- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Lamont Roach Sr. got the bad news last month and waited until his 22-year-old son, boxer Lamont Roach Jr., finished his workout.

He knew the young Maryland fighter, just a week out from his Oct. 21 bout against Luis Hinojosa, would be devastated to learn his cousin and trainer, Bernard Roach, was dead.

Suddenly, Roach’s boxing mentor since age 9 was gone.

Roach, then 14-0 with five knockouts, had to make a decision: Pull out or go ahead without his longtime cornerman.

He decided to fight, with his father taking over as head trainer, and picked up his 15th win with another stoppage — this one in the first round.

“It was a very terrible moment and of course there was distractions with grieving and everything, people coming over,” Roach said. “It was hard to focus, but I know for a fact that he wouldn’t have wanted me to give up no matter what. I take pride in continuing and pushing for him, pushing for me because in boxing, he raised a soldier.

A month later, Roach, still grieving, will have his second fight since his cousin’s fatal heart attack when he takes on journeyman Rey Perez (21-8) Thursday night at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

The night marks a first for Roach, as the junior lightweight will be headlining in his home state on a card televised on ESPN Deportes (and tape-delayed on ESPN2). The venue is scaled for 1,800 people.

The fight is also a step up for Roach — a prospect whose goal is being a world champion. A win would put him on track to contend for a shot at a lightweight title.

“He’s ready to become a contender now,” said Eric Gomez, Roach’s promoter and the president of Golden Boy Promotions. “I think this is a big test this week. … He’s ready, He’s knocking on the door.”

Committed to boxing

There have been a couple of moments in Roach’s life where he’s had to decide if he wanted to keep boxing.

In high school, Roach played — and loved — football. But Roach Sr. realized if his son wanted to make a career of either, he needed to stick to one. Roach’s size made football a nonfactor. (At 22, Roach is 5-foot-7 and fights at 130 pounds).

The other moment happened when he was 19 and a freshman at the University of Maryland. The boxer was studying mechanical engineering, but the five-class course load became too difficult to manage after he turned pro in April 2014.

“Professors don’t care if you’ve got a fight or not, you’ve gotta be in class,” Roach Sr. said. “We were right in our first year with Golden Boy and they were keeping us really busy. It was going to be hard to keep [school] up.”

Roach talked to his family about dropping out.

“Professional boxing at this level, it isn’t something you can take on lightly,” Roach said. “You have to go full throttle. It was a very tough decision for me, especially because my mom wanted me to be in school. … I’m going to make sure it pays off for the both of us.”

True to his word, Roach was a successful amateur, winning 11 national championships.

He now lives in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, but he originally trained out of Capitol Heights in a gym owned by his father and his cousin.

As an amateur, Roach sparred with other talented prospects and professionals like Baltimore’s Gervonta Davis. (Davis and Roach actually fought two times as amateurs.)

Turning the corner

In 2014, Gomez was handed film of Roach while working with another fighter out of the Roachs’ gym. Gomez said Roach stood out because of his ability to fight like a professional as an amateur, which typically looks more like fencing than fighting.

After accepting a contract from Golden Boy, Roach has fought an average of four-to-five times per year.

Now his goal is turning the corner.

Gomez hopes Roach can become a draw in the District, an area lacking a consistent attraction, even with talented fighters like Lamont Peterson and Gary Russell Jr. The Golden Boy promoter referenced Peterson’s 2011 sellout fight against Amir Khan at the Convention Center as evidence boxing can flourish in the city.

“I know the potential in D.C.,” Gomez said. “We’re hoping this kid can live up to the potential. We’re going to do our part to build him up there.”

Roach, who’s never taken more than a week off from training since he started in the sport, said he’s ready for a break if he wins Thursday. Maybe a few days in Mexico.

“I’ll probably take a week-and-a-half or two off the gym,” Roach said, before getting back to work again, applying the lessons handed down by his late cousin.

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