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Best I Faced: Leonard Dorin

Leonard Dorin (right) in the trenches with Arturo Gatti on July 24, 2004, in Atlantic City. (Photo by Ed Mulholland/WireImage/Getty Images)
Fighters Network

Leonard Dorin was a two-time Olympic bronze medalist before turning professional and winning a lightweight world title in the early 2000s.

Dorin, whose real name is Leonard Doroftei, is the youngest of three children. He was born in Ploieşti, on the outskirts of Bucharest, Romania, on April 10, 1970. 

“[My] early years were very difficult,” Dorin told The Ring. “[My] father died when I was seven. It was very difficult to lose my father, but I was lucky that my older brother, who was 17 years older than I was, took on many responsibilities as my mother was working day and night to try and support the family as well as she could.

“Back in the day, Romania was a communist country and there were not many opportunities aside from factory work and sports. I found boxing by accident, and boxing gave me a second family that filled the hole in my heart from losing a father. I found father figures in my trainers throughout the years, which helped develop me as an individual.”

Dorin first visited a boxing gym when he was 14 years old. After winning silver at the senior nationals in 1991, he would take home the top prize four times in subsequent years. Internationally, he won bronze at the 1993 European Championships and gold in 1996. He also claimed gold at the World Championships in Berlin in 1995 and bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 1996 Atlanta Games. 

Dorin working with kids in the gym.

“In 1992, at 60 kilos there was Vasile Nistor from Romania who was qualified, and they asked me to go up in weight and do 63.5 kilos,” he recalled. “I was too small but had a big heart. I went to the Olympics. I took the [bronze] medal at 63.5.

“Out of curiosity, I checked what was going on at 60, because it was my weight. I saw Oscar De La Hoya and he didn’t impress me in the final. The guy he beat in the final, Marco Rudolph, from Germany, I beat him two times in Germany; it was so easy for me.

“A couple of years later, I saw [De La Hoya] on TV and said, ‘Wow!’ I couldn’t believe it; it was a different guy.’ I wanted to be pro. Yvon Michel saw the talent and recruited me.”

Dorin, who went 239-15 as an amateur, moved to Canada with his wife and 2-year-old son in the winter of 1997.

Although things were very different, Dorin focused on boxing and adapted to his new surroundings. He made his debut, aged 28, in April 1998 and began moving through the ranks. 

via Gankor Boxing on YouTube:

He gained valuable professional experience against wily campaigners Bernard Harris (SD 10), Verdell Smith (UD 10) and future IBF junior lightweight titlist Gairy St. Clair (UD 10).

Dorin closed in on a world title by stopping previously unbeaten Martin O’Malley (RTD 9) and then engaging in an action-packed war with Emanuel Augustus (UD 10) in 2001. 

Those wins readied him for a shot at grizzled Argentine fighter Raul Balbi, who was fresh off his upset of WBA lightweight titleholder Julien Lorcy. The two met on HBO on the same card as Jesse James Leija vs. Micky Ward in San Antonio, Texas, in January 2002.

via Canadian Boxing Fan on YouTube:

“My training camp prepared me for a very different style than I encountered in the ring with Balbi,” explained Dorin, who would call on his extensive amateur experience to win the belt via 12-round split decision. “I was lucky I was naturally a skilled fighter and could switch up my style. And then when I managed to, the fight took a turn my way — very close fight.”

It was a moment of great personal gratification after so many years of hard work.

“I thought, ‘I can go home now, because I won,'” said Dorin, who became his country’s second world champion, following in the footsteps of former WBO welterweight titlist Michael Loewe. “I promised when I left Romania I was going to be a champ.

Dorin alongside Paul Spadafora in 2003.

“I was in my [hotel] room and drank my juice. I was pretty banged up and went to sleep. I came back to Canada the next day. There was a lot of people waiting there to greet me.”

However, that was nothing compared to the reception he received in his homeland.

“The fight took place at 4, 5 in the morning [in Romania]; [there were] 10,000 people in the streets watching the fight on a big screen,” he recalled.

“I’m the only athlete to have a higher audience rating on TV than the national soccer team, and that’s still the case today. Close to 7 million watched the fight, close to 40 percent of the population. I am a national hero. I was one of the first athletes to come back and put Romania on the international map. It hadn’t happened since [gymnast] Nadia [Comaneci], or Gheorge Hagi played for the national soccer team. 

“It gave the people hope that one of our own could do it. You need heroes to show things can be done. I thought like an amateur; we didn’t have a professional scene in Romania. There is nobody to teach you. They say 50 percent of a professional career is mindset, and we didn’t have that mindset.”

Dorin catches Spadafora with a right.

Due to the closeness of the fight, Dorin and Balbi resumed hostilities in front of 12,000 fans at an indoor arena in Bucharest in May 2002.

“The second fight was easy,” said Dorin. “I knew at the time that he had shown his best in the first fight. I knew it simply wasn’t humanly possible for him to improve as a fighter, but I had room to grow and practice — and I did. If I beat him the first time, I would for sure defeat him in our rematch. I was also in Romania; the energy of the crowd shouting my name was like a fresh shot of adrenaline every single time I heard “Doroftei! Doroftei!”​

“That’s another fight where millions of people watched. It set audience records. Romania was playing France the same week, and we had twice the audience of the national soccer team — and that’s the sport that’s king in Romania.”

After a year on the sidelines, his team brokered a deal to face slick IBF lightweight titleholder Paul Spadafora in a unification in May 2003. It was an intriguing style matchup that Dorin appeared to get the better of, but he had to settle for a draw.

“I have so much experience around the world in boxing, I don’t care,” said Dorin about facing Spadafora in front of his rival’s home fans. “I had good Romanian support in Pittsburgh, who came out to support me. 

“I won the fight. Harold Lederman said I was robbed, but there’s no time to dwell on the past. What happened, happened, and there’s no way to change it.”

Dorin asked for a rematch but was never granted one. He was then scheduled to face Miguel Callist back in Romania in October 2003. However, it proved anything but a happy homecoming.

Gatti and Dorin weigh in. (Photo by Ed Mulholland/WireImage/Getty Images)

“I tried something here that didn’t work there, and I missed weight,” said Dorin, who was 4.4 pounds overweight. “That fight was canceled and I was stripped for missing weight, but I had nothing left to give. I don’t know what happened.”

Dorin initially retired from boxing but returned up at 140 pounds, where he bashed up club fighter Charles Tschorniawsky in four rounds. 

That led to Dorin facing Arturo Gatti for the WBC junior welterweight title in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in July 2004.

“My team thought it was better to move up to 140, but we moved up directly to fight Arturo Gatti, and I could have used one or two more tune-up fights [to get used to the weight],” he said.

“Gatti was a living legend. I was tired. I did not have a higher reason to fight. The wheels were in motion and the fight took place, but in my heart, I was already retired. There couldn’t have been a better way to go. Gatti holds a special place in my mind and always will. He was a great champion, a true warrior. I think things happened the way they were supposed to — if I would’ve won with Gatti, I would probably have kept going, and I don’t shy away from saying that might have killed me.”​

Dorin and his family.

At 34, Dorin (22-1-1, 8 knockouts) retired from professional boxing. 

“I decided I wanted to go home. I had three kids and I had left for a long time,” he said. “I lived in Romania for 15 years. I came back to Canada because of family reasons.” 

Dorin, now 52, is married, has three children and lives in Laval, Canada. He still goes to the gym and helps teach kids to box. He is involved in real estate and is happy with how everything in his life and career turned out, for the most part.

“There were some investments that paid off throughout the years, so I can do whatever I want now,” he said. “I was lucky; I was smart with my money.

“If I had to try again, I’d do the same again, but I would go a little bit earlier to be a professional.”

He graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.


BEST JAB      

Paul Spadafora: “He was southpaw and was taller than me and made me work a lot. He had a difficult style and very slick.”



Spadafora: “He was constantly moving — very hard to hit a [moving] target. And of course he was southpaw, and I didn’t have a lot of professional experience with southpaws.”



Raul Balbi: “At the beginning of the fight, I expected him to fight a different style. He was very fast and always completed the combinations, which is something I didn’t expect him to do. I started and he completed with very quick combinations.”



Spadafora: “He was very slick, agile and moved a lot; that was the hardest part. He moved very well.”



Arturo Gatti: “He knew what to do. I kept my hands very high and he threw a bodyshot. He planned his shots; he was very strategic. It was like playing chess, fighting with Gatti. He knew exactly what to move and when to move to strike when the time is right. He thought like a real pro.”



Gatti: “He was more comfortable at 140 pounds, and I had to go up [from lightweight], and he was in his prime at that weight. Gatti didn’t move; he was naturally strong. I probably should have done more fights at 140 to prepare for that type of strength and experience it first-hand. It was straight into a big fight with a fighter who was very comfortable in that weight class.”


BEST CHIN           

Balbi: “We fought 24 rounds. He had a good chin. His skin wouldn’t crack and he wouldn’t go down. I hit him non-stop. He was very sturdy, strong chin.”



Gatti: “No fighter was especially powerful with their punches to the head, but the best puncher was Gatti because he caught me with a bodyshot.”



Balbi: “Balbi was a warrior; I respect Balbi. A warrior is naturally inclined to fight, but he has to tame that with a high degree of skill, otherwise he would get defeated. That warrior instinct only takes you so far. He honed that in with skill, boxing acumen and precision. I respect natural-born fighters who progress through the pro world, because it takes a lot of skill.” 



Spadafora: “The best overall was Paul Spadafora. Gatti beat me, but I was more impressed by Spadafora because of his acumen, the way he moved, his jab, his ring technique. I fought Kostya Tszyu as an amateur in Kazakhstan in 1990. He was an extraordinary fighter. I lost on points but fought as much as I could. He was a natural-born talent.” 


Adrian Dorin helped his father with some of the translation for this feature. The Ring appreciates his assistance. 

Unless noted otherwise, photos are from Dorin’s official Facebook page.

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].