Here’s someone you might be interested in — Stephen Scott, known to his friends as Stef, one of the most cheerful guys you’d ever want to meet. Always a smile for everyone.
He’s the junior-middleweight New York state boxing champion, with a professional record of eight wins and two losses, both of the losses being close decisions that he might have won. At 6 feet 3 inches tall and 154 pounds, he reminds you of Thomas Hearns, the former middleweight champion, lean and rangy and able to get a lot of leverage on his punches.
Being a southpaw in addition to being tall makes it not necessarily easy for him to get competitive fights that he has a fair chance of winning. Higher ranked fighters will give him a good payday for the opportunity to build their own records, but anyone at his own level, which you might call middling, the state title not being a major one, is leery of a guy who is so tall and is left-handed to boot.
Stef’s goal, like the goal of every boxer I have ever talked to, is to make money. I don’t know exactly what he makes for the kind of fights he gets now, but typically a boxer at his level will get paid a few thousand dollars and his trainer and his manager will get a third of that. If he fights three to six times a year it’s not a lot of money. In fact, it’s very little money, and the last job that he had was a night-shift job at Walmart, which is not unusual.
Now, with his wife working as a dental assistant, and him helping to take care of their young son, he’s able to devote himself mostly to boxing.
When he got invited recently to be a sparring partner for a former title-holder in Washington, D.C., for $800 a week, it was a welcome opportunity. “It was good pay,” he says.
I see Stef at Schott’s Boxing Gym in Albany, where he trains with the owner, Andy Schott, and with Schott’s partner, Kyle Provenzano, and I can testify that he trains hard, as most boxers do — jumping rope, pounding the heavy bag, tattooing the speed bag, hitting the mitts, shadow-boxing, sparring for two to three hours a day till the sweat pours.
Schott recalls that a couple of years ago, after Stef got his jaw broken in a sparring session, he continued to come to the gym and work out with his jaw wired.
“I never saw that before,” says Schott, himself a former boxer. “I’ve seen guys work with broken hands, but never with a broken jaw.”
While Stef works out, his 3-year-old son, Javier, rides around the gym on a little bicycle with training wheels on it or tries his hand at hitting a bag that a helpful adult holds low enough for him to reach.
What Stef hopes for is the kind of payday that you hear about on the sports news — a million-dollar payday for a fight with a star like Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr. for a world title.
“I’m training for the big fight,” he says, “not the just the fight coming up. When you get there you got to be ready.”
A boxer’s career typically does not extend much beyond his mid-30s. Stef is 26 now. I ask him what he expects to do when time runs out on him.
“I take it one day at a time,” he says, cheerfully enough.
And what will he do if he ever does hit the jackpot?
“Invest in some business and live good,” he says, sounding equally hopeful and imprecise.
“He’s fun to be around,” says Provenzano, who has worked the corner for all 10 of Stef’s fights. “That makes it so much easier when you share a hotel room.”
None of this would be remarkable — a good boxer with starry dreams who is also a pleasant fellow — except for Stef’s background.
He was born not in the customary hospital but in the notorious Rikers Island jail of New York City, where his mother was incarcerated for trying to set fire to the Harlem building where she lived.
Why would his mother try to set fire to her own building? Well, she was pregnant with Stef at the time, and her husband stabbed her in the stomach, so she wanted to get revenge.
Unborn Stef survived the stabbing, obviously, but his mother went to jail for arson, and that’s where he wound up being born.
As for his father, well, besides being a wife-stabber, Stef says he was a “serial killer,” whose most notable crime was hammering to death the man who had killed his sister, Stef’s aunt. After killing the guy, he skinned him, Stef told me, and then kept the guy’s skull on top of a television set with a picture of the murdered sister nailed to it.
Stef relates this matter-of-factly as we sit in the locker room at the gym. Provenzano had told me that he had an interesting background, and now I found out he wasn’t kidding.
Some time after his mother got out of jail, Stef’s father was hit by a car and suffered a broken leg. Stef says he walked out of the hospital on his own, came home and died in his bed, next to Stef.
His mother then took to drinking and drugging, and Stef wound up in foster care, with a brother and sister, and that’s where he stayed, moving from one home to another, until the age of 10, when he was finally able to return to his mother, who by that time had become a Christian and straightened out.
It was soon after that, still living in Harlem, that he had a dream of becoming a boxer. The dream led him to a Police Athletic League gym, and that’s where he first put on the gloves, at the age of 11. “I followed it ever since,” he says.
He had 83 amateur fights, of which he won 64, before turning pro and moving to Albany, where he had other family members.
I ask him if he is a violent person, which might seem an odd question except that outside the ring most boxers I know seem perfectly peaceful, just as he does.
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” he says. “If I didn’t have boxing, I would probably have a temper.” And he gives as an example his sister suffering a broken arm at the hands of a boyfriend and Stef chasing the guy down the street with a knife. “I wanted to kill him,” he says.
To talk to him you would never suspect any of this. You would think you were talking to one of the happiest-go-lucky guys in the world.
But boxing is like that, I think. It provides an outlet to a lot of guys. An outlet and an opportunity.
I’ve posted a few photos of Stef (see photo gallery above).
Have a look and wish him well, as I do. Wish him the championship fight of the decade. If he gets it I’ll be at ringside.
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