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Michael Coffie: ‘I was on no one’s radar, and all the heavyweights are on mine’

Photo from Team Coffie
29
Jan

Michael Coffie doesn’t have time to, as he puts it, “pussyfoot” about his boxing career. At age 34, the heavyweight prospect knows time is a luxury he is quickly running out of, and he’s trying to get something going while his physical assets still respond the way they need to in order to compete at the highest level.

“From the beginning, it was brought to my attention, ‘we want to fast track you,’” said Coffie (11-0, 8 knockouts). “I said ‘good, because that’s what I want to do.’

“Also, my willingness to step up in competition I would assume makes it easier to put a fight together.”

That’s why, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Coffie was able to fight three times in 2020, and is starting 2021 early this Saturday, when he faces Darmani Rock (17-0, 12 KOs) in a battle of unbeaten big men at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles. The ten-round bout will precede the Caleb Plant vs. Caleb Truax IBF super middleweight title fight, which headlines a Fox PBC Fight Night card.



While Coffie is a relative late starter, having not turned pro until he was 30, the 24-year-old Rock of Philadelphia has had a more traditional rise in the sport. A 2015 U.S. Nationals and National Golden Gloves champion, Rock turned pro in 2016 after falling short in the Olympic trials, and has won his last five fights by knockout.

Both Coffie and Rock stand 6’5” and routinely weigh in over 270 pounds for their bouts. If there’s one edge on paper for Coffie, it’s that Rock hasn’t fought since October of 2019. If there’s one intangible that doesn’t show up in a Boxrec page, it’s that Coffie has been doing his scouting for a long time.

“One benefit of me starting when I did is that, I was on no one’s radar and all of them were on mine,” said Coffie, who has been watching Rock since the amateurs. “I always felt like, sooner or later, me and him would cross paths. They put two names out there and I said yes to both of them. I was like, ‘whoever says yes to me, that’s who I’m fighting.’”

Coffie’s path to the boxing ring may be unconventional in todays climate of cultivating top fighters from grade school on through the amateur system, but it wouldn’t be unusual in decades past. When asked what part of Brooklyn he’s from, Coffie is quick to respond Bedford Stuyvesant, but upon reflection reveals that he’s from all over – Canarsie, East New York, Brownsville – because he frequently moved as a foster child.

I don’t need to experience prison or jail to know that it’s not for me. I’ve seen enough people and I just knew, that’s not for me,” said Coffie.

That’s why, when a Marine Corps recruiter sold him on a way out, Coffie took him up on the deal.

“Initially I didn’t even know much about the military. I always just assumed that whenever you saw the guys on the ground, that was the Army. Whenever you saw guys in the sky, that was the Air Force,” Coffie admits.

The whole process took three weeks: he was 20 when he signed up for four years of active duty followed by four years in the reserves, and shipped off to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, two days after his 21st birthday in 2007.

While there, Coffie bonded with one of his corporals, who was from The Bronx. They’d hang out on the weekends, drinking and partying as military men do, and those scenarios often go hand in hand with fights. His corporal would take note as Coffie would handle himself, even against several people at a time. That’s when he started insisting that Coffie try boxing.

Coffie had been a casual boxing fan, but the idea of picking up fighting hadn’t really crossed his mind. Once the two got out of active service, they became roommates. One day, on a Veterans Day trip to Washington D.C., the corporal informed him that he wasn’t taking no for an answer this time. He’d already signed Coffie up for the New York Golden Gloves.

The two drove around New York looking for a gym, and Coffie got in two weeks of training before the start of the tournament. He won his first fight by knockout, which got Coffie hooked. He made it to the super heavyweight novice finals of the 2016 tournament before losing a decision. The following year, Coffie made it to the open class super heavyweight final, facing the country’s top-rated big man, Nkosi Solomon. This time around, Coffie got the win, and the necklace.

While Coffie’s amateur career hasn’t been as extensive as Rock’s, he’s done a lot of his learning in the gym, sparring with top heavyweights like Deontay Wilder, Tomasz Adamek and Adam Kownacki. Coffie first found his way to Wilder’s camp in 2017, shortly after winning the Gloves. He showed up to the press conference for Wilder’s first announced fight with Luis Ortiz, and approached Wilder’s trainer Jay Deas. He handed Deas footage of himself sparring a 6’7” fighter, and Coffie later got a call inviting him to camp.

When the Ortiz fight fell out due to a positive test for hydrochlorothiazide, Wilder switched opponents to Bermane Stiverne in a rematch against the man he won the WBC title from. Ortiz was a southpaw; Stiverne fights out of an orthodox stance. Coffie showed he could box from either side, earning him an extended stay in camp. Coffie would be brought back three more times as a pro to work with Wilder.

Now as a pro, Coffie trains with Josue Aguilar at the Orange Aveue Gym in Orlando, Fla. He turned pro in November of 2017, and fought inauspicious opposition until two fights ago, when he dropped the previously unbeaten but much smaller Luis Pena twice in a fifth round knockout win on the Jamal James-Thomas Dulorme card in August.

His most recent outing was in November, when an injury to Joey Abell sped up his demise en route to a second round stoppage win for Coffie.

Coffie doesn’t know when he’ll be in a fight against a top ten heavyweight, but he knows he isn’t going to take a step back in competition after fighting Rock. He doesn’t have time to waste, and isn’t going to allow a pandemic to slow him down.

“However many fights it takes me to get to those contenders, I’m willing to take the necessary steps to get to the higher echelon,” said Coffie.

“I’ll fight Darmani Rock and then from there I want to fight someone who is a level above him and then just keep going.”

Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected]

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