Ringing in an Olympian
QB-turned-pugilist punches his ticket to the Summer Games after transitioning to a sport he knew nothing about four years ago
Story by Matt Schuman (BA-86) Photo by Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images
As Dominic Breazeale’s UNC football career was winding down in 2007, his phone rang. On the line was a recruiter on behalf of a national boxing program seeking the next generation of great heavyweight champions.
Michael King is the force behind All-American Heavyweights. A heavyweight in his own right in the boxing and entertainment business, he is also known as the president and CEO of King World Productions, which syndicated such television hits as The Oprah Winfrey Show and Wheel of Fortune.
“Prior to him recruiting me, I had no idea” about the sport, says the Bears’ former starting quarterback (BA-08). “I’d never stepped foot in a boxing gym, and I had never been around any boxer before in my life.”
That, and his NFL aspirations, kept him from accepting.
IN HIS BLOOD
From the time he played little league growing up in Alhambra, Calif., Breazeale’s ultimate passion was football. He went on to become a star quarterback for Alhambra High School and spent two years at Mt. San Antonio College before transferring to UNC in 2006.
At UNC, his numbers on the field weren’t likely to draw interest from NFL scouts (2,468 passing yards, 10 touchdown passes), but his 6-foot-6-inch, 260-pound frame and his athletic ability intrigued them.
With some NFL teams showing interest, Breazeale still had dreams of a professional football career. He declined the offer from All-American Heavyweights.
It was only after realizing that he wasn’t going to get an offer from an NFL team that Breazeale changed his mind. He had no idea what to expect.
“I never boxed in my life, but I figured I had the competitive edge to compete in the sport,” Breazeale says.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
All-American Heavyweights sought athletes who had played at a high level, such as Division I, and were at least 6-foot-3-inches and 230 pounds. Breazeale certainly fit the bill and popped up on the organization’s radar.
When he walked into The Rock Boxing Gym in Carson, Calif., to begin his training, it was obvious that he had the potential to do something special in the ring.
He began working with trainer Manny Robles, a longtime veteran in the sport who was immediately impressed.
“This gym was loaded with heavyweights at one time,” Robles says. “From day one, I saw Dominic, and I saw his work ethic. And there was just something about that kid, that sparkle in his eyes, that if anybody can do it, it was this kid.”
Starting from scratch, Breazeale had a lot to learn, including basics like the proper way to put on boxing gloves.
The more he learned, the better he became. Soon his talent would show on a world stage.
PROVING HIMSELF QUICKLY
Breazeale started with a couple of amateur fights. His confidence grew with each one.
By the time the Olympic Trials rolled around in February, Breazeale was ready to make a name for himself. Only four years after starting his career, he came away with the gold medal by scoring the winning point in the last second of the USA Boxing National
Championship on March 3.
The medal secured his spot in the Olympic qualifying event, the Americas Qualifier, last
May in Rio de Janeiro. Breazeale won two matches before losing in the finals and taking
home the silver medal. It was enough to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team — an amazing feat, especially for being so new to the sport.
“Typically you start out when you’re in your early teens,” Robles says. “This kid is just one of these boys that is really strong and has unlimited potential.”
After months of training and fine-tuning, Breazeale was ready for the journey to London.
By his side at the Olympics were family, including his wife, Christina, and friends. He wanted to take his two sons, DeAngelo (4) and Devin (6 months), but he thought it would be too difficult in a city with so many people.
DeAngelo became his dad’s biggest fan and cheerleader back home. Throughout the games, DeAngelo wouldn’t take off a T-shirt his father sent him.
“He was really proud of his dad being in the Olympics,” Breazeale says. “So that was kind of cool, you know.”
From the time he stepped off the plane, Breazeale was still having trouble actually
believing he was really an Olympian.
He had butterflies from the moment he put on the Olympic uniform and marched into the
In the Olympic Village, following training, he would hang out in a little courtyard in awe of all the famous athletes surrounding him.
“To be able to meet people like Michael Phelps and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, people like that, it was phenomenal,” Breazeale says.
Finally, it was his time to compete.
As he awaited his match against Magomed Omarov of the Russian Federation, the anxiety
grew. He was in the back of the arena eager to get into the ring. Finally, as he strode toward the ring, he heard the announcer belt out his name. At that moment, the realization hit him that he was an Olympian.
“Going up and walking into the arena for a normal bout is nothing special. It is just kind of ‘go back to work,’ ” Breazeale says. “But when I walked into the ropes to go into the ring in the Olympic center there, I knew I was on a big stage, and you could definitely feel it.”
Unfortunately, it was a quick exit for Breazeale, who lost a 19-8 decision to Omarov.
However, it was an experience he will never forget.
ON TO A NEW FUTURE
With the Olympics behind him, Breazeale is eyeing his future.
After graduating from UNC with a degree in Criminal Justice, Breazeale considered a career in law enforcement, working with at-risk kids.
“Any time I can help a person out, a young kid or an adult, I am definitely willing to do it,” Breazeale says. “It is just the kind of person that I am. ...I would love to use my degree to work with troubled youth or at-risk youth as an adviser or counselor.”
For now, his life is in the boxing ring. He won’t make a bid for a return to the Olympics, instead opting to go forward with a professional career.
He is currently in negotiations with one of the most respected promoters in the business, Al Haymon, who manages welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Breazeale is working with trainer John Bray, a former U.S. amateur heavyweight champion
at Pullmans Boxing Gym in Burbank, Calif.
“There is so much work that is put in, and it is such a big relief when everything is said and done,” Breazeale says. “I would have loved to win a medal in general, but knowing that I went all the way and got so far, for it to come to a close in the great fashion that England did in that closing ceremony, was great. It was awesome.” NV
—Matt Schuman (BA-86), a journalist for 26 years, covers UNC athletics for the Greeley Tribune.