Carroll County Times
Carroll County

TNT reignited: Eldersburg boxer Tucker ready for return to ring

The day after suffering his first professional defeat, light-heavyweight boxer Mark "TNT" Tucker posted the message "I shall return" in capital letters on his Facebook page.
He had no idea it would take so long for him to make that return.
Tucker heads back into the ring Friday night at the Carroll County Ag Center's Shipley Arena after a 2 1/2-year layoff caused mostly by family health issues.
"I'm excited," the Eldersburg resident said from inside the concrete compound that serves as his training center. "Its been a lot of hard work to get back in shape, but it's all been good."
Tucker (15-1, seven knockouts) is scheduled to fight 33-year-old Texan Rayford Johnson (8-13) as the main event on a pro-am card that is expected to include some 10 bouts.
Tucker, 26, has been boxing since he was 12. In addition to several bouts in Westminster, he fought in Las Vegas, Florida, California and New York, winning his first 15 pro bouts and the USBO light-heavyweight title along the way.
He seemed on the brink of a major breakthrough before losing a unanimous decision to Larry Pryor on March 12, 2011 at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va. Other than in training, he hasn't fought since.
"I didn't think it would take this long," said Mark "Spiritbear" Tucker Sr., TNT's father, trainer and promoter. "He's worked his butt off to get back. He had a lot of setbacks."
Most of the setbacks had nothing to do with boxing and were more important than a win or a loss.
Later in the same year that Tucker suffered his first loss, his younger brother, Tim, was in a serious car accident and nearly died.
"He was in a coma for 10 days," Tucker Sr. said. "He had to go through a lot of rehabilitation to learn how to walk and talk again."
Not long after trying to help his younger son get better, the elder Tucker fell ill. He had heart surgery and says he was given little chance to live past this spring. But he's still here, vibrant as ever, promoting his son's comeback fight.
"I believe in him," Tucker Sr. said, conceding a little bit of "rust" is inevitable after 2 1/2 years off.
Tucker himself wouldn't concede that simply because of the work he has put in to make this return.
He has been sparring on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and doing speed-bag and heavy-bag work on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He said he gets up by 5 a.m. and runs 5-8 miles every day.
He says he enjoys every hour of the training, but there's nothing like stepping into the ring.
"I love boxing," he said. "It's definitely a different sport. Not really anybody around here boxes, so you can't really have a conversation about it.
"I just like doing it and I want to be great at it. I'm excited to bring the sport back to the area and hopefully get more people into boxing."
He says he is motivated in equal parts by his love for the sport and by the possibility of big paydays down the road. His goals remain to fight on pay-per-view television and earn a major championship belt.
Tucker Sr. sees the same fighter, but a different person, as his son gets ready to reignite his professional career.
"Mark has matured as a man," he said. "Everything's a little more serious now. He's a very talented athlete and sometimes gifted and talented athletes take things for granted and they don't even know they are. It's a hard row to hoe now."
This time around, for the first time in his career, Tucker has the added motivation of having lost his last time out. While the family health issues extended his layoff to 2 1/2 years, he clearly was in no rush to get back in the ring after that disappointing loss to Pryor that blemished his previously perfect record.
"I was not happy. I was upset," he said. "I felt I could've done a lot better. I wasn't myself that day. I don't know what happened."
Said his father: "He had an off-night. You ever have an off-night?"
The elder Tucker says this is not a one-off deal; that he will be promoting another card at Shipley Arena in February. Perhaps there will be more cards after that. Perhaps some of the proceeds will allow them to take some amateur fighters from this region to the world championships next year.
Those are the plans. But for all that to happen, Mark "TNT" Tucker has to start winning again, beginning Friday night.
Days away from the return he always expected to make but one that kept getting pushed back by events outside of his control, Tucker is back in control, back doing what he loves.
"It's exciting. It's something that [people] don't normally do in life," he said. "It's fun. Every day's an adventure."