Boxing has been the central focus of Junior Younan’s life since he could remember.
As a two-year-old he celebrated his birthday at Gleason’s Gym in New York City, blowing out candles on a cake with boxing gloves on it. At four, he crawled out of a baby carriage, found his father’s headgear near the ring, put it on his head sideways and peered through the earhole.
“And that’s history,” the 18-year-old Younan of Brooklyn, N.Y. is fond of remembering. “I was born into this sport.”
The headgear stayed on Younan’s head from that point until November of 2013, when he turned pro a month after he became legally eligible. To that point Younan had won essentially every Junior Olympic boxing title there was in America, including the 2011 National Junior Olympic championship.
He was also a nine-time Junior Metro champions, eight-time New York State Silver Gloves champion, five-time Regional Silver Gloves champion, four-time National Silver Gloves champion, three-time Ringside World champion, three-time National PAL champion and a two-time National Junior Golden Gloves champion.
The decision to align himself with managers Josh Dubin and James Prince and sign with hometown promoter Lou DiBella came after years of watching his peers like Paulie Malignaggi, Danny Jacobs, Curtis Stevens, Marcus Browne and the number of other fighters he grew up alongside achieve success in the paid ranks.
“Being around so many great pro fighters just made me feel like I should be there with them,” the super middleweight Younan said.
His father is well-regarded New York-based trainer Sherif Younan, a taskmaster for any of his other pupils who raises his demanding ways to another level when it comes to his son. If the senior Younan gives no slack to the number of other pros he has trained, Junior Younan is held to a higher standard than the rest, as the former amateur boxer father sees his own image in his son.
At times the father can seem oppressive, and the whispers of a father pushing his son to the breaking point were constant during his amateur career. Shouting isn’t uncommon whenever the father feels the son isn’t giving his best in a training session, but so far father has known best.
“He just always pushed me to the limit and that made me a tougher person in general,” said Younan. He just always told me to stay strong minded in everything I do.”
Younan has had four pro fights, all of which have ended in first round knockout wins, two of which have come within 30 seconds. Younan will look to make it five out of five on Wednesday night when he faces Azamat Umarzoda (0-3-1) at Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Conn.
The main event will feature junior lightweight Mark Davis, of Baton Rouge, La., against former title challenger Michael Farenas, with former IBF featherweight titleholder Billy Dib facing Alberto Garza in the co-feature.
The flashy Younan has the sort of aesthetically pleasing boxing style that will generate buzz as soon as he gets onto television, but the pressure of being a rising pro in New York is omnipresent. As the media capital of the world, the spotlight shines brighter on Big Apple prospects than anywhere else as opportunities to transcend bombards a sport that requires single-minded dedication.
The pressure to live up to the hype can be intense, but it’s not something that Younan hasn’t contemplated or is concerned about at the moment.
“What drives me today is I don’t want to see myself in the same position," he said. "I just feel I could be so much better than anybody else. It sets a fuse while I’m working. When I’m going back and forth in sparring, I set it in my head that I have to be that much better in sparring. You can’t be a superstar in this sport if you’re normal.
“I’m gonna become a world champion and there’s nothing anybody can do to stop me. It’s going to be a long road and I know there’s going to be speed bumps and rough times – in the ring and out of it – but nobody is going to stop me. I’m too mentally hard for that.”
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.