On Friday night, just before 2012 U.S. Olympians Errol Spence and Marcus Browne's take the national television stage against their toughest challenges to date, John Magda will be doing the same on the undercard.
It's a position that the 22-year-old from Rutherford, N.J. is familiar with, having always been a top amateur just a rung underneath names like Spence and Browne. Magda had won most of the major titles in New Jersey at 165 and 178-pounds, only to fall just short in the finals and national level.
Now as a pro, Magda is trying to gain ground on the boxers whom had overshadowed him. Magda (6-0, 5 KOs) will face Taneal Goyco (6-6-1, 3 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on the untelevised portion of this week's ShoBox: The New Generation card.
Though his name may not be as familiar as the two men co-headlining, he has the same advisor that they have pulling the strings behind the scenes.
"I always believed in myself to be capable and that’s kind of why him backing me helps boost my confidence," said Magda, a 6-foot-1 southpaw. "As an amateur I was a top amateur but I was never the number one guy. But to sign with Al Haymon validates what I believed in the whole time."
In recent years, signing with Al Haymon has become the greatest indicator of future success in boxing, but the sport was more of something he stumbled upon. He had been a tag-along of his older brother who trained at Ike and Randy's Boxing Gym in Paterson, N.J.
Ike and Randy's, characterized by its shoddy, spartan appearance that fits in with its sketchy surroundings, had a reputation as one of the tougher gyms in the area. Its taskmaster – Aroz "Terrific" Gist – had been a top amateur in New Jersey years past but would find his greatest success leading a local kid named Kendall Holt to the WBO junior welterweight title.
Gist would implore Magda to stop being a wallflower and wrap his hands up, and one day Magda took him up on the invitation. "The day he stepped in the gym he never left," remembers Gist.
Magda began boxing at age 14 won his first eight bouts before losing to future prospect Eddie Gomez. From there, Magda's career took off, winning the state Junior Olympic title in 2008 and the novice NJ Golden Gloves in 2009. After a year off, Magda won open NJ Golden Gloves titles in 2011 and 2012.
After failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, Magda faced an uncertain future. Would he remain amateur, try to stick around for the next Olympic qualifiers and hope he makes a team, or would he jump to the pros?
"I’m 22, going to be 23 in about a week. I just felt it was now or never," said Magda. "I could’ve waited three more years but there’s only so long of a time frame to turn pro and I don’t want to be 30 years old turning pro. "
Gist pleaded for one more year on the amateur scene to gain experience before Magda turned pro in the middle of 2013. Magda hired former Holt lawyer Peter Festa as his manager but it wasn't long before Festa received a phone call from the sport's most influential mover.
"We were looking at a couple different promoters, weighed our options and figured that Al Haymon was the best deal so we went with that," remembered Magda. "I haven’t met him in person; it’s all been done over the phone. Hopefully I’ll meet him."
To date Magda has been matched safely, scoring all five knockouts in the first round. The rail thin Magda has surprising power in his left hand and is improving on maintaining his range.
Though Goyco is expected to be another tally in the left corner for Magda, he has been on a hot run of late, beating the 14-2 Frankie Filippone last August before knocking out the 8-0 Jeremy Trussell in April.
"This fight is probably going to be his toughest fight as a pro," said Gist. "This kid is durable and tough, only stopped one time and been beating guys who are undefeated. He’s been matched way tougher than John."
Magda also acknowledges that fact but says he is prepared for a tough outing after sparring with Errol Spence to prepare. Magda's goal for each outing is to improve on a new facet of his game steadily; a snappier jab here, a tighter defensive guard there.
All of this is in preparation for a day when he hopes to no longer be the runner-up and be the man instead.
"I think I’m truly starting to believe in myself that I’m capable of holding my own against the top level guys. I have so much more room to grow, day-to-day I see things and I’m getting better. I really think that I’m capable of beating anyone," said Magda.
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at [email protected] An archive of his work can be found at ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.