The throng of onlookers would press up against the entrance aisle as Rau’shee Warren walked by, eyes focused straight ahead on his next challenger. But his mind sometimes raced to other places and other fights, the pressure of being an elite American amateur boxer sometimes seeped in and blurred his focus.
That scenario played out numerous times when Warren was getting ready to fight. He has since done a lot of learning and maturing, and the 25-year-old amateur veteran from Cincinnati, Ohio knows this time around is it. The flashy flyweight has already made United States amateur boxing history by being the first three-time U.S. Olympic boxer. He wants to make more history later this month, when the 2012 summer Olympics begin in London, England.
The Warren that enters this Olympiad is far different from the 17- and 21-year-old version that lost in the first rounds of the 2004 and 2008 Games.
“I feel if I knew then what I know now, I would have medaled in ’04 and definitely in ’08,” Warren told RingTV.com. “A lot of life is living and learning. I’ve picked up more experience and learned more things, and I think I’ve grown as an adult and now I’m a vet. My job is to lead other team members and share my experience with them. I like the role being the older guy, and it shows I had a dream and I never gave up on it.”
There were many times that Warren was tempted to give up his Olympic dream. He was given offers to turn pro, which he spurned, partly because the timing wasn’t right and partly because of the lack of money involved with being a lighter-weight fighter based in the United States.
What also plagued Warren were the memories. He wants to erase the controversial 9-8 decision loss in Beijing against South Korean Lee Ok-sung, where in the last minute he thought he was ahead, ran and stopped throwing punches.
He was barely 17, fighting as a junior flyweight when he fell in the first round to China’s Zou Shiming, the eventual 2004 Athens bronze medalist and 2008 Olympic junior flyweight gold medalist.
“There were a lot times I could have went professional and there were people who contacted me about going professional, but I’ve been thinking and dreaming about going for a gold medal, staying at an elite level and competing in the Olympics again,” Warren said. “I never let the pressure get to me. Not anymore, at least. I’ll admit it; the pressure did affect me in the past. I’ve been doing this since I was six years old.
“I used the think about my performance way too much, how I had to be perfect. I wanted people to look at me differently. That’s where I think the pressure came. I put too much pressure on myself. My mind was eight million places other than the fight. This time, it will be different. It’s nothing but me and my opponent. This is going to be a different Rau’shee Warren; smarter and mature, more speed. This is the full package.”
Mike Stafford, Warren’s home trainer who has known the Cincinnati native since he was six years old, has seen a transformation. Stafford recognized the southpaw’s special ability away. Warren was eight when he won the Silver Gloves. He showed Stafford, who also trains undefeated WBO 130-pound titleholder Adrien Broner’s trainer, great quickness and speed at an early age.
“Even then you could tell Rau’shee was special,” Stafford said. “After the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, we just didn’t think the time was right to turn pro, and promoters weren’t looking this way. At his age and in his weight class, we didn’t think there was enough money to leave that Olympic dream. That’s always been Rau’shee’s top goal.”
It’s not an easy thing to be an amateur in the United States today, especially someone like Warren, who’s 25 and has two young sons. Warren’s team was looking for that perfect storm of strong manager, trainer and promoter. Stafford has the training part down, but management and promotion will be concerns later down the line.
“Boxing right now to Rau’shee is still a sport, it’s still fun, and it’s an attitude we want to keep, not a business, which is what it would have been to Rau’shee if he did turn pro,” Stafford said. “Rau’shee has always wanted to fulfill his dreams and win an Olympic gold medal.”
There is also something else that gnaws at Warren, tugs at his pride and confidence. It’s that no one has really seen everything he is capable of doing — no one at the Olympic level has seen Warren at his best.
“That’s big to me, I want to show people what I can do,” Warren said. “My everyday training makes me feel I can put my all on the line. I don’t want any doubts and second-guessing, so I’ve taken my training to another level each week.
“I’m ready to show what I’m really able to do. A lot of people know me, after all of this time as an amateur, and they see what I can do, what I haven’t done at the Olympics yet. I want to show people what I’m really about. I’m going to come home with something.”
Photos / Al Bello and Mathew Stockman - Getty Images; Jacques Demarthon-AFP