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Lorenzo Simpson still swinging to the top

Lorenzo "Truck" Simpson won the Junior Olympics title in his weight class in July. The boxer is a 2020 Olympics hopeful. Boxing "keeps me chill. It just keeps me happy." Simpson said. "It's fun. It's a family. When you come here we really become a family."
(Caitlin Faw/Baltimore Sun video)

When Lorenzo "Truck" Simpson stepped into the boxing ring six years ago for his first national championship fight, the emotional baggage of his murdered mentor weighed on his mind.

The then 10-year-old was a year into training at Upton Boxing Center and some wondered whether he'd sustain the line of great boxers to come out of Baltimore.

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Lorenzo knew he needed to punch his way through the pain — physical and mental — to prove himself.

Today, the 16-year-old has knocked out any doubts.

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Nowadays, the only weight he carries are 165 pounds of muscle and a three pound gold medal from the Junior Olympics National Boxing Tournament, as well as the high expectations that come with capturing more amateur championship titles than Oscar De La Hoya and the attention of world champion Floyd Mayweather.

"There are a lot of people talking about me," said Lorenzo, a sheepish smile spreading across his face, on a recent day at Upton Boxing Center on Pennsylvania Avenue. "But I just laugh a lot, smile a lot and stay focused."

It was at Upton, a West Baltimore haven for Baltimore youth that has produced some of the city's most accomplished amateur boxers, that Lorenzo was given the nickname "Truck" for the shape of his head. Now the name adorns T-shirts and trends as a hashtag.

He went from hanging around the boxing center watching and emulating his uncle, former professional boxer and heavyweight world champion, Hasim Rahman Sr., to taking on his own six-day-a week training.

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It's a schedule he has maintained for six years since his mother allowed him to start boxing, hoping it would be an outlet for the anger that haunted him after his father's murder and manifested itself in aggressive behavior at home and at school.

A 2011 Baltimore Sun article documented how Lorenzo's boxing accomplishments transformed his experience at City Springs Elementary/Middle School in East Baltimore, where he became a star after he won the first of six Ringside National Silver Gloves Championship titles. He won that title the same week his gymmate Ronald T. Gibbs, a promising amateur boxer known as "Rock," was stabbed to death.

"Back at that time, it was just a sport for me, and I had a lot to prove," Lorenzo said. "Now, I see it could be a career."

Upton's lead coach, Calvin Ford, sees even more.

He's preparing the nine-time national champion with a near flawless 161-2 record for the 2020 Olympics. Lorenzo will be the most decorated amateur he's ever taken to the U.S. trials.

In addition to winning gold in this year's Junior Olympics in Dallas, Lorenzo was named "Most Outstanding Male Boxer" of the more than 900 youth who competed in the tournament. He is currently ranked first nationally in his weight class by USA Boxing.

He won his last National Silver Gloves Championship — De La Hoya had five — in February after winning three fights in three days. He took the Junior Olympic gold in July after winning three fights in four days.

"This city, we've had good boxers, but everybody says Truck is the one," Ford said. "You can just feel it. You can see it."

Mayweather, widely rated as one of the greatest boxers of all time, agrees.

He was being interviewed by TMZ, the celebrity news website, at a boxing event in Washington last March, when suddenly his gaze shifted to the crowd behind the camera. He pointed at someone in the crowd.

"That kid can fight right there, I can tell," said Mayweather, completely ignoring the question.

Before he even knew Lorenzo's name and summoned him forward to size up his frame, Mayweather insisted Lorenzo had the goods.

"I can see it," Mayweather said.

When told of Lorenzo's record, Mayweather turned to his entourage and said: "I told you!"

The boxer turned promoter told Lorenzo he'd be the next addition to his heavyweight team and said he would sign him when he turned 18.

The entire exchange, which made national headlines, was captured on video and is available on YouTube.

"It was cool. He is just a good guy. And we're cool," Lorenzo said.

This summer, Mayweather invited Lorenzo to train at his Vegas gym, which he did in July.

Lorenzo says very little about his accomplishments, but in media interviews after his wins, and on his fan page online, there's one consistent message: "Thank you, Baltimore."

"I just want people who come behind me to know that we can make it," Lorenzo said.

His mother Danica Ward moved out of the city three years ago after Lorenzo's older brother was jumped walking home from school.

After Lorenzo's father was killed — he won his gold medal 12 years and a day after the anniversary of his father's murder during a home invasion while Lorenzo and his siblings were in school — Ward vowed that she wouldn't lose another one of her black men to violence.

"I love Baltimore," she said. "But we had to go."

The family now lives in Reisterstown, and Lorenzo attends Franklin High School, where he has a 3.1 grade point average.

Ward remains her son's biggest fan, but she hasn't lost sight of why she got him involved in boxing in the first place.

"I never thought I'd wake up one day and have my son be a Junior Olympic Champion," she said. "I never put my sons in sports to make a career of it, I just put them in it to stay focused and out of the streets. So, if it turns into that, that's a bonus. I don't care what he does with it, as long as he's here."

Lorenzo still talks everyday to his middle school principal, Rhonda Richetta, who he said was "always like family, always cared, and was always there."

Richetta, who is still the principal at City Springs, said she has watched Lorenzo stay focused and not follow some of his friends down the wrong path.

"I have stayed in touch with him because I just knew he was going to accomplish big things," she said. "He has, and it's not over yet."

Lorenzo has more than just the Olympic trials ahead, Ford said.

"All this recognition — it's a kiss and a curse at the same time, because everyone's looking at him and saying 'I can get him,' 'I can get on him,'" Ford said. "It's hard to keep that status."

"He's already claimed victory as an amateur," he added. "But his job is to make sure he keeps his grades up, and stay away from the streets, and uplift the city and so that the next kid can have something to look forward to. That's the goal."

twitter.com/EricaLG

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