It's Saturday morning, less than a week before his next fight, and Troy White is in the ring shadow boxing. He shuffles, pivots and punches, weaving around the imaginary foe before him. His footwork is sharp and his hands are fast.
Now if only he can find an opponent to use all this against for that fight on January 20.
The man he was supposed to face has recently dropped out of the fight. So his imaginary foe remains an anonymous outline. As he dances around the ring, he looks across Kings Fitness Recreation & Boxing Center toward a wall-length mirror to check his posture. He bobs his shoulders and shoots a flurry of body punches. Then the timer beeps to mark the end of the round.
His trainer Roberto Martinez meets him by the ropes. He thinks he may have found an opponent. White is skeptical. He's handed out his allotment of tickets for the card, a Rumble Time Promotions event, and he is eager to put on a good show, to move his way up the welterweight class.
"I don't want like 40 people coming to see me some guys just off the streets, who doesn't even know how to fight," he says.
"You gotta do what you gotta do," replies Martinez.
White shrugs and sighs.
"I'm used to it," he says.
White, 27, is not one of those young boxers on the fast track to a title shot. He is unsigned, so he doesn't have a promotional company lining up opponents for him. His record is a modest 3-2-1. And he is virtually unknown outside of local boxing circles.
He's reaching that early point of his career where he must define himself as a contender. Because those who don't end up thrown on the long list of tomato cans, the reliable and underwhelming journeyman fighters whom promoters call up to buffer the records of rising stars. For an up-and-coming pro like White, every fight is either a step toward that list or a step toward rising stardom.
"I want to clear the weight division I'm in," he says. "I want to be world welterweight champion."
White, who grew up in Hathaway South area of north St. Louis county, learned how to fight long before he stepped foot in a boxing ring. He found himself in scores of brawls through middle school and high school. It didn't take long for him to realize he was a natural fighter. And by the time he was 14, he was known among his peers as the best fighter at Riverview Gardens High School. So while some of those brawl were adolescent rumbles against rival crews, many more were for sport. Usually some tough guy would want a shot at White, to prove his mettle as his friends egged him on. And White wasn't one to turn down a fight, so he's have to kick the poor challenger's ass. Of course, this only provoked more tough guys to take him on and White would end up fighting on a weekly basis.
A police officer at the school, frustrated by White's constant skirmishes, decided to take him to a nearby boxing gym. The plan worked. After White, who'd loved the sport throughout his childhood, began training, his brawling career slowed down.
"I didn't wanna waste my time out on the streets anymore," he says.
Over the next few years, he trained sporadically. While he enjoyed boxing, his main focus was football, where he was a star safety. But the streets had never left. And those gridiron dreams evaporated just before his senior season, when White got caught up in a 60 man rumble and large boy blindsided him and slammed him to the ground, shattering his ankle.
So when he graduated from high school a year later, he wasn't sure what do do with his life. For a few years he worked at Kaiser and Johnson, an export packaging company and at St. Louis Bread Co. But boxing lingered in his mind. Around this time, his daughter was born. He began to contemplate the future more, began to sketch out how to give his daughter the best possible opportunities. Then, at 22, White realized that his shot at upward mobility might lie in the boxing ring.
"That was the way I saw to make a difference for my family," he says.
He dedicated himself to the sport, earning a reputation among coaches as a tireless worker who never complained about an extra round of sparring or an extra mile of running. Once he stepped into the ring, he felt a immediate comfort.
"I've been in this situation so many times," he says with a grin. "Only difference is we got gloves on and there are rules."
After several years honing his skills as an amateur, he turned pro in 2010. His career hit turbulence from the start.
He fought to a draw in his first bout then lost the next two by decision. All three fights, he thought he should have won. All those pre-dawn jogs and all those hours of sparring felt fruitless. In a business where won-loss records often dictate a fighter's trajectory, White was 0-2-1. After the third fight, he took a month off from training. He questioned his place in the sport.
"You can get forgot about in the pros real quick," he says. "They'll try to make you into an opponent."
He decided to give himself one more chance. A technically sound boxer with a knack for defense, White had had a bad habit of slowing down near the end of matches when he assumed he was winning on every judge's scorecard. So he adjusted his style, harnessing his hand speed and footwork for more combinations and late round flurries.
He knocked out his next opponent in the first round. Then, this past fall, he rattled off two unanimous decision victories.
That's where he stands now. The doubt is gone and the path up the boxing business seems clearer, albeit long and winding. His career is slowly taking shape. Since turning pro, he's worked as a personal trainer. Now that the purses have grown, though, he's been able reduce his clientele to allow him more time to train. He is sponsored by Bozza Reilly Construction. And he often spars against Ke'Andre Gibson, the undefeated 21-year-old junior welterweight who recently signed with Golden Boy Promotions and who trains at Kings Fitness.
After six rounds of shadow boxing, White hits the heavy bag. He moves to the rhythm of its sway, pounding deep dents into the padding. There is no opponent to game plan for, just a craft to master.
The fight card is Wednesday 7p.m. at the Heart of St. Charles Banquet Center.
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