Junior Younan is back and better than ever
Paralysis would grip Junior Younan each morning. He would look down at his hands and his feet. Nothing. Long nights would be followed by long mornings for about 18 months. He didn’t want to get out of bed. He couldn’t get out of bed. Everything in his world stopped. Idle time was spent 10 months ago in a dark vacuum, staring out the window wondering why his career was wasting away.
It’s a little hard to believe that “Sugar Boy” is 26. He’s one of those fighters whose face seems like it’s been around forever. It’s probably because the Brooklyn, New York-based super middleweight had a very distinguished amateur past, blowing up New York city’s elite with eight New York State Silver Gloves championships and five Regional Silver Gloves championships. Then he went national, winning four National Silver Gloves, three Ringside World titles, and two National Junior Golden Gloves championships.
His exploits attracted major promoters and managers. He turned pro at 18, and has since gone 15-0-1, with 10 knockouts, and settled with Roc Nation for five years—and gradually, Sugar Boy disappeared into the “Invisible Man.”
In the last four years, Younan has fought twice. Some of that had to do with the COVID-19 pandemic, some of it had to do with Roc Nation, which is no longer in boxing.
Hopefully, Younan’s idle streak ends this Saturday, when he takes on 36-year-old Dauren Yeleussinov (10-1-1, 9 knockouts) in a scheduled eight-round super middleweight undercard bout on the Danny Garcia-Jose Benavidez Jr. headliner on the Showtime tripleheader (9pm ET/6pm PT) from Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, New York, in a Premier Boxing Champions event.
“I was depressed, in a really dark place,” Younan admits. “I didn’t like how I was feeling a year ago. I boxed my whole life. Boxing has always been a part of me. I just didn’t feel like myself. What changed it was getting out of bed, literally putting my feet on the floor, and deciding to run. It was like that scene in the (original) Rocky movie, when he tries to run, and he can’t make it up the (Philadelphia Art Museum) steps. I built up. I’m up to over seven miles now.
“I gained weight because I was not motivated to train. I was easily north of 200. I was very bitter about boxing for a while because I dedicated my entire life to the sport. I felt like I was in a position that I didn’t deserve—and it wasn’t my fault. I was going through a depression, where I didn’t leave my house. I had to break out of it. It began when I put my feet on the floor. My dad (Sherif) started training me again in the basement. We started doing a little work and that began to build. What really motivated me was knowing I still have the ability to get what I want, and that I’m still not too old to get there.
“I climbed out of that dark spot. I’m still here.”
With an attitude readjustment came a managerial move. Younan signed with Peter Kahn in the spring of 2021. He got out from under the contract dispute with Roc Nation and steadily restored his self-esteem. He’s still plagued by the controversial 10-round split decision draw against Ronald Ellis on Showtime Championship Boxing in February 2018.
“I was on the B-side, and I was 22, and Ellis is a tough guy who went 11 rounds with David Benavidez, which is an accomplishment in itself,” Younan said. “You have to go through s—t to grow, and I’ve had my share of battles. I don’t want to take anything away from Ronald Ellis, but I know I won that fight. I can’t change it. What I can change is what I do moving forward. I’m with a great manager (Kahn). I’m talking to PBC and I’m getting a chance to fight on a big platform against a credible guy about 10 minutes away from my house.”
Kahn is reviving Younan’s career. The two-time BWAA Manager of the Year nominee saw Younan as an elite-level fighter waiting on the sidelines.
“There’s no question Junior is an elite-level super middleweight and all he needed was a chance,” Kahn said. “His biggest issue was sporadic activity. Everyone in New York has known Sugar Boy since he was a kid. In my opinion, Junior has everything. He has pop in his punch. He’s a hard worker, and he’s been in camp. He’s good enough that in 2023 he’ll be in line for a title shot and he’s still very good.
“He and his father Sherif have a very good chemistry. They’re very committed. I need to make this point: I’ve asked and have tried to arrange big step-up fights for him, and we’ve been turned down. He’s a very dangerous fighter and people in boxing know this. Guys don’t want to fight him because he is dangerous. A little activity, two or three fights, Junior will be fighting for a world title.
“Within 120 days, Junior will be in the ring again in a 10-round fight. And 120 days after that, he’s back in the ring fighting for a regional title. He’s a champion. He’s just hasn’t been given the chance to show it. We’re going to change that.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.