In the back room of a Chapin boxing gym, Deandre Robinson-Neal lugs a sledgehammer past weight benches, a broken scale and several other training tools.
In the center of the room sits a rubber tractor tire, and for the next 45 seconds, the 17-year old, 154-pound chiseled boxer methodically raises the tool over his head and descends with brute force. He batters the unflinching tire 25 times in rapid succession, grunting and profusely sweating. Dominic Neal — the 45-year-old undefeated, retired professional boxer turned trainer extraordinaire for his son, sits a few feet away and counts the blows.
“I used to hate my dad,” Robinson-Neal says with a laugh. “I couldn’t go out with my friends here or there because I had to train, but it probably kept me out of a lot of trouble.”
Robinson-Neal, who launched a pro career last year, now craves the discipline. As a decorated amateur, Robinson-Neal amassed a 92-12 record, losing most of his fights before he was a teenager. Robinson-Neal has earned the gold belts and trophies, the newspaper clippings and magazine spreads. Mementos of his success adorn the gym’s walls, where they dangle next to the most prominent Columbia boxers of the past 50 years.
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He has notched knockouts in his first two pro bouts. He’ll fight again in Louisiana on Friday , but he can’t spar in South Carolina — or 44 other states — until he turns 18 later this year. Robinson-Neal is one of three pro fighters nationally under 18, and he’s limited by regulations that attempt to prohibit adolescents from absorbing too many body blows.
The South Carolina Athletics Commission’s regulations say a boxer must be between 18 and 35, but it offers occasional waivers for boxers not in that age group. Robinson-Neal said his son was denied a waiver.
Medical groups, along with state athletic associations, say they’re concerned younger boxers will be permanently damaged with the frequent head and body blows. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends “young people participate in sports where the prime focus is not deliberate blows to the head.”
Robinson-Neal isn’t concerned about the worries. His dad touts his son’s training in avoiding blows. Robinson-Neal has sparred with several accomplished pro boxers to train.
Robinson uses Lebron James’ much hyped “The Decision” as an analogy for his son’s out-of-state bouts.
“We had to take our talent to South Beach,” he said with a laugh.
He has scored two checks of more than $1,000. A sponsor has provided him a car. For his first pro fight in Arkansas, his dad loaded up a van and took 12 friends along. And with a chuckle, he admits the pro boxer status helps him flirt with the ladies.
So every day, he’ll continue to jog two or three miles. There will be 20 minutes with a jump rope, followed by shadow boxing in a mirror. He’ll punch a moving rubber ball to sharpen his hand-eye coordination and batter a tractor tire 75 times. His overall regimen of training activities sounds as delightful as having a tooth yanked by a dentist with no painkillers.
In five years, Robinson-Neal wants to be a world champion. First, he wants to attend college; he’s waiting to hear back from USC’s admissions staff. Robinson-Neal thinks he can balance his classes and the ring.
In a decade, or maybe a little longer if he’s lucky, Robinson-Neal’s career will end like his dad’s. He wants to make enough money to “have his family straight” before he gets too old or too hurt.
Robinson-Neal looks no further than his dad for proof his career won’t last forever.
“I’d be a fool to box with him if I want to keep my senses anymore,” Neal said with a laugh. “I’ve got maybe a round or two in me, but he can fight all night.”