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BOXING Heavyweight hopeful has backup plan



Published: Fri, January 28, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chazz Witherspoon would like to duplicate success of brother Tim.

BALTIMORE (AP) -- Four months from earning a college degree, 23-year-old Chazz Witherspoon still doesn't know what to do with his life.

He's already abandoned the chance to play professional basketball. He could end up using his degree in pharmaceutical marketing. Or, he just might become heavyweight champion of the world.

As an accomplished high school basketball player in Paulsboro, N.J., Witherspoon received a number of athletic scholarship offers. He figured he was good enough to ultimately play pro ball in Europe, but couldn't envision life without his family.

So he accepted a full academic scholarship to Saint Joseph's University and took up the sport that his second cousin already mastered: boxing. Witherspoon hopes to duplicate the success of cousin Tim, a former two-time heavyweight champion who went 55-13-1 during a career that spanned four decades.

"That's what brought me to boxing," Chazz said. "I figured that Tim did well, so maybe I could, too."

Finkel impressed

Chazz went 26-6 as an amateur and made an impression on Shelly Finkel, who took on the job as his manager.

"I knew right away this kid was a great prospect," Finkel said.

After winning the 2004 National Golden Gloves championship, Witherspoon became an Olympic alternate on the U.S. squad last year-- an extraordinary feat considering his lack of experience.

Now, less than three years since he first entered the gym, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Witherspoon is ready to make an impression in the pro game. He won his debut in December against James Daniels, and expects a similar result in his second professional bout, Thursday night in Glen Burnie, Md., against Yul Witherspoon (1-0, no relation to Chazz).

"My goal is to keep getting better, keep winning fights," Chazz said. "As long as I keep on winning, I'll be a title contender when I'm ready. I figure three, four years."

Other options

If that doesn't happen, so be it, Witherspoon believes. When he graduates in May, Witherspoon will become eligible to step into a job that carries a starting salary of around $60,000.

"It's always good to have options. You always need a Plan B," he said. "If boxing doesn't work out, I'll always have some way to support myself."

Very little about Witherspoon adheres to the boxing stereotype. He's intelligent, well-spoken and modest.

His handlers have been trying to foist the nickname "Mensa Mauler" on him. Mensa International is an exclusive organization that describes itself as a "society for bright people, the only qualification for membership of which is a high IQ."

Witherspoon wants nothing to do with Mensa, or the nickname.

"If I have a nickname, I want it to be 'Gentleman Chazz Witherspoon,' " he said.

It's not fearsome, it's not sexy, but it describes him perfectly.

"I'm 23, but I tell people I'm 46. I think I'm an old man," he said.

In the boxing world, however, he's just an infant. He perceives that to be an advantage.

"Other guys who have been doing this for 10 years, they get tired of it and fall into a routine," he said. "Everything is new to me. I don't see it as a job."




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