Laurel resident Demond Nicholson has 23 victories in his professional boxing career, but his own personal favorite fight was none of them.
“It’s crazy, but my last fight, I watched that fight over and over again because I was just amazed at how much heart I showed, how much I believed in myself,” Nicholson said. “Even though I didn’t win, it’s one of my favorite fights to watch and to study.”
Edgar Berlanga won that 8-round fight on April 24 by unanimous decision and he scored four knockdowns. It was Berlanga’s 17th straight win and the only one where he didn’t register a first-round knockout.
In Berlanga’s previous 16 fights, he boxed for 26 minutes and 22 seconds. This time he went 24 minutes and spoke to an ESPN reporter after the fight about his final knockdown in the final 10 seconds of the bout.
“It was an awesome experience for me, I caught him with an amazing shot,” Berlanga said. “I wanted to get him out, but I didn’t.”
Getting knocked out is not something that happens to Nicholson (23-4-1). Of his four pro losses, two were by technical knockouts and two by decision.
Among Nicholson’s 23 victories, 11 were by technical knockouts and six were by knockouts.
Going the distance toe-to-toe against Berlanga was personal for Nicholson, in only his third fight since he collapsed, May 10, 2019, before a fight because of kidney failure.
His father, Wilbert Nicholson, was there when Nicholson’s body went limp while waiting to fight on the undercard of Jarrett Hurd and Julian Williams, won by Williams.
“I was in the room. I’m the one who tried to bring him around and kept him from going to sleep,” his dad said. “I was there the whole time and I watched him collapse. His whole body locked up. I was trying to massage the muscles and they got him to the emergency room and they pumped 11 bags of fluids in him and he couldn’t pee.”
Nicholson recalled the hours leading up to the kidney failure.
“I was supposed to fight and that day I weighed in about 3 o’clock and about an hour later my body just started cramping up. I thought I was going to have dehydration, so we tried to put the electrolytes in me and I think that actually made it worse because when your kidneys fail, everything you put in your body flushes through your kidneys,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson, 28, saw no warning signs of kidney trouble prior to the collapse.
“It was just all of the sudden. It just happened out of nowhere,” he said. “I had cramps and stuff like that, but it was nothing where I fall out where I can’t function. I was out of it.”
Nicholson went to the hospital on a Friday and was on kidney dialysis on Sunday.
He stayed in the hospital for two weeks before returning home.
“Nothing was back to normal, but once I was able to function and everything like that on the dialysis, they had to teach me how to walk again,” he said. “When I went in the hospital, I was 170 pounds, when I left, I was 230 pounds. My kidneys were just completely shut.”
The road to recovery began with a change in his diet.
“I changed my diet completely and became vegan because when you are on dialysis, there is only so much that you can eat and drink,” he said. “I started something called Sea Moss. It doesn’t taste the best, but it’s a great thing for your body.”
He took the jell-formed seaweed, sun-dried it and put it in a blender with water. A miracle happened.
“I was taking it and on the fifth day, I started peeing again,” he said.
For the next several weeks, he was peeing every 20 minutes.
“My kidneys, from out of nowhere, just started working again,” Nicholson said. “I went to see my kidney specialist and they took me off dialysis. He asked me what did I do to recover so quickly and he said, ‘whatever you are doing, just keep doing it.’”
On July 6, 2019, he was finally off dialysis and eager to get back to work.
“I wanted to go right back in the gym, but my coach said, ‘look, you just had a complete scare and give yourself a month rest and then we can get back to work,’” he recalled.
Nicholson, who has a daughter, Jade Nicholson, 6, and sons Demond Jr., 4, and Bakari 3, began swimming and biking to work himself back into shape, but the boxing ring begged him to return.
“I was missing it (boxing) so much,” he said. “I’ve been boxing every day since I was 8 eight years old. I started when I was 6. That alone, not being able to go to the gym, it broke my heart. I wasn’t used to that. I couldn’t do nothing.”
Hi father, who trained him at Cherry Lane Boxing, and Calvin Ford, his trainer from the Upton Training Center in Baltimore, knew he needed more time before getting in the ring.
“I had to hold him back because, number one, he’s my son, just not some animal that you throw in the ring,” his father said. “I love my son, so I had to hold him back until I felt that he was starting to get his strength back. Even when it came back, he had two fights and he wasn’t 100 percent, but he beat them.”
Nicholson reached his lowest point while out of the ring.
“Man, when I went through my kidney situation, that was probably the lowest I have ever been,” he said. “At the time, I never really realized how bad it was because I kept telling myself, ‘Look, you’ve got to get back in shape, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. After dialysis man, I would try to come in the gym, ride the bike and my dad would curse me out.”
He finally started training in the ring on Aug. 4, 2019. His first fight since the kidney failure was on Oct. 18.
“I really shouldn’t have been fighting, because my body wasn’t 100 percent,” Nicholson said. “I would say the doctor was right, I really shouldn’t have been fighting six to 12 months after the injury, but having the warrior and the fighter mentality, I just had to get back in there.”
His father knew of Nicholson’s desire when he was in college.
“My son was in college and he said, ‘Dad, my dream is to be a world champion,’ well I said, ‘Your mother is not going to go for that, but I will ask her,” his dad said. “I said if you are going to do that, you are going to have to be serious.”
The super middleweight posted a 110-15 amateur record and he was a 2012 Olympic alternate.
He made his pro debut on July 20, 2013 and defeated Eli Smith by TKO. He won his first 10 fights by technical knockout or knockout.
His highest ranking in the super middleweight division in the USA was 10th and he was ranked 37th in the world out of 1,000.
The 2011 Laurel High graduate, who played football at Hammond High as a freshman on JV, knew he preferred the ring over the gridiron.
“Boxing is my passion. That’s what I do, I’ve been doing it my whole life,” he said.
That passion for boxing and his battle with kidney failure led to another role — as ambassador for The National Kidney Foundation.
“People who had kidney transplants reached out to me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, telling me how much of an inspiration I am to them, being able to come back from kidney failure and stuff like that. That’s all I want, people to reach out to me, because I don’t neglect them or nothing,” he said. “I speak back, I don’t hold my breath. That’s why I wanted to be a part of the kidney foundation, so people can feel free to reach out to me. If I can help them with anything, I try to help them.”
Although his next fight has not been confirmed, he knows where his bread and butter is when he gets in the ring.
“I have a mix, but my jab is probably my key punch,” he said. “I have a great jab that I should use more, but that is definitely my key punch.”
Based on what his dad saw in the fight against Berlanga, he has a lot more than a jab.
“He showed heart and character,” he said. “This kid had 16 straight knockouts and nobody had ever made it out of the first round. We went there to win. We didn’t go there to collect our gate.”
His father hopes that was a springboard to further big fights down the road.
“We looked at that as we get an opportunity to fight some of the top fighters in the country for a world title,” Wilbert Nicholson said.
Based on the Berlanga fight, Nicholson is ready for the challenge.
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“My last fight, I fought the whole fight and I finished hard, so that’s when I knew I’m 100% now,” he said.