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Michael Seals kept his drive, even while working as an Uber driver

Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank
17
Jan

Good God, who am I…why is it this way?

Michael Seals sat in his Toyota Corolla, 270,000 plus miles on it, but impeccably kept, inside and out.

I’m a good guy, I work hard, I don’t cuss much…but why me?

In his driver’s seat, Seals’ mind drifted, as his nostrils involuntarily narrowed. The loss to Edwin Rodriguez when he was stopped out in round three. Here he was driving for Uber…He re-traced the recent pathway to this place. Beating Dennis Sharpe, and not making enough to pay a month of rent. Parting ways with PBC….Getting matched with another dude who should have been a steppingstone, Michael Gbenga, and getting disqualified for hitting the Ghanian while he was down. 

Depression’s cloud hung darkly over his head then, he was 36 and knew that opportunities to climb the light heavyweight ladder wouldn’t be infinite. 

In that driver’s seat, in Atlanta, in mid-town. There were practical matters to deal with, stemming from this: his passenger, a middle agreed woman, had brought her service dog into the Toyota. “Service” dog, maybe. 

“The company passed a rule, you had to allow service dogs, to ride in the car,” Seals (24-2, 18 knockouts) told RING. “Now, I love dogs, but…

“Anyway, the dog was all over the place, pumping around, front seat, back seat. And he pissed…and he pooped, in the car. I thought, ‘This cannot be a service dog.”

And the woman, I bet she was horrified, right?

“She exited as if nothing was wrong,” he said, and, crucially, chuckled. Seals scrubbed the messes and went back on his route. There were fares to collect, rent to be paid. He opened the windows, let the wind remove evidence of the dirty dog, and drove on.

Upbringing

Living in Mobile, Alabama, athletics was central in the life of young Seals. “I had a solid upbringing, my mom and dad were together, I don’t have that story of being impoverished as a kid, no electricity.” In high school, he ruled the basketball team, and popped eyeballs on the football field. To the point that he left high school and attended Alabama A&M, and laced up cleats there. The football ride came to an end, and Seals, knowing that he likes to eat, knew he’d need to find something else to burn calories. He sparred after learning some basics, “and the rest is history. I’ve been in love with boxing ever since. You could say, I’m a normal guy who happens to know how to fight.”

So, really, it was true love from the get go?

“I’m a hopeless competitor, an athlete through and through. I went to gym, just to stay in shape, supposedly, but I kinda knew where it was going. Because I wanna be the best at everything.”

Seals, who has lived in Atlanta for 11 years, left A&M in 2006, and learned those ropes from Mario Davis and Jeff Peague.

On Nov. 25, 2008, Seals stepped into the ring as a pro for the first time; he scored a KO, and won his next seventeen fights after that. No real big names on his hit list, he did beat Byron Mitchell, ex super middle champ, but that TKO loss was the final outing in Mitchell’s 16 year career. A step-up fight was next. Nov. 13, 2015, Seals was pitted versus Edwin Rodriguez, a fairly highly regarded Massachusetts boxer who’d suffered just one loss, that being to Andre Ward. The Seals vs. Rodriguez fight was, for as long as it lasted, fan-friendly, if you favor power punches and dig knockdowns and changes in momentum. Seals got sent to the mat in round one, and it looked like Rodriguez might snag a rubout win, in snazzy and snarly fashion. Back then, PBC was placing fights on the basic cable platform Spike, and watchers were getting their full money’s worth. “Now, a reversal,” Dave Bontempo told viewers, after a counter right from Seals, back to the ropes, sent the Mass. man down. First round, two knockdowns. Then, with 11 seconds remaining, Seals cracked and caught Rodriguez again, his hand speed in delivering his right besting Rodriguez’s delivery attempt. Rodriguez was on tequila legs, but rose, and then heard the bell ring to end the frenetic first. 

Maybe if you watched it at the time, you noted Seals keeping a low left. His lead hand, he had it dropped, and it would hang by his thigh often. That’s a style thing, and good athletes can get away with that, but they better be masters of distance control. Seals is a good athlete, but distance control…Rodriguez in round two, saw the low left and capitalized.

That low left habit gets to be a problem when 1) a fighter believes the front shoulder is an impenetrable buttress, thinking that the exaggerated heightened and angled lead shoulder rises higher than it actually does…No, it doesn’t provide a chin block that is impregnable and 2) when a fighter gets backed to the ropes, is swarmed and has no more room to back up, and is frozen, forgets or isn’t able to slide laterally. 

In the second, Rodriguez did some table setting. He strung together a bunch of hooks, and Seals upped his defense to protect the right temple. In doing so, he let his left dangle more. Makes sense, the guy is targeting with his left. Then, Seals got pushed back to the ropes and no, he didn’t lift his left. A right hand landed, hard, and he stayed up, but Rodriguez saw he was lightly buzzed, even if all the audience didn’t. Seals edged out to center ring, but got pushed back to the ropes. The left was low, a looping right landed, and his senses scrambled. That was the third big bomb right attempt and after a second, or so, Seals pitched to the mat. He rose, well enough to continue, and did. Back to the ropes he went, left low again, and Rodriguez saw the pattern repeated,  and Seals ate a mean one. But the bell saved him. 

To round three, the last frame. Patterns, again. His back to the ropes, Seals ate a right, and gagged. Down he went, worse off than before, and the ref waved it off as he struggled bravely to right himself. Game over, Seals now felt the sting of losing that undefeated tag. 

Doubt and depression

Seals pondered the meaning of the loss. He wasn’t exactly cheered up, but he had an explanation for why he wasn’t at his best. “I went into that fight with a torn left rotator cuff,” Seals recalled. “I hurt it about a week before the fight. I was like, ‘I can beat Edwin. He’s aggressive; I can get him with just my right hand.” Makes sense why we saw that left hanging low so often, maybe. 

And so, Seals covered his bases some, while he healed up. He started driving for Uber and Lyft. But by no means was the boxing bug forced from his soul. But yes, he needed time to recover physically and mentally. Thirteen months after the loss to Rodriguez, Seals gloved up again, this time in a rust shedder, against Dennis Sharpe (17-22-4, 4 knockouts). He won by TKO, but he wasn’t feeling the love, this relationship with boxing felt unrequited. 

For the Sharpe fight, he recalls, “They paid me like a thousand dollars. They offered me a fight with Marcus Browne for $20,000. It wasn’t pleasant, now I had no promoter, I was a free agent, I was depressed.” Some folks, he knows, go on social media, to vent. He was tempted to, but he held it in, and then sometimes processed with family. It was a low place. Then, again, a 13 month layoff. Driving the car, amassing the tally at the end of the day, it was honest work, not physically straining. And then the pull returned…so he got back in shape, got a bout booked. May of 2018, another rust shedder. And this one went worse than the first. He was disqualified for hitting Michael Gbenga (21-26, 20 KOs) while he was down. “That DQ really took me down.”

Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank

More prayers were called for. “And God put it on my mind, reach out to Brad Goodman, at Top Rank. And it was the best decision,” Seals recalls. “I’d heard he was the man, made things happen.

“So I reached out to him, begged and pleaded, asked him, why am I blackballed, why can’t I get a fight. He answered, ‘You’re a dangerous motherfucker. Nobody wants to take that risk for no reward.’ He said he’d keep me in mind. He was true to his word. I stopped driving the Lyft when I started talking to Brad.”

And Seals decided to invest in himself, too. Nah, he didn’t take a flyer on Bitcoin. In September 2018, on the 17th he fought 18-3 Carlos Cruz and five days later, he fought 20-8 Andy Perez. Those scraps, a UD and TKO, respectively, took place in the Dominican Republic. 

“I paid for everything, I was spending my hard-earned Uber and Lyft money,” he said. And then Goodman proved himself a mensch, big time. Seals was low on dough. He’s has an infant son, a fiancee, and he still believed he could soldier on, and make an impact in the pugilism sphere. Goodman offered to toss him some dough. “I had no money, but I told him, ‘I want to work for my money.’ And so a fight materialized; June 8, 2019, he took out 14-6 Christopher Brooker in Reno. “There have been so many ups and downs. Before the Brooker fight, there was a Sullivan Barrera fight, he took another fight. Vyachaslav Shabransky pulled out like a week before…I signed for both those fights. I took out Brooker, I did what I was supposed to do.” Next task? Oct. 18, 2019, 14-8-2 Elio Trosch was the B side, underneath a Artur Beterbiev-Oleksandr Gvozdyk main event. He stayed in the gym, stayed ready and when Goodman called after the Brooker fight, he said hell yes. “That was a smooth situation. And Top Rank is a well oiled machine. I love Top Rank!”

Stepping up again

Now, to the present. Seals is matched today, Jan. 18, with Eleider Alvarez, who is better known in the fight game sphere. Alvarez is 24-1 (12 KOs), and has tasted from the better brand buffet than has Seals. Alvarez upset Sergey Kovalev in their August 2019 faceoff, and snagged the WBO light heavyweight belt. His joy from the KO victory over the Russian was short-lived; his first defense came six months later, and a recharged Kovalev smart-boxed his way to a win.

Alvarez is 35, and has been off almost a whole year. Reads like a coin flip fight to me – does Seals agree? “It is a coin flip fight,” the 37-year-old ex Lyft driver said of the ESPN main event, at Turning Stone in Verona, N.Y.

“Alvarez is solid, a helluva fighter…No, I’m not even gonna say ‘solid.’ He beat the man when he was the man. He won a world title, and I got emotional for him. I had been following him, I knew his road, I knew how elusive that title shot had been for him. And I was measuring him, versus my career.”

He’s 37, right? Not wicked old, but not close to young in this dark trade. He’s hoping he won’t have to go back to Lyft-ing. He’s in a good place, continuing to be an athlete, following the preferred path. Football versus boxing, both seen as beyond rough and tumble, right? He believes he chose right, and this will pay off? 

“Football is definitely rougher on the body as a whole, boxing is rougher on your brain,” Seals said. “So many aches and pains from football, but for the brain, absolutely boxing. Because football is more of a corporate sport, there are more studies done on its impact than in boxing. Boxing has a more underground feel, less mainstream. Also, football players have that college education.” And with that knowledge gained, that educational foundation set, footballers are more likely, he said, to study the effects of brain trauma. But Seals is like just about all these guys and gals who ply this trade. Risks are understood, but this is a calling, it’s a desire that cannot be shrugged off. 

So..sounds like he almost likes the Colombia born, Canada resident Alvarez then? “Will it be hard to try and knock his head off? “Absolutely not. I have my son (Michael Seals III) to take care of, a fiancee (Sarita). It’s business. I like him as a human. I will pray for him before the fight, pray that there’s no permanent damage to him or myself. Once it’s time to clock in, I gotta do what I gotta do. I’m not pulling any punches.

“What’s my prediction? I’m gonna win. Either way, it’s not going the distance.”