It’s dark inside the prison, so Don Mouton is making use of the most private moments he’ll have behind bars to throw combinations at the air.
He is a 9-3-1 boxer who at the time he was charged with possession of stolen mail had 30 and 40 dollars in his bank accounts, according to court records. A broke Texas club fighter with a gunshot wound to the head, determined to get back into the ring after his three-year sentence.
“I was trying to stay on the streets and say I was a boxer. You’ve gotta do one or the other. And before I could make the decision, I got caught,” said Mouton. “I barely trained. Everything you’re not supposed to do as a boxer, I did it.”
Though his plan to get back to professional prizefighting seemed illogical, to Mouton it was the only thing that made sense. Hidden in his underwhelming record were wins on the road over Walid Smichet and Jerson Ravelo, and debatable losses to Maxim Vlasov and Curtis Stevens.
If he could do that without much effort, what could he accomplish if he applied himself?
“You’ve got a lot of guys in there, they’re selling dreams to themselves. Before I left, I knew I had an opportunity. So when I was in there I sat back and said ‘Okay, what do I need to do to make sure when I get up out of here, I can step back and become one of the elite, and if not become one, run with the elite?'” said Mouton.
The upcoming middleweight had spent lots of time avoiding the gym, or being aloof when he got there. Now, he was effectively forced to live in a gym.
In prison, he had a track, he had weights, and he had time.
And not much else.
“It may sound crazy, but if every boxer can take three months to just go sit in prison and get ready for a fight, he’s gonna win every fight. It may sound stupid, but if there was some kind of way me and my trainer could just go sit in prison for 90 days and just train, train, train, we’d kill everything on the market,” said Mouton. “If somebody lived in the gym every day, why wouldn’t he become world champion?”
When he returned home in December of 2011, he stuck with the new-found training intensity, but added the things that were logistically impossible while incarcerated.
For one, his roadwork no longer had to be confined to a tiny track or prison yard, nor was it under any time constraints. So if only because he was allowed to, he allocated two hours of every single day to run between 6 and 10 miles.
“I hear a lot of guys say you only need about two-to-three miles at a fast pace, but I was with the old school guys when I started, and those guys were running 10-15 miles a day, fighting 15-20 rounds. That’s the way I want. I don’t want three-mile wind. I want 20-mile wind,” declared Mouton.
What he did have to do at a fast pace was his technical work, under the guidance of trainer Nolberto Blanco at the Ultimate Warriors Boxing Club. Three years of rust doesn’t come off without grinding, so to speak.
After four months, he had his mechanics back, and was ready to start looking for fights again. Starting in August of 2012, he found three in as many months, collecting wins in all three. The most notable came last September when he defeated Abel Perry, who was slated to face Antonio Margarito prior to his sudden retirement last May.
But even with his life on track, chaos still found its way into the life and career of the Houston native.
Seven days prior to the Perry bout, Blanco and his wife went to the truck yard they also run in the city at around 11:30 at night. There, they were met by two men in ski masks brandishing guns and a tire iron, looking to rob them.
The men demanded Blanco and his wife lay on the ground so they could search them. The trainer didn’t have a wallet or any weaponry, so the attackers tried to tie him up, presumably in order to look for other goods to make off with.
Thankfully, Blanco knew a thing or two about how to throw a punch.
“Once I knocked him down, I jumped back on the truck and saw the other guy, and he was trying to beat on my wife. He had a gun. He pointed it at me like he was going to shoot me. I grabbed a hold of this gun and tried to aim it towards him, but he shot me,” Blanco told LTH Sports after the incident.
The shot entered and exited his torso without touching any organs, and two follow-up shots missed the target, according to Blanco, before the two men fled.
Mouton’s reaction illustrates the kind of street morals one tends to acquire doing hard time.
Do what you have to do, but own up to it and pay the price.
“It was a coward move they pulled, you know. Two faggots come with their ski masks. If you’re gonna come do some work on somebody, you don’t put no mask on, ’cause you’re coming to take care of your business. They come with a coward move, and then you wanna attack a woman? That’s horses__t,” said Mouton. “Everything happens for a reason, like I say. Looking at the situation, he walked away from a gunshot the same way I did. He healed, the fight goes on, the training goes on. But whoever did it better not show their face or drop their nuts.”
Amazingly, Blanco didn’t miss a single day in the gym. Perhaps sensing his fighter was on borrowed time, he didn’t take any rest, and didn’t give Mouton any either. His tireless workrate in the gym made him an in-demand sparring partner for prospects and contenders – from junior middleweight to light heavyweight – preparing for big fights. Jermell Charlo, Erislandy Lara, Mike Lee, Vanes Martirosyan, Cornelius White and Bryan Vera all came to the gym (or vice-versa) to spar.
A month and a half after stopping Sammy Clarkson in October, a phone call came to Blanco, inquiring about an ESPN Friday Night Fights date against Brandon Gonzales on Jan. 11.
This weekend, Mouton will have somehow made it from the shadows to the bright lights.
“If I would have never left, I would have destroyed myself. I’m my biggest enemy. Right now, if I would have never went away, I would have been the guy saying how good I used to be at boxing. I would have been the guy trying to show people videos of 2007, 2008,” said Mouton, now 12-4-1 with 10 knockouts.
“I’m fighting to not be that guy.”
Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman