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Brock could be a contender

MIKE HOUSER
Appeal Sports Writer

With the retirement of world heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko and the proliferation of sanctioning bodies, the state of boxing’s showcase division can be described as moribund at best.

Nigerian contender Samuel Peter was considered by many boxing pundits to be the savior of the heavyweight division, but his loss to Wladimir Klitschko last Sept. 24 caused many insiders to reconsider their opinions.

With the spotlight at least temporarily removed from Peter, it is now shining on 2000 United States Olympian Calvin Brock, of Charlotte, N.C.

The 31-year-old Brock is unbeaten (28-0, with 22 knockouts), has good size (6-foot-2, 225 pounds), hand speed and power, as was evident in his last fight, a devastating sixth-round knockout of Zuri Lawrence on Feb. 25, which was telecast on HBO Pay-Per-View on the undercard of Shane Mosley-Fernando Vargas.

Although the light-hitting Lawrence pestered Brock with his hand and foot speed, the patient Brock ended the bout in breath-taking style, ducking a right hand and countering with a crunching left hook that left Lawrence unconscious and unmoving for several minutes.

“I didn’t realize he was asleep – the severity of the knockout – until they asked me to get out of the way,” Brock said via cell phone from Sarasota, Fla., as he hustled to board a plane. “They brought in a stretcher and administered oxygen. I always go into the ring with faith and pray that nobody gets injured, that no fatalities occur.”

Brock’s humble prayer was answered and Lawrence eventually came to and was able to sit up, then leave on his own power.

But it is Brock’s power that has his name being bandied about with the likes of Peter and Klitschko and the various world titlists – Hasim Rahman (who will be seen defending his WBC belt Saturday against James Toney on HBO), Lamon Brewster (WBO), Chris Byrd (IBF) and 7-footer Nicolay Valuev (WBA).

Veteran trainer Teddy Atlas, also a fight analyst/broadcaster for ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, said he likes what he sees in Brock – so far.

“He’s a nice guy. He’s passed a couple of tests,” Atlas said Tuesday. “He has a good amateur background, which is important. He’s calm in the ring after fighting so long in the amateurs. He knows he can handle himself in certain situations.”

Brock lost to eventual silver medalist Paolo Vidoz, of Italy, in the second round of the 2000 Olympics (Brock had a first-round bye). Along the way to compiling a 150-38 record. Brock was a United States heavyweight champion as well as the national Golden Gloves and national Police Athletic League (PAL) champion, winning the latter title three times.

“Brock is solid in a lot of areas,” Atlas said. “He’s not magnificent in one area or weak in one area. He passed a test by getting off the floor (in the seventh round) against Jameel McCline. That’s one of the toughest situations you can get in. He showed character. Now it’s a matter of taking it to the next step. He took a step up with McCline. Now he has to go up to the next level with the top-tier guys.”

Which is exactly what’s on the table for Brock. Tom Yankello, Brock’s trainer for the last four years, said his charge will fight an opponent to be named June 24 on HBO.

Yankello, of Pittsburgh, Pa., trained former IBF lightweight titlist Paul Spadafora and said he was taken aback by Brock’s ability to learn new techniques in the ring after so many years as an amateur. (Brock began boxing pro at age 26 in 2001, after beginning the sport at 12 as a 139-pounder.)

“When he was an amateur he fought four 2-minute rounds,” Yankello said. “You score points (in the amateurs) with straight punches. It’s hard for the judges to see shots to the body and inside work to the body. In the amateurs they fight inside very little.

“My goal was for him to be able to fight taller, bigger heavyweights on the inside. To fight bigger guys like (Wladimir) Klitschko, who is bigger (6-foot-7) and heavier (245), I knew he had to work on his defense and inside fighting game. I was shocked on how well he absorbed those things (in training).”

So was McCline, who once fought Wladimir Klitschko for the WBO heavyweight title.

Just as he had proven against undefeated prospect Terry Smith (a 10-round unanimous decision) and former contender Clifford Etienne (TKO 3), Brock showed 6-foot-6 “Big Time” McCline that it was he (Brock) who was ready for the big time.

Before he knocked out Lawrence (who handed Vidoz his first professional loss), Brock followed up what was regarded by some as an upset of McCline with a pair of wins over journeymen Kenny Craven (TKO4) and David Bostice (UD 12).

“He’s got tremendous ability inside and outside,” Yankello sa id of Brock. “He’s the total package. He does everything well. He proved he’s got knockout power with both hands. Early as a pro he had it in his right hand. Now he has it in his left.

“Defensively he’s well above average. Inside he’s making his opponents miss. He can roll with the shots. To the ignorant boxing eye, they can’t see that he’s winning the rounds. He’s calculating. He’s breaking down his opponent for the K.O. in the later rounds. Sometimes judges can’t see that and don’t give him credit for ring generalship.”

Brock is also patient in his approach to getting a title shot.

“I’m 31 – a young 31,” Brock said with conviction. “I’m going to take my time and build my way up. I’m not just going to be a titleholder. I’m going to negotiate my purses rather than have to take it or leave it.”

Such an economical approach is befitting to man whose ring nickname is “The Boxing Banker.”

“I used to work at the Bank of America when I got out of (college) in 2000,” Brock said of his moniker. “They used me for a USA Today advertisement. I went to UNC-Charlotte for business administration with an emphasis on finance.”

And if he ever needs any further legal advice on how to manage his money, Brock can turn to his wife Yolanda, who is in her second year of law school at Duke.

A deeply religious man, Brock said he found his calling – or it found him – at an early age.

“I asked God what I should do with my life,” Brock said. “Then I got boxing gloves when I was 8. I boxed with my friends in my parents’ yard. When I was finished with my friends, I had no more friends to box with.

“I get in front of kids in public and tell them that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. Give Him His glory. That’s what I do.”

When asked what’s next for him – undefeated Russian Sultan Ibragimov (19-0, 16 KOs is the rumor) – Brock said he was unsure.

“Nobody in particular – whoever God blesses me with, that’s who,” Brock said.

But Brock did seem certain on one thing and, according to the “Boxing Banker,” you can bank on him to personally resuscitate a division that’s seemingly on the verge of expiring.

“This year I’m taking someone’s title,” he said. “(The heavyweight division) is dead again. I have to bring it back.”