Two things are clear upon meeting Chris Laws. He is a tall, muscular guy and certainly not someone from which you want to take a punch. He taught six fighters that lesson and was one round away from giving another before he lost a split decision to heavyweight Marion Steen of Cleveland, Ohio, at the National Gold Gloves Championship in Salt Lake City.
Laws, 25, was the only boxer from Virginia representing the North Carolina, D.C., Maryland and Virginia region in the heavyweight class despite having a novice tag — fewer than 10 fights — and his quick rise to the national stage proved he is worth watching out for in the future.
"Going to the National Golden Gloves is like playing at Virginia Tech or something," he said before leaving for Salt Lake. "It's that kind of stage. I'm excited about it. I'm honored, I'm blessed to have this opportunity."
In reality, Laws has always been a fighter, it's only recently that his fights have been in the ring. Before he ever put on a pair of gloves, Laws had dreams of playing in the NFL. At 15, the Newport News native suffered second and third degree burns on his legs while attempting to put out a grease fire at home. The injury was so severe that his ability to play football, let alone walk, was in jeopardy.
Eventually after months of physical therapy, the former running back played football again during his senior season at Warwick High — well enough to earn a scholarship to U.Va.-Wise.
After two injury filled years in college — shoulder surgery, broken leg and a knee injury — Laws transferred to Hampton University to continue pursuing his degree and his dream, but the latter never came to fruition.
"Football was everything to me," Laws said. "When that ended I was devastated. I've always heard a setback is a set-up for a comeback, so I always kept that in mind."
He soon found another dream to latch onto. Boxing started as a cross-training exercise, but turned serious about two years ago. As a boxer is nothing without his trainer, much of Laws' success in the ring lies in the hands of those who have trained him. The man Laws called his "life mentor," Wilson Achong, showed him the fundamentals of the sport: how to throw a proper jab, keep his elbows tight and how to breathe.
"He's become a quick study," Achong said, "but he's still got a lot to learn. He is in a very young stage in his boxing tenure."
Shortly after that he met Eugene Floyd, a staff sergeant in the Air Force, through a mutual friend. Floyd was a former military boxer, but said he started too late to really make the impact he wanted, so he began training boxers in his garage. Laws and Floyd clicked instantly and eventually began working together five days a week.
"Days that it rained, days that it snowed, days that it was hot. The only time we didn't train was when we had the hurricane," said Floyd, who demands full commitment from fighters he coaches.
"This is a jealous sport. If you don't dedicate yourself 100 percent you won't be as successful as you want to be."
Laws had his first fight a year ago in Roanoke at the Virginia Commonwealth games. His opponent already had fought nine times at that point and laughed when Laws told him this would be his first fight.
"I was pretty nervous," he said. "I never get nervous regarding my opponent, but I hate to lose. I just didn't want my first fight to end in a loss."
Laws dominated his first fight and gave his opponent two standing eight counts on his way to winning gold at the commonwealth games.
"It doesn't matter how many fights a guy has," Laws said he learned that day. "It's irrelevant once that bell rings."
Since then Laws and Floyd have moved from the garage to C4 boxing gym in Hampton, which opened in March. They still train five days a week and even kept the purple heavy bag from the garage — a small reminder of how far they've come.
In conjunction with his training, Laws said he studied a lot of smaller fighters to improve his movements in the ring, including Norfolk boxing great Pernell "Sweat Pea" Whittaker. Following the patterns of quick and evasive fighters should come in handy for Laws. Coupling those skills with his brute strength would make him a nightmare for his future opponents.
"He's very agile, because he teeters between a heavyweight and a cruiserweight," Achong said. "He has such a big opportunity to win because he's unique. No one knows him, so no one can study him."
In Laws' mind, his biggest attribute isn't his quick feet or a strong right jab. It's his ability to adapt to whatever situation he faces in the ring and stay composed. His composure in the ring comes from being an athlete all his life. His focus outside of the ring, he said, comes from his wife and son who have kept him grounded.
But with all the hype Laws has garnered from his swift rise, his drive to continuously become a better boxer comes from all of the struggles he's faced as an athlete and in life.
"I'm used to the adversity thing. I'm used to being the underdog. I know a lot of my opponents will definitely be more experienced than me, but I don't think they will be as hungry, I don't think they will be as humble and I don't think they want it as bad."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun