This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.
VeShawn Owens wanted his pro boxing debut to last as long as possible. He scored a TKO 90 seconds into the second round last Saturday at El Nuevo Rodeo Restaurant on East Lake Street in Minneapolis.
Owens was part of the November 21 “Battle Night” pro-am card, which featured four amateur bouts and four pro fights. His two-rounder with Omar Avelar kicked off the pro part of the evening, a live opening act to the Alvarez-Cotto middleweight title fight in Las Vegas.
It wasn’t Vegas, but the Only One sat at ringside Saturday in the restaurant’s upper level. We didn’t stay and watch the Cotto fight on the big screen, although I had an invitation to do so. The Owens fight, and the four amateur bouts beforehand that featured five Circle of Discipline boxers, was enough for this reporter on that night.
“I really wanted to get the feel of it,” admitted Owens afterwards. “I’m new to this — what took me so long to get here?”
The long and short story is that after a five-year amateur career record of 78-14, which began at age 17 and includes two welterweight titles, five times winning gold in Golden Gloves tournaments, and reaching USA Boxing’s second-ranked welterweight, Owens had hoped to fight for his country in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
He had earned top seed at the last Olympic qualifying tournament in Memphis. However, he couldn’t come up with enough funds to get to the trials.
“I was very disappointed,” admitted Owens. “I won’t lie — I was upset. It was something I wanted to do since I was 14. I didn’t want to just be an American to make it to the Olympics — I wanted to win and take everything. It was crushing that I couldn’t get there. Money was a huge issue.
“I couldn’t beat myself up about it. I knew what I had to do,” continued Owens, a husband and the father of an infant daughter. He turned pro instead and kept training at the Circle of Discipline, the South Minneapolis community-based boxing club that helps train young men in both pugilistic and life skills, and where he got his start as well.
It seemed fitting that at a restaurant, Owens took care of his first pro opponent in short order: the 5’-9” boxer peppered the shorter Avelar early and often, limiting him to the corners and ropes. His punches were cleaner and crisper in the opening round, then resumed in the second until the referee stepped in and stopped the fight.
“I just didn’t want to end the guy in five seconds or in the first round,” said Owens, who delivered a Teddy Pendergrass TKO but without the love. “I wanted to know how it feels to be a professional.
“There is no such thing for me as a test round to get my feet wet,” explained the newly turned pro boxer. “You can’t afford to be cautious, because in a split-second it can be over.”
The answer to our “next” question was easy — “Stop my next opponent,” said Owens confidently after last Saturday’s fight. “I’m going to be in the gym Monday. I would like to get [another] fight before the year is over.
“I’m always in the gym. This is my life, my career. This is something I always wanted to do.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.