The only thing Rau’shee Warren loves more than boxing is his family. So it’s a pity he can’t have both in the same country at the same time.
Twice Warren has fought in the Olympics, once in Greece, once in China. Twice Warren has brought his mother, Paulette.
And twice he has lost his first bout.
So when Warren steps into the ring this summer in London, Mom will be watching on TV back home in Ohio.
“The ticket problems, the worrying about your family getting to the event — that’s more distraction, taking your focus off what you came there for,” said Warren, who will be competing as a flyweight (114 pounds). “So this time around, it’s going to be just me, my coach and my teammates. We’ll celebrate when I come back.”
Warren will make history regardless if he wins or not because simply by making the team, he becomes the only three-time Olympian in U.S. boxing history. But Warren is no longer interested in participation awards. After returning from two Games empty-handed, he wants to bring back more than memories.
“I’m on a journey right now of being an Olympic champion,” he said. “You never give up on a dream, and right now it’s my dream. I chose to go the third time because I know I’m better than a lot of people thought I was. I’ve got to show them that hard work pays off.”
Given where Warren’s journey started, his dream easily could have become a nightmare. He grew up in the impoverished Cincinnati neighborhood of Westwood, where he originally wanted to be a basketball player like his idol, Allen Iverson.
“I had the Iverson braids. I wore No. 3. I just thought I was him,” Warren said.
But by the time he got to high school, he was only 5-foot-1. So he turned his attention to boxing, which he had picked up at age 6, when he first stepped into the gym junior-welterweight champion Aaron Pryor once called home.
He was so small, he often was matched against larger boys, yet he won his first amateur fight when he was 8. By 2004, he had made the Olympic team as a light flyweight (106 pounds), making him, at 17, the youngest boxer in the Athens Games and the youngest U.S. male in any sport.
That hardly guaranteed a path to stardom, though — not in Cincinnati, which infamously devours its talented young fighters. Four years earlier, another teenage boxer, Ricardo Williams, had come out of Cincinnati to win a silver medal in Sydney, only to have his promising pro career stall when he was sent to prison on drug charges. Legal troubles also derailed 2004 Olympian Ron Siler and 1992 bronze medalist Tim Austin, who fought as “The Cincinnati Kid.”
Warren’s three older brothers wound up in prison, too, but he avoided trouble thanks in large part to his mother — the main reason he has resisted the allure of pro boxing. Eight years ago he pledged he would someday drape an Olympic medal over her head, and he wants to keep that promise.
“Because of the struggle me and my mom went through, getting this gold medal is going to complete my trophy case,” Warren said. “I’m going to put the medal around her neck so I can get over that hump and then continue to do what I’m doing for her by going pro.”
Still only 25, Warren is the veteran of a young U.S. team and hasn’t been shy about sharing his wisdom.
“He tells me everything,” said bantamweight Joseph Diaz Jr., 18. “He teaches me a lot, especially when we spar. … Rau’shee is my role model. And I believe he’s everybody else’s role model.”
Added welterweight Errol Spence: “He is like the grandfather of the team.”
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