By John J. Raspanti
A shot at a world title drives heavyweight contender Amir Mansour.
When he stepped into the ring last month to face Travis Kauffmann, Mansour was a decided underdog. Some of it was perception, but most of it was the venue.
Mansour had agreed to fight Kauffmann, who’s lost only once in his career at Santander Arena in Reading, PA.
Kauffmann, who lives in Reading, would be fighting for the third time at the arena.
Hometown decisions have been a problem in boxing for years. The away-fighter can be down a couple of rounds before the match even begins.
Feeling he had no choice, Mansour decided to roll the dice.
“It bothered me a little, but what can you do,?” Mansour told this writer on the phone a few weeks ago. “I had to fight.”
And fight he did, but,with a few more wrinkles.
“The plan going in against Kauffmann was to box more,” Mansour said. "I knew that he expected me to come out swinging for the fences. And I knew that I’d never gave anybody the look, where I come out jabbing and boxing, staying on the outside, and using my legs and boxing skills.”
Mansour likes to engage. His preference is let fly with hands that have produced 16 knockouts in 23 wins. But there’s more to his game, and against Kauffmann, he was determined to show it.
“One of things we focused on during training was for me staying relaxed,” said Mansour. “I tend to engage real fast—and get into a toe-to-toe war. I stayed disciplined during the fight.
“Believe it or not, I can fight in several different styles. I can make transitions. You have to be able to change up against these guys.”
Mansour was wobbled in Round two.
“He caught me with a good shot,” Mansour said matter-of-factly. “We’re heavyweights. Whenever we land good shots we feel it. I stepped in the pothole. I think I won that round anyway. I landed more shots.”
Mansour took over the fight in the second half, winning rounds eight thru 11 with volume and accurate punching. The 44-year-old was in great shape.
“Fatigue is mental,” said Mansour. “You have to be there mentally. You’re in shape to come back. That night I was really there mentally.”
At 44, age is a factor only because Mansour knows he can’t fight forever.
But as former two-time heavyweight champion George Foreman told me, you should never underestimate a fighter due to his age.
“Amir Mansour,“said Foreman. “Never count out a fighter ’cause he’s 44. I was 45 when I won my second title.”
Mansour agrees. He’s done pretty well for a boxer who lost almost nine years of his fighting life, due to being arrested for selling drugs in 2001.
Loaded with regrets, Mansour, who was released from prison at 38, soldiered on, eventually capturing the WBO and NABO heavyweight titles in 2011, the IBF North American USBA championships, and, by defeating Kauffmann, the vacant WBC United States heavyweight title last month.
“If I can do this at forty-four, what would I have done from ages twenty-nine to thirty-seven?” Mansour asked. “In life, you can put yourself in certain situations and give up, or, you can, say, I’m not going to give up. That situation is not going to define who I am. This is not going to be my legacy. My legacy is going to be something greater than prison. I just knew that I could be better than an ex-convict.”
The father of four boys and a girl, Mansour is motivated by his love for his children. His youngest son was born while he was in prison.
“I want them to be proud of me, to look up to their father, be proud of their dad," Mansour said. "During those years, I was in prison my kids suffered. They got teased cause their dad wasn’t around. That was something that tore me apart. They didn’t do good in school. I was able to come home and focus and be a dad.”
Mansour is anxious to fight any of the top heavyweights in the division. IBF champion Anthony Joshua, WBC champion Deontay Wilder, or WBO titleholder Joseph Parker, are all in his sights.
The question is, will they fight him? Two of his most recent opponents got shots at the title. Why not Mansour, who’s never in a boring fight.
Mansour has a master’s degree in the school of hard knocks. Everything he’s won, he’s earned. Nothing has been given to him.
All he wants is a chance at heavyweight honors.
“I’ve put in the time,” said Mansour. “I just want my opportunity.”