Boxing a family affair for some young fighters

By By Terry Fletcher
For the Saturday Gazette-Mail

For many fighters, boxing is a family tradition. Two Michigan amateurs have continued their boxing bloodlines and are looking to add to the family legacy.

Leon Lawson III of Flint, Mich., and Jayda Thomas of Detroit both punched their tickets into today’s championship round of the 2014 USA Boxing Junior National Championships at the Charleston Civic Center at 2 p.m.

Thomas, who is the defending national champion at 119 pounds and last year’s most outstanding boxer, was introduced to the sport by her brother, Phil Lee, and trained under her grandfather, Keith Lee, both trainers at Detroit’s famous Kronk Gym. Keith and Phil Lee both learned from legendary trainer and Bottom Creek native Emanuel Steward.

“My brother always used to bring me up to the gym and one time this little boy was talking all this stuff,” said Thomas. “So my brother put me in the ring with him and I made him cry. After that, he knew I wanted to do it.”

Thomas’ road back to the junior nationals hasn’t been an easy one, losing her grandfather less than two weeks ago.

“At first I wasn’t even going to come,” she said. “But then my mom asked me, ‘What would he want you to do?’ And this has been the answer. Just come here and fight hard.”

Indeed she has, defeating Los Angeles’ Lesly Soria by unanimous decision in Friday’s semifinals.

Despite her current success, Thomas is still looking ahead and has her sights set on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“The main goal before I turn pro is to make it to the 2016 Olympics,” she said. “Coach Phil and Keith Lee, that’s all they wanted me to do because they see the best in me.”

On the boys side, Lawson comes from a long line of fighters and is coached by his grandfather, Leon “Bumper” Lawson and father, Leon Lawson Jr.

The eldest Lawson cut his boxing teeth in Louisville, Ky., where he was a regular sparring partner with former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, and passed his knowledge down to his offspring.

“I used to fight with Muhammad. We got to be good friends, we trained out of the same gym,” he said. “So that’s how I got involved in boxing. I missed my boat, so I wanted to make sure [Leon III] caught his.”

The youngest Lawson (125) looks to have learned a few lessons from his grandfather, dispatching Keenan Glaude of Lafayette, La., in a 2-1 split decision in the early session of Friday’s semifinals.

“We work hard in the gym and we come out here and expect to win,” he said. “It feels good to make it to the finals.”

Success is no stranger to the Lawson family. Lawson III’s cousin, Andre Dirrell, was a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist and a current super middleweight contender.

“We take this very seriously, this is the family business,” said Lawson Jr. “This is something [Lawson III] looks forward to doing, he works hard and that’s why we made it this far and we’re going to bring home a championship [today].”

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