|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - May 10, 2016|
Philadelphia is known for having a rich boxing history. Philly fighters, whether they are champions or not, are known as some of the most memorable warriors to ever lace on the gloves. So it is understandable that the City is buzzing lately, as a new crop of promising boxers embark on their professional careers.
The group includes Jaron Ennis, Joshua Jones, Christian Carto and a few others. All of them have either recently debuted or are on the brink of taking that first step toward their dream of becoming a professional world champion.
Leading the pack of these new young Philly lions is Germantown’s Darmani Rock, a heavyweight who has won almost every trophy, medal and honor available to a young amateur fighter. So for Darmani, it is time to move on to the next level.
“As an amateur, you can’t eat no medals,” Rock said “You can’t feed your family off no medals. It feels good to be pro now and getting paid for it.”
On Friday night, Rock, 20, makes his debut in a four rounder at the DC Armory. He faces Carlos Black, a 31 year old pro known as the “DC Diamond Cutter” with a 1-3 pro record.
Despite the fact that the bout is only a four round preliminary, the clash may still prove to be an auspicious occasion. The fight will be part of the two-hour nationally televised BET broadcast, which hints at Darmani Rock’s importance in the big scheme of things.
Another clue that Rock is something special are the many comparisons that have been made between the young fighter and top fighters of the past – including Muhammad Ali. Such hype can put pressure on a developing boxer, but Rock seems unfazed.
“I don’t put pressure on myself at all,” Rock said. “I just go out and do my job.”
Still, Rock doesn’t shy away from those comparisons.
“I would want to be better than Ali,” Rock said. “That’s what I want. I don’t want to be compared to him. I would want to be better than Ali.”
Rock cleaned up in the amateur ranks, especially in 2014 when he won one international competition after another. That’s when the comparisons to former fighters began.
“In 2014 when I won the Youth World Championships, in Bulgaria, that’s one of my biggest accomplishments.”
His great run that year also earned him the Briscoe Award as the “2014 Amateur of the Year”.
“It felt good to be honored at the Briscoe Awards because I always went to them and I always wanted to be honored at the Briscoe Awards, and last year was my time,” Rock said.
In 2015, Rock won the US National Amateur Super Heavyweight Championship, but was surprised at the Olympic Trials in December. He was the favorite to land a spot on the Olympic Team. However, Rock was eliminated before the end of the tournament, and it knocked him out of a trip to Rio. With his Olympic dreams dashed, Rock set his sights on the professional ranks.
“When I lost (in the Olympic Trials), I just looked at it as it wasn’t meant for me,” Rock said. “It wasn’t meant for me to go (to Rio). So, I didn’t beat myself up about it too much. I got over it. It wasn’t meant to be.”
In February, Rock signed a promotional contract with Jay Z’s Roc Nation, after sifting through a pile of offers.
“It was the best deal, but they were also talking about a lot of things that I liked,” Rock said. “Like making money outside the ring, marketing and stuff like that. I really liked that.”
The deal sets in motion a potentially exciting new chapter of Philly boxing history. The City already boasts Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston and Tim Witherspoon as former heavyweight champs.
“I know that the history is real deep in Philadelphia,” Rock said.
Recently, Philadelphians Bryant Jennings, Steve Cunningham and Eddie Chambers had serious campaigns for the heavyweight title. All three are still fighting, but have thus far been unable to bring the heavyweight championship back to Philly.
The launch of Rock’s career, opens the latest chapter in this tried and true storyline.
“My goal is to be heavyweight champ,” Rock said.
However, he refuses to get ahead of himself.
“But for my pro debut, my goal is to get in there and listen to my trainer, listen to my Dad,” Rock said. “I’m not going to do anything extra, just listen to him. That’s it.”
Rock is trained by his father, Wayne “Wiz” Rock. It’s been that way from the beginning. While in his mid-teens, Darmani went into a boxing gym to see if the sport fit.
“I was just trying different sports,” Rock said. “I didn’t mind boxing, I just didn’t want to go to the gym every day because I still wanted to run outside, play with my friends and stuff like that. I always went to the gym every day, but I didn’t WANT to be there. I really just fell in love with boxing like two years ago.”
As Rock began to win fights, he began to like boxing more and more.
“Yes, that had a lot to do with it.” Rock said. “I was winning a lot of stuff. A lot of people were doubting me. So, when you win and people doubt you, that feels good. But to tell you the truth, I don’t know how I fell in love with boxing. I just started loving it. I just started to love going to the gym. Everything was just coming along.”
Another thing that might have helped was that Darmani’s father set up a boxing gym just for him. Today the young heavyweight trains at the Rock Solid Boxing Gym, built for and named after him.
“It’s been running about two years now,” Rock said. “It feels good to have your own gym. This is my home.”
Now that all the pre-fight preparations are finished, Rock looks toward his coming out party in DC.
“I’m not nervous, I’m ready,” Rock said about Friday’s fight. “It feels good. Everyone is super excited about me turning pro. It hasn’t really hit me yet. I guess when I have my first fight it will hit me.”
After he gets this first fight under his belt, what does he expect will come next?
“No set plan,” Rock said. “I don’t know when the next time will be. I’ll do a couple fights a year. I’ll see how I feel after the first fight, I guess. I just want to leave the game with my head on right, take care of my family.”