“I won them as a Junior Olympian but this was my first Nationals as an open fighter,” Pearson told me a week back from his home in Trotwood. “It’s good to win the Nationals because you get ranked number one in the country. I’ll be the number one seed going into the Olympic trials. I was telling my dad, I felt like Kobe being in L.A. so long because I got clutch. I won a tournament on my last go-round because after this, I’m going to be turning pro after the Olympics. I was able to win a tournament on my last go-round. So this is big for me.”
Pearson, who is his family’s only boxer, was an athlete all his life. He came to the sport late, first giving it a try as a way of prepping physically for his high school football team.
“When I was younger, my dad had me in every sport,” said Pearson, “basketball, football, baseball. In football, I went to play running back but at that age, they had weight limits for certain skill positions. I wanted to make sure I could make weight so I could play running back. So my dad took me to a boxing gym so I could get in shape. I ended up starting to excel in the sport but I really didn’t start focusing in on boxing until I tore my ACL and my meniscus going into my senior year. I knew I might be able to play basketball my senior year but I said, ‘You know what? I want to go to school and then eventually, I want to have a professional career,’ so I didn’t want to jeopardize boxing. So I focused in on that. I didn’t play basketball no more. I didn’t play football no more and I just focused in on boxing and it actually worked out for me because now I am excelling; a lot of great opportunities are coming my way and the Lord is blessing me with being able to take advantage of them. That’s what I am going to keep trying to do.”
Following his wins in the WSB over top international fighters, Pearson felt he was all set to compete at this level and be successful.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” said Pearson of his time as a Matador. “Going from beating these top guys in the world without headgear, I felt like I wasn’t going to go from [that] to losing from somebody just from my country. I feel like I am the best fighter in the country at my weight and I wanted to prove that. I felt like I got the right type of fights to give me the opportunity, you know? In the WSB, fighting an Olympic gold medalist, fighting Yamaguchi [Florentino], them two guys are two of the best in the world. It gave me confidence to know if I could beat guys at that level. I know I can beat guys here. And that is what I went out and did.”
Pearson fought a tough group of fighters heading to his finals win. The Nationals bring the best of America’s best.
“The first fight I had, I got a tough draw,” said Pearson. “I fought a guy named Paul Littleton from Chicago. He actually beat the defending champion at the National Golden Gloves. I knew going in I was not in for an easy day. I knew he was going to test me. I ended up beating him 22-7 but the fight was a little tougher than the score. He is real aggressive; he stays on you but I was able to get that first day out of the way because the first day of the tournament is normally the most difficult.”
Things didn’t exactly get easier for him but as he did in the WSB, Pearson responded to adversity like a future champ.
“My next fight, Noel Godson, who had an upset; he beat D’Mitrius Ballard, who was in the trials already because he had won the National PAL,” said Pearson. “He beat Ballard 19-7, so I knew it would be tough but I ended up beating him 21-14 or something.”
Pearson said he expected a tougher fight than he got vs. Antoine Douglas. While he is prone to fighting a bit fast and wild as a pro- which crowds love- Pearson fights much more controlled as an amateur.
“[The amateurs are] way more strategic because it’s a point system,” explained Pearson. “In the WSB, I fight a little more reckless because I don’t have to worry about points. It’s a pro style. I worry about breaking a guy down. In the amateurs, I have to fight smart. If I fight a guy like Yamaguchi again, I might pick my spots, make it easier on me. It might not be as exciting but it will be an easier win than the last one was.”
A southpaw counterpuncher by nature, Pearson was able to control the pace and get it done in the third round of the Nationals.
“My third fight was supposed to be my toughest fight against a guy named Antoine Douglas,” Pearson explained. “He finished in the finals of this past PAL, so I expected him to be a tough fight but it ended up being one of my easiest fights as far as the pace. The fight went at my pace; I was able to counterpunch him good and keep him at bay.”
In the final, Pearson was up against Edgar Alvarado, who was a favorite heading into the tourney. The fight was hotly contested but Pearson showed everything he learned fighting experienced amateurs in the WSB, which in some cases seemed more like seasoned pros than anything.
“My last fight was against a guy who started out hot. He beat the defending champion of the US Championships and the Bronze medalist back to back. His name is Edgar Alvarado Jr.,” said Pearson. “He beat those guys so I knew he would be confident going in. It was more of a strategic fight. He was aggressive because he knew I wanted to counterpunch. He was aggressive but once I started picking, he got smarter and he tried to box with me. It was basically a chess match so whoever was going to make the most mistakes was going to come up short. I was able to keep him at bay and get the W and win the Nationals.”
Pearson pulled out the win with a score of 11-10. The best part, besides sharing this win and medal with his father, Milton, who is as supportive of Pearson as any parent could be, was that Pearson’s favorite fighter, Andre Ward, was ringside. Ward filled in as a commentator this year for the WSB and called Pearson’s first fight with the Matadors. The significance was not lost on the young fighter who sees Ward as a role model in and out of the ring.
“It was crazy because my first WSB fight, [Ward] was the announcer,” said Pearson. “It felt like two of the biggest fights of my career, he was at both of them. My first fight with the WSB and then the finals of the biggest tournament in amateur boxing, he was there. He’s always been my favorite fighter since I watched him win the gold medal because he’s done something that I want to do. The way he carries himself, he is a very humble champion. He’s a good person; he takes time for everybody. He’s just a good guy. He’s the definition of a professional and that is the kind of guy I want to be looked at as.”
I asked Pearson what exactly it was that drew him to Ward and he explained that they are similar in terms of fighting approach. Ward also represents everything Pearson hopes to become someday in this sport.
“We’re similar. Andre Ward is not looked at as a huge knockout puncher. He’s not looked at as somebody who is super-duper fast. He is just a good skillful boxer and that is how I am looked at. I’m not a huge knockout puncher; I’m not a speed demon. I’m just a very balanced fighter and I do whatever I need to do to win. That’s why I relate to him so much. It’s hard not to root for him,” he explained.
So now, the future looms for Pearson who already has his post-Olympic career tentatively mapped out.
“After the Olympics, I most likely will turn pro,” said Pearson, “but then again, it just depends on where I am going to be, what is going to benefit me the most, you know, where I am going to make the most money from. At the end of the day, it is about being able to provide for my family. That’s the big thing. If the WSB pays me better than anyone else in boxing, then I will be with the WSB. If not, I will definitely be turning pro.”
Before any other decision can be made, however, there is the matter of the Olympic trials. Pearson seemed as relaxed as can be. This year has been a trial-by-fire and I imagine Pearson’s relaxed, confident (but never cocky) attitude is a byproduct of that. After all, this is the year he learned how to be clutch on the most difficult of stages.
“Just train and get ready. This is the biggest tournament of my life,” said Pearson of preparing for the competition he is sure to face. “I don’t feel like I have to watch or study them because they are going to do what they are going to do and I am going to do what I am going to. As long I am in the best shape that I can be in and my skills are on point, my timing is good. I should be fine.”
You can email Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.