell rings, but I’m prepared for everything that he brings. It doesn’t matter what he brings.”
“It’s frustrating at times when you know that you should be mixing it up with the top five in the world,” Mansour said. “It’s frustrating when you’re at ringside and you’re watching two heavyweights fight for the championship of the world and you know that you belong in there with them. It gets frustrating, but the only thing I can do is to keep winning when I get in that ring. Keep performing.”
“I’m just going to go in and put on the best performance of my career,” Dawejko said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I can’t wait.”
And neither can anyone else!