Damon Allen Jr.: Continuing to prove his value
For lightweight/junior welterweight Damon “No Smiling” Allen Jr., 12-0-1 (5), his Friday night bout on ESPN3 at the MGM Grand, in Las Vegas, Nevada, marks the beginning of the next stage of his career. At 25 years old, Allen, a former amateur standout from the famed Allen boxing family, out of West Philadelphia, is excited to see his career accelerate. It’s been 16 years since he first started training, at eight years old, out of the Shepard Recreation Center. Downstairs to the basement is the Mitch Allen Boxing Gym. This gym is the impetus for boxing being a constant in Damon Allen Jr.’s life since his earliest memories.
The gym was dedicated in honor of Allen’s great-grandfather Mitch Allen, a former professional fighter who fought 22 professional fights in the late-1940s. “Boxing is 24/7 in my family. My great-grandfather fought (world middleweight champion) Joey Giardello. I went to summer camp here at the rec center,” says Allen. As he sits on the ring apron in the center of the gym, fighters of all ages shadow box, hit the bags and work the mitts all under the gaze of his great-grandfather. At the age of 89, Mitch Allen is not shy, if he feels the need to interject in the training of any fighter, to make corrections.
Although Damon’s grandfather and father Damon Allen Sr. both boxed during their youths, neither generation decided to take boxing as seriously as their predecessor Mitch Allen. Damon Allen Sr. competed as an amateur but chose another path in life. After giving a crack at basketball, at which his grandfather and father both exceled, Damon Allen Jr. was told by his father that it was time to go downstairs and see his great-grandfather, since he was having trouble with competition immersed in a team atmosphere.
“I didn’t realize what he was trying to do back then, so we argued a lot. Drills and things he made me do that the other kids didn’t have to that trained with me. At the time, I would get upset and suck my teeth but now I see why he was doing it. I fight in his style because of it, mentally and physically.” Allen is aware of what his surname means, as he reflects on his past and current relationship with the patriarch of the family. “My mom was a U.S.A. boxing judge also, so that added more pressure coming up through the amateurs,” says Allen.
It was tough for Allen, as he started to compete in tournaments throughout the city. Many of the other gyms in Philadelphia were skeptical and thought he was going to get an unfair advantage, due to his name. “Remember, I used to get to come down to this gym and watch fighters like (Bernard) Hopkins train for big fights,” recalls Allen, “so people thought that I had this secret relationship with him, or that I was going to be treated special.” That misconception by others soon was something of the past, at least on the local level.
A young Allen, guided by his great grandfather, sought out to alter the perception of the boxing community as a whole. To do this, they did what the family does best: Fight. Almost every week they were involved in some sort of competition. From the ages of eight to 17, Allen would have close to 220 fights, only coming up short about 15 times. By the time he was 16, Allen was competing on the national level and ran up against the barrier many standouts in the unpaid ranks hit, after competing and winning in the majority of prestigious tournaments throughout the country. It can get difficult, at times, to self motivate.
Enter the former Olympic Education Center in Northern Michigan. Al Mitchell, boxing coach for the U.S.A. Men’s team in the 1996 Atlanta Games, invited Allen to train at the center as an Olympic Education Center athlete. This allowed Allen to go straight to national competitions and continue to study academically. This lasted for a year until the center lost funding and had to close its doors.
After fighting in the Olympic Trials, as the youngest athlete for the London Games, and coming up short, Allen chose to stick around and weigh out his options, as far as boxing was concerned. “I didn’t choose to turn pro right away. I took some time in order to figure things out. Great-Grandpop got sick and was in and out of the hospital, so I wasn’t really sure,” recalls Allen.
With the type of pedigree Allen brought to the table as a prospect, who could enter the professional ranks, one would think he would have major promotional companies champing at the bit to sign him. While a couple companies showed interest, things cooled off during Allen’s hiatus, as he dealt with family issues. “We signed with a local manager and had about six fights, when we finally decided to sign professionally.” Things didn’t work out with the manager and they chose to part, although they did amicably. With the clock ticking, so was the early portion of Allen’s 20s.
After some needed rest and relaxation, a simple text message to a member of the boxing community, with whom Allen already established a relationship in the past, sparked interest in getting his career back on track. Again, it was time for Allen to prove himself, that he is indeed the real deal. “I signed my new deal and Golden Boy (Promotions) was on notice. I wanted to make an impact right away,” stated Allen.
Over the course of the next seven fights in his career, under the Golden Boy banner, Allen has been anything but a protected commodity. Right away he was matched tough, after the layoff, and, since then, has done nothing but prove he is a prospect to watch in the future.
That future begins with his fight on Friday against Louis Cruz, 12-3 (6). While Allen has fought in the past on Golden Boy developmental shows, this is the first time, he is taking part in a big fight weekend. “It’s important to be part of this type of atmosphere, if I am going to be involved in the way I really want.” Of course he is referring to making it to the point where fans book flights and hotel rooms because his name is one of two on the marquee. Allen also wants to let it be known that, in the talent-rich lightweight division, he is aware that, even if he is not at the elite level yet, fights like this weekend’s, and his tough draw with Luis Arceo, last October, will only help propel him to the elite level.
With his career inside of the ring moving in the right direction, Allen also has had some business opportunities outside of the ring. This includes signing with the Title Boxing brand. Several other sponsorships have been put into play for this articulate, good-looking prospect by a business adviser in the Philadelphia area, Adam Scherzer. However what Damon Allen Jr. does inside of the ring will ultimately continue to pave his way toward the success he has been trying to prove he is worth, since he was eight years old.