He refers to himself and a few others as the Young Kings.
They are the next generation of promising athletes and musicians from the Dayton area. They are a little younger than our current standard-bearers in the NBA — Norris Cole and Daequan Cook — but they believe time and their talent will take them to stages every bit as big, if not bigger, than anyone here has commandeered.
Chris Pearson, the unbeaten junior middleweight from Trotwood who is training in Mason for a Sept. 14 bout in Las Vegas, said he came up with the Young Kings concept:
“If you follow me and some of my peers on Twitter or Instagram, you see we talk about being Young Kings. It’s not a gang. It’s just young, positive males from our area who have the potential to do great things and be something special.
“We’re all young — guys like Braxton Miller, Juwan Staten, Geron Johnson, Aaron Robinson, (Roy) Roundtree, some other athletes and musicians. It’s weird we’re all from the same small area, but we have this chance to do something great. We feel like young kings because we’re living what we want to be living and already getting a taste of something special.”
Miller, the Ohio State quarterback, is one of the Heisman Trophy front-runners. Staten is the West Virginia point guard. But in nine days, no one from here will be in the spotlight more than Pearson.
He’s landed one of the prized undercard spots that will preface the record-breaking Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez title fight at the MGM Grand. It took less than 24 hours for the show to sell out and the nearly $19 million that was taken in broke boxing’s all-time record for a live gate.
“When I first got word I was on the card I was like a kid in a candy store,” the 22-year-old Pearson said. “I had wanted the opportunity, but it had looked unlikely because I hadn’t been fighting (because of recent eye surgery) and there were just so many guys they could have picked.
“I guess I should have had more confidence in Floyd. He keeps his word. He said he’d look out for me and he did.
“But now that the fight is getting closer I’m not looking at it the same way. I’m in the fight mode now and I don’t care where I fight — whether it’s in the backyard or the MGM. After I get done that night I’ll become one of Floyd’s fans and be in the crowd and enjoy the festivities. But first I’ve got my own job to do.”
A king, after all, needs a crown, and the 8-0 Pearson believes if he keeps the victory string going he’ll have a shot at royalty sooner than you’d expect.
“I’ve been telling all my peers, everyone around me, it’s almost my season,” he said. “The talent has always been there, but physically and mentally now I feel like I’m in a different place than ever before and my imagination is amazing.
“I know it’s a process, but I truly believe I’ve got everything it takes to be a world champion.”
Back from exile
Early this year, though, Pearson’s dream was out of focus.
Following a standout amateur career — he had won a pair of national titles and starred in the World Series of Boxing — he had turned pro in October 2011 and everything seemed perfect. He had signed a managerial contract with fight game power broker Al Haymon and then aligned himself promotionally, first with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions and later with Mayweather.
Then late last year he failed a Nevada State Athletic Commission eye exam and was not allowed to make his Las Vegas debut. He promptly returned to Dayton for lasik surgery to fix three tiny holes in the back of his eye — a problem experienced by other near-sighted people, too, his dad, Milt, said.
The eight-month exile from the ring was disconcerting for several reasons: He worried some boxers who had come to the pro ranks more recently were bypassing him. He worried about being able to support his young daughter, Mya, who was born in June 2012 and was living with her mother in New Jersey. And, of course, he worried about how his eye would respond once the punches resumed.
“Remember boxing is how I eat and being out eight months was tough,” he said. “I sparred some, but I wasn’t able to fight. Floyd definitely looked out for me financially, but as a man you don’t want to ask nobody for help.”
He finally returned to the ring in July and stopped Arturo Crespin in five rounds, although he bruised his hand early in the fight and then suffered a cut when his opponent connected on what Pearson said was an intentional head-butt.
“Chris used his talent that fight, but he needed to fight smarter,” said Al Mitchell, his veteran trainer who has coached three U.S. Olympic teams and mentored world champs like Vernon Forrest and David Reid. “Fighting at the elite level you have to use your head.”
Pearson nods at such assessment: “I have to learn to listen better, to trust what I’m being told.”
For most of his previous pro fights, he has trained in Colorado, California and, most recently, Las Vegas. But Mitchell said there was “too much hype” and “too many distractions” with the Sept. 14 extravaganza, so he pushed Pearson to come back to Ohio.
Before one other fight Pearson had trained at Ignition, a gym in Mason that caters to pro athletes, especially NFL players, including many of the Cincinnati Bengals.
That has now put him under the watchful eye of Ben Creamer, a former Waynesville High School athlete and Wright State grad who has become his strength and conditioning coach. For over a month now, the two have worked together six days a week, sometimes two and three times a day.
While Mitchell’s old-school boxing practices work in perfect concert with Creamer’s training, both men — and Pearson himself — agree one of the best things about preparing here is being close to the Pearson family.
“Coach Al and I either go to Dayton and stay at my grandmother’s house or we go to Cincinnati and stay with my auntie,” Pearson said. “I feel real comfortable here. And Coach Al likes it. He sits and talks all night to my grandma. They talk their heads off. That’s all part of being family.”
‘Just the beginning’
Hangar 18, the streetwear boutique at 114 N. St. Clair St. in Dayton, will host a “meet and greet” session with Pearson tonight from 7 to 9. An after-party, hosted by WROU’s Faith Daniels, will follow at Club Aquarius.
“To have my city rooting for me definitely feels good,” Pearson said. “For a lot of years here I was just like a ghost. Although I was doing well, I was kind of in the shadows.”
As the Sept. 14 mega-show will attest, those days are done.
“When you’re a fighter, that’s the kind of stage you’re looking for,” Pearson said. “And I think it’s just the beginning. I’m ready to break out. Over the years Dayton has had a lot of great athletes, but not the superstars.
“Norris Cole is a very good friend of mine and he’s a two-time world champ but he’s on the Miami Heat and that’s LeBron James’ team. Ron Harper won a lot of rings, but he was a role player.
“Very few guys get a chance to be THE superstar, to be a guy like LeBron. He goes to Akron now and he’s a world-renown figure. It’s not all about that, but in boxing your success is all about the world stage and being a world champ. You want that crown.”
Spoken like a true Young King.