KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — The 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles may still be a decade away, but for one Kenosha youngster, that event can’t get here soon enough.
He plans on not just being there — his focus is on competing for gold.
Prince Naseem Hassan, 9, who will be a fourth grader at Stocker Elementary School in Kenosha this fall, won the 2018 USA Boxing National Junior Olympics title in the peewee 9- and 10-year-old division in June.
The title in that event in Charleston, West Virginia, came on the heels of a first-place finish at the Roy Jones Jr. Tournament in Las Vegas, the Kenosha News reported.
And he’s far from done, his father, Ramez said.
“Our dream is for him to make the 2028 Olympics,” he said. “At that time, he’ll be 19, going on 20, maybe 114 to 123 pounds. That’s what we’re shooting for. After the Olympics, he goes to the pros.”
That dream is shared by his son.
“It would be really neat because if you make it to the Olympics, you’re in the top 10 in the world,” Naseem said.
The victory in West Virginia tested Naseem’s stamina, his father said, as he had to compete four straight nights. In the finals, he earned a unanimous decision over Greylo Coach, Cincinnati, Ohio, to win the title.
Naseem, who trains both at home and twice a week at the United Community Center in Milwaukee, surpassed his father’s expectations.
“I didn’t expect him to win it all,” Ramez said. “I was hoping maybe he could go to the quarterfinals and make the rankings for the first year. But he was adamant (he was going to win). I was so proud of him.”
The Junior Olympics were decided in a single-elimination format, Ramez said, with four judges scoring each bout. In Naseem’s age bracket, the fights were one minute, which steadily increases as boxers get older.
Having to compete four straight nights was anything but easy, Ramez said.
“It was a pretty tough week for him,” he said. “The last day of the championship (fight), he woke up from his nap (tired). He said, ‘Dad, I’m tired.’ I told him he could go home (after) and take a week off.”
All the struggles to get to a championship were worth it, Naseem said.
“It was fun,” he said. “I enjoyed it a lot. It was hard fighting four guys and having to fight every day.”
Ramez said his son was named after former professional boxer Prince Naseem Hamed, who held multiple world championships as a featherweight and is ranked as the best British featherweight boxer of all time.
And even at just 9 years old, the similarities between the two are striking, Ramez said.
“His (son’s) style is him,” Ramez said. “You wouldn’t believe it. He picked it up fast. It’s pretty funny how it worked. He has his real style, the way that man fought.”
Naseem’s interest in boxing wasn’t entirely by accident, either, as he saw videos of his father’s days as a boxer and was hooked.
Ramez said he was a Golden Gloves champion in Chicago when he was in high school.
“He watched my videos a couple years back, and that inspired him,” he said.
With their sights set on the Olympics, that means Naseem spends plenty of time training, learning and honing his craft.
During the two days in Milwaukee, he trains under the watchful eye of Israel Acosta, who has worked with hundreds of boxers and was a member of the coaching staff in the 1984, 2000 and 2016 Olympics.
“He’s a phenomenal coach,” Ramez said.
And it’s just the technical skills that Acosta helps develop, but it’s how to respect the sport itself.
“He teaches the kids to be humble, and when he walks into the gym, he lets everybody greet one another and shake hands,” Ramez said. “He teaches them discipline at a young age.”
While they were in Las Vegas for the Roy Jones Jr. Tournament, Naseem had a chance to work with Floyd Mayweather’s dad, who gave him a glowing review, Ramez said.
“They showed us so much respect and love,” he said. “Mayweather’s dad said, ‘I know boxing, I’ve been doing this a long time. This boy will be a world champion someday.’”
Until that day comes, Ramez said he just wants his son to keep working and hopefully, get some more notice and recognition that could help him reach his dream.
When it comes to climbing the ranks, there’s also a financial cost that comes with the journey, Ramez said, so sponsorships are a vital piece to the puzzle.
Even at 9 years old — he won’t turn 10 until September — Naseem already has an Instagram account (princenaseem2028) for those who may want to follow his journey or throw some financial support his way.
“I’m hoping he can win another couple national tournaments and get him on a TV show or somewhere and try to get him sponsors,” Ramez said.
And the end game comes in Los Angeles.
“If he ever does make the Olympics, that will be a beautiful thing for Kenosha,” Ramez said.
Information from: Kenosha News, http://www.kenoshanews.com