Warrior poet

Warrior poet

By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Sawyer McElhatton)

Middleweight contender Antoine “Action” Douglas, a 20-year-old who has trained for years at the Alexandria Boxing Club, needed only 18 seconds to knock down his opponent during ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights last week.

The early seconds of the nationally televised match saw Douglas in a defensive stance, drawing in southpaw Ibahiem King, 28, who just the night before at a press conference had talked about his opponent’s youth and inexperience. Then, as King ended a flurry of jabs, Douglas sensed opportunity.

In an instant, he lifted his head and unfurled a left counter-hook that sent King down barely after the fight had begun.

Douglas didn’t boast or stand over King. He didn’t thump his chest. He didn’t smile. He waited until King got up and went back to work.

The fight lasted until the end of the third round, but its outcome was never in doubt after Douglas’ left hook. The local boxer remained undefeated with an 8-0 record after the referee ended the fight.

“He’s another kid who, without boxing, who knows where he’d be?” legendary commentator Teddy Atlas said as Douglas pounded away on King at the match in West Orange, N.J. “Boxing does salvage, save and redirect a lot of young men.”

A few days later, Douglas was back at the Alexandria Boxing Club, which is housed in the Charles Houston Recreation Center, talking about his quick rise in the sport, life outside the ring and exactly what Atlas was referring to when he said boxing salvages lives.

“My opponent thought I was just another young knucklehead that he was going to walk all over,” Douglas said. “But that gave me an advantage.”

Growing up in southeast Washington, Douglas said he spent time in the city’s foster care system, but in a story as old as the sport itself, boxing gave him a way out. It brought him success as an amateur — including a Police Athletic League championship — but also discipline and structure at a time when little else in life seemed stable.

“My mom suffered addiction, and my dad wasn’t around,” he said, crediting a cousin with getting him involved in the sport. “Boxing helped me immeasurably.”

Nicknamed “Action” inside the ring, Douglas likes to read and write poetry when he’s not fighting or training. At Anacostia High School, where he graduated as an honors student, Douglas worked on the school newspaper and yearbook. He’s considering a career as a writer when he’s finished boxing.

“He doesn’t boast and run around,” said Douglas’ uncle and coach, Kay Koroma, a retired boxer. “He stays to himself.”

If that seems an unlikely portrait of a boxer, it’s not unusual around the Alexandria Boxing Club, where coaches say they don’t let young boxers train unless they have good grades. They’ve even canceled fights because of disappointing report cards.

Coaches talk to boxers about thinking big — becoming a doctor or lawyer or, if you do work at a McDonald’s, striving to become an owner of a franchise.

“Boxing’s not a getaway, it’s not a hideaway,” said Dennis Porter, a coach who started the club in the late 1980s. “Boxing’s not where you run away to. You’ve got to have a plan B. What happens if you get hurt? What happens if you don’t make it?

“If you’re failing school, you’re out of here. What am I going to do with you? If you can’t read, you can’t read a contract somebody’s putting in your face. We want them to go to college.”

Porter said Douglas fits the profile of a scholar outside the ring, and Koroma said the plan is not just for the contender to win a belt, but also to enroll in George Mason University.

“He’s a laid-back, stay-in-the-house kind of guy,” Porter said. “He’s one of those guys who works out hard and goes home. He doesn’t hang out on the street. He comes to the gym, and he’s a workaholic. He wants to be world champion.”

But inside the ring, he’s another person altogether.

“The guy when I’m boxing, ‘Antoine Action,’ that’s a completely different me,” Douglas said. “I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to be touched. I’m ready to fight. And that’s the one time in my life when I get to be the bad guy and get away with it.”