Pat (Lightfoot) Jefferson, then 8 years old and weighing all of 59 pounds, almost gave up his boxing career after his first fight.
"I got beat up pretty bad," said Jefferson, now 5 feet 9 1/2 and 140 pounds. "My mother used to send me to the gym to get out of her hair. Both my brothers and my father were involved in the fight game. I was a pretty hyper kid so I tried again. That's how I started."
Since that day, Jefferson, 23, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., who now lives in Washington, has done most of the punishing. He compiled one of the most impressive international amateur records ever, winning 266 of 284 matches, and in 1977-79 was ranked the No. 1 lightweight by the AAU. Jefferson captained the U.S. team in its 1980 series with the Soviet Union, defeating the Soviet national champion.
Along the way, the hard-punching Jefferson, a look-alike in manner and skill to Sugar Ray Leonard, lost a disputed decision to Tommy Hearns, lost a split decision to Olympic champion Howard Davis and split two matches with two-time Olympian Davey Armstrong.
Now a junior lightweight pro, Jefferson is 6-0 with five knockouts. He faces the toughest opponent of his brief professional career tonight when he takes on "Irish" Mike James (2-0) of Hillcrest Heights in the feature of a seven-bout card at the D.C. Armory.
Also on the program, which begins at 8 p.m., are Washington welterweights Lloyd (Honeyboy) Taylor versus Tim Ward, Herb (the Jewish Bomber) Wilens of Gaithersburg versus Ben Vereen of Washington in a middleweight fight, and lightweights Scott (Fist) Farmer of Manassas against Ken Corbitt of Harrisburg, Pa.
James worked as a sparring partner for Leonard, helping prepare him for his Davey Green and Roberto Duran fights. He is the type of fighter who can be troublesome, according to Jefferson's manager, Pat Penny.
"He (James) is a bullish fighter, like Duran, and, like Pat, is trying to get his career off the ground," said Penny, who also worked with area lightweight contender Derrik Holmes.
"We've brought Pat along slowly and he has improved each fight. He has quickness, can throw every punch and, most importantly, is disciplined. We hope to get in about 14 or 15 fights against good fighters before we think about a title fight. Of course, we have to win them all.
"Pat is also marketable. He's good looking and has Sugar Ray's showmanship. We're not trying to copy Leonard's style but the D.C. area needs another hero."
Jefferson, articulate and confident, said he has picked up bits and pieces of different boxers' styles, and put them together.
"I like Ray's ability to slip punches and Hearns' ability to force fighters into his right hand," said Jefferson, who has two years of college credit and plans to major in communications. "I take a little from everyone and use it."
Jefferson is in no hurry to move up to the welterweight class, where the megabucks are, mainly because that division is loaded with excellent boxers.
"No hurry," Jefferson said. "I'm comfortable right here. I don't want to chase a dollar and ruin my career."