De’Andre Robinson-Neal sensed the disrespect as soon as he walked into the New York City gym.
“Since I was from South Carolina, they showed me no respect in that gym,” he said. “They thought, ‘Oh, he’s from South Carolina, so we’re not worried about him. We can rough him up.’ ”
South Carolina is not known for its fertile boxing ground, but De’Andre (11-0) is a boxer that transcends the state. As he fights for the UNBC Jr. Middleweight title on Saturday, De’Andre is drawing on his experience from traveling across the country to spar with experienced boxers and learn from them.
But going for his first professional belt in Columbia is still special to the Eau Claire graduate as he hopes to be the state’s boxing representative. His fight will be part of Main Event Fight Night 3, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Main Event Fitness Center.
“I just did what I did best, and I earned their respect,” De’Andre said of his recent visit to New York City. “Now they know this kid can really fight. That’s basically what I do a lot.”
The trainer for Luis Callazo, Dmitriy Salita and other professional boxers, Nirmal Lorick is an owner of the gym De’Andre visited in Brooklyn. Lorick said De’Andre isn’t far from being in televised bouts.
“He’s moving along at a good pace,” Lorick said. “He’s got a lot of ability, and time will tell how far he goes. I think he’s a few fights away from a TV fight.”
Before De’Andre learned to throw punches, he knew how to avoid them. When he first started boxing at 9, he’d exhaust an opponent by running around the ring and never getting hit. De’Andre said it’s more of a mental exhaustion than a physical one — a building frustration of repeatedly swinging and missing. It’s why he’s called “The Matrix.”
“Don’t touch me,” De’Andre said. “I don’t like to get hit. I’m like Neo from The Matrix.”
But eventually, De’Andre’s dad, trainer and manager, Dominic Robinson-Neal, taught his son a valuable lesson. In order to record wins, you not only need to avoid getting hit — you also need to hit the other guy.
Dominic was a professional boxer and served 20 years in the military. From his experience, he was able to train De’Andre, and part of that experience was recognizing De’Andre, in order to develop, needed to fight better boxers than the pool in South Carolina. The two frequently drove to gyms along the East Coast. Sometimes they’d be in the car for hours to go to a gym for 30 minutes, and then turn around and drive back.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to do that because you’ve got to go pick up skills and training from other fighters who are good,” said Billy Stanick of White Rock Boxing in Columbia. “De’Andre should be able to go a long way.”
De’Andre hasn’t lost a bout since he was 16, and when he turned pro at 17, it was illegal for him to have sanctioned fights in South Carolina because the minimum age to get a boxing license in the state is 18. He once had to take a 15-passenger van for a fight in Arkansas with his dad and a group of his friends. After he won, he cleaned up and filed back into the van to head back to Columbia.
Saturday’s fight won’t have those logistical difficulties, but there’s also added pressure with De’Andre being on his turf.
“It’s always better to fight at home because you know a lot of people that’s coming, but at the same time it’s kind of nerve-wrecking because you know everybody that’s in the crowd,” De’Andre said. “You’ve got to put on a show for everybody that you know.”
Now 19, things have become more sophisticated for De’Andre. With East Coast Truck and Trailer Repair as a sponsor, long car rides have turned into quick flights for the Robinson-Neals. De’Andre said he’s doing well from a financial standpoint with boxing, and Dominic said the most he’s made for a single fight is about $6,500.
De’Andre wants to box until he doesn’t have to anymore. Ideally, he’d like to retire at 30 with enough money for him to lead a comfortable life as an entrepreneur. He has a management team that’s run by Dominic. He even has a nutritionist.
Though things have changed and the travel has gotten easier, home is still sweet to return to every time. It’s where he trains, plays video games with his dad and hopes to claim his first title as a professional. It’s what he represents when he steps into the ring.
“South Carolina is not really a boxing state, so I’ve been going around and earning respect,” De’Andre said. “Everyone’s looking at me and saying, ‘All right, they’ve got something blossoming over there.’ When people think of South Carolina boxing, they think of me.”