Boxing tried to spit out Tevin Farmer, but he wouldn't have it

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Tevin Farmer celebrates with his team following the junior lightweight win against Emmanuel Gonzalez. (Getty)

Tevin Farmer is walking a tightrope in his boxing career. Because of the way it began – essentially with no amateur experience, nor a trainer, manager or promoter – he can’t afford to lose again.

The culture in boxing is much different than it is in mixed martial arts, where losses are accepted as part of the business. In boxing, lose a couple of early fights and they might as well slap a giant red “L” on one’s back.

And lose early Farmer did. He lost his debut, then was 2-2-1, 4-3-1 and then 7-4-1. Those aren’t the numbers of someone who is poised to make a mark in the sport.

Farmer managed to turn that around – more on that later – but he had plenty of other issues to overcome to get to the precipice of a junior lightweight title, where he stands now.

Farmer will fight Kenichi Ogawa for the vacant IBF junior lightweight title on Saturday at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. It will be Farmer’s first fight since rupturing his right biceps early in an April 29 unanimous decision victory over Arturo Reyes that was his 18th consecutive victory.

But before he could get fully back, Farmer was shot in the hand in the middle of a domestic dispute that did not involve him. He was playing peacemaker and was shot.

Less than five months later, Farmer finds himself on the verge of a championship.

“I wasn’t supposed to be here and that definitely will make [a championship] that much sweeter,” Farmer said.

He turned pro in 2011 with less than 20 amateur fights and had no idea what he was getting into. He fought guys he’d never have come close to fighting had he had a competent manager and promoter overseeing his career.

He was facing opponents who overmatched him, but he was talented enough and athletic enough to make those bouts competitive. His last defeat came on Oct. 12, 2012, when he was stopped in the eighth round of a scheduled eight-rounder by Jose Pedraza.

At the time, Pedraza was one of the hottest prospects in the sport and went on to win a world title.

Still, few took notice of him. It wasn’t until promoter Lou DiBella saw Farmer that he finally was treated like a legitimate world-class boxer. DiBella caught Farmer’s fight by happenstance. He was watching a show on television in a hotel bar. Farmer was fighting the 14-0 Emanuel Gonzalez, who was the heavy favorite.

But Farmer was clearly outboxing Gonzalez and won a wide unanimous decision by scores of 100-90, 99-91 and 98-92. That prompted DiBella to reach out to him.

“I called the guy who was then his manager and I said, ‘This kid can fight,'” said DiBella, one of the more astute judges of talent in the game. “I said, ‘You have to understand that because you started out 7-4-1, you’re in a hole and you’re going to have to accept reasonable money to put together some wins to force the issue.’

“This kid was smart, because he understood that starting the way he did and the nature of television executives and the boxing community as a whole that they put this ridiculous premium on gaudy records. I’ve said a lot that I could get a ham sandwich to a 15-0 record. It depends on who you fight and how you’re matched. This kid had a lot of talent, but early on, he was just thrown to the wolves and had no one looking out for him and that hurt him when trying to get TV people interested in him.”

Farmer, though, kept winning, forcing the issue. Former light heavyweight champion Andre Ward tabbed Farmer as an up-and-comer with potential.

With DiBella pushing him and Farmer continuing to rack up the wins, the only thing that could stop him were out-of-the-ring issues. Like getting shot.

Farmer is reluctant to give many details, other than to say he was breaking up a fight. While being shot through the hand wasn’t life threatening, it was career threatening.

A boxer’s hands are his work, and it’s why when one meets a fighter, particularly as a fight is approaching, he’ll shake hands very delicately.

He said he couldn’t even make a fist until mid-October. He wasn’t, though, about to turn down a title shot knowing how far he’s come.

He credits it to his mental toughness. He didn’t let the early struggles ruin his confidence and he believed in himself when no one else would.

“Definitely my mental toughness is a large part of all of this,” Farmer said. “I’m a winner. I’m a winner in life, period, and even when I was losing in boxing, I felt like I was a winner because I was making mistakes that were correctable. I never once felt like I wouldn’t be able to get to where I wanted to be.

“In boxing, being good and being tough is not good enough. Early in my career, I didn’t know what I was doing and the people around me, they didn’t know either. They didn’t know how to move a fighter, what to do and what not to do. They were learning like I was. But as I learned about the business and I learned what it took, I made the adjustments.”

And now, he’ll fight for a title in a bout that no one could reasonably have expected him to get. If he wins, there are plenty of big fights on the horizon for him.

“He’s a guy who the business basically discarded, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer,” DiBella said. “There aren’t many guys like this out there. If he wins the title, it will be the culmination of a very unusual story.”

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