Suggs, helping a novice boxer in the ring with his back to Little Anthony, doesn’t see him lying there. Suggs tells the beginner about Sonny Liston, the one-time world heavyweight champion.
The kid smiles, bashful. “Who?”
“You don’t know who Sonny Liston is?” Suggs asks incredulously. “What you doing here?”
“Oh,” the kid says between awkward punches, “my dad used to box.”
“So you doing this for your dad?” Suggs shakes his head.
“You got to do it for you.”
Little Anthony, still on his back, rolls his eyes.
For Tony Suggs, there will never be another year like 1987. He was 21. As an up-and-coming star of the Alexandria Boxing Club, he had been winning bigger and bigger amateur tournaments. That April, he won the silver medal at a National Golden Gloves tournament in Knoxville, Tenn. And on July 17, he burst onto the national scene with a surprise win in the semifinals of the Olympic Festival in Raleigh, N.C., over the No. 1 boxer in his lightweight class.
During the medal round four nights later, ESPN’s Al Bernstein cut into the regular Olympic Festival broadcast of gymnastics to show Suggs’s relentless body blows demolishing the finer polish of Patrick Byrd. “We’ve got a wild, brawling and brutal match going on here!” Suggs remembers Bernstein announcing. That night, Suggs won gold and became the top-ranked lightweight boxer in the United States.
Coaches began buzzing about Olympic gold. Not long after, Suggs was named the 1987 outstanding amateur boxer of the year by the Washington Area Boxing Hall of Fame.
He called himself Da Beast, a mark of both his viciousness in the ring and his roots in the ’hood. At 5-foot-7, he was short and, at 132 pounds, didn’t look imposing. Tony Suggs was painfully shy and quiet outside the ring, but inside it, he became a monster. “All I wanted to do was hurt somebody,” he says. “A lot of times, I would feel sorry for an opponent after a fight.”
In the four short years that he had been boxing at that point, he was becoming so feared, Suggs’s former coaches say, other boxers would try to go up or down a weight class just to avoid facing him. He fought matches in Sweden and Hungary. He so completely flattened Lyndon Walker, a top-ranked boxer, in a 1987 regional Golden Gloves tournament that Walker’s girlfriend ran screaming into the ring during the eight count. “I thought she was coming after me,” Suggs says. As an amateur, Suggs won 138 matches, 116 of which were knockouts. He lost only 12 times.