While many Washington area youngsters flock to the basketball courts or tennis courts to hone their skills, Floyd Favors spends his time in the steamy makeshift gym at Eastern Branch Boys Club in Northeast Washington, training with speed bags and trading punches with fellow young boxers.
Boxing has increased in popularity over the past five or six years and Favors is only one of more than 500 youths who participate in the 30 amateur boxing programs in the Washington metropolitan area.
The tremendous success of Sugar Ray Leonard, world welterweight champion, and the increased visibility of boxing, both amateur and professional, are credited for most of that increase.
Favors is a beneficiary of television's recent attempt to give amateur boxing more exposure. Favors won the gold medal in the World Games in May on national TV. After being knocked down in the second round of the championship fight, he came back to beat his more experienced German opponent, a former European amateur champion who was seven years older than Favors.
"That was a nationally televised tournament and I think it got a lot of people interested in amateur boxing," said Favors, a resident of Capitol Heights. "But the big thing was it showed people that fighters in the Washington area are as good as any anywhere. Washington has always had the talent. It's just that the lack of money or exposure kept a lot of fighters from getting into the right tournaments."
Favors, 18, who won his first bout yesterday in the National Sports Festival in Indianapolis, is world champion in the amateur bantamweight division (119 pounds). In seven years of fighting, the 18-year-old has compiled a 115-14 mark, and has fought in several regional and national Golden Gloves and Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournaments in addition to his international experience in the World Games. Favors says his success has inspired other young amateurs.
Amateur boxing works basically on three levels. The first is the junior amateur division, with most of the participants in the 7-to-13 age bracket. From there, they move up to the novice division. Finally, they reach the amateur open division.
Dave Jacobs, former trainer for Leonard and the present coach and trainer of several pros and amateurs at Oakcrest Boxing Club in Landover, says the three-level development program has had a significant impact on the quality of amateur boxing in the area.
"Very few areas of the country have kids fighting as young as we do in this area," said Jacobs, who has been around boxing for more than 25 years. "They start out in the juniors and get the experience. When they move up to novice, they get a little more experience in national competition. By the time they get to the open division, the good ones are prepared to fight national and international competition.
"Just look at Favors. I watched him come up through the ranks and it paid off. There are a lot of other good young ones in this area that can do the same thing. I really feel Washington is second only to Detroit when it comes to amateur boxing nationally."
Among the other top young open amateurs in the area:
* Joe King, ranked fifth nationally among amateurs in the 106-pound class. King is a 17-year-old senior at Archbishop Carroll who fights out of Hillcrest Boxing Club. His record is 98-7.
* James (Ducky) Johnson, also of Hillcrest, ranked fifth among 125-pounders by Ring magazine. Johnson, 17 and a senior at Cardozo, is 92-11
* Anthony Wilson, (106 pounds) out of Peppermill. He is a promising fighter with an 18-4 mark. Two of Wilson's losses came at the hands of Favors.
Bandele Hinton of Palmer Park is rated the best junior amateur in the area. The 13-year-old, 106-pounder has put together a 32-5 mark in three years of competition. Hinton, coached by his father, a former professional, recently set a Junior Olympics record by stopping his opponent, Thomas Doria of Philadelphia, 15 seconds into the first round of their fight in a regional tournament.