Big punch attracting many hits on Web

The Baltimore Sun

The punch - a left-handed hook thrown with devastating speed and power - was similar to hundreds of others unleashed by Darnell Wilson during his boxing career.

He had been snapping heads back for years, in smoky gyms and in dimly lit ballrooms such as Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, and this blow, for the most part, felt no different.

His windup started near his waist, and his opponent never saw it coming. Wilson's punch seemed to gather speed right up until impact, and it made a hollow, violent thud as it connected. Emmanuel Nwodo was out cold before his knees hit the canvas.

What made Wilson's June 29 knockout punch unique was that Nwodo happened to be the U.S. Boxing Association's cruiserweight title holder at the time. And because Wilson's 11th-round victory in New York was broadcast as a part of ESPN's Friday Night Fights package, it was seen in living rooms and bars all over the country.

Within hours, the punch had been viewed thousands of times on YouTube. On boxing message boards, people started calling it "the knockout of the year, if not the decade."

ESPN announcer Teddy Atlas called it the most devastating knockout in the history of Friday Night Fights, and the clip of Wilson was put into heavy rotation on the TV network's SportsCenter highlight packages for close to a week.

Wilson (22-5-3) was already a fan favorite in Baltimore for his frequent appearances at Michael's Eighth Avenue's Ballroom Boxing, but suddenly he was also a cyberspace celebrity.

Wilson, 32, is still soaking it all in as he, his trainer and his manager try to figure out his next move.

Meanwhile, not much has changed in his life. He still owns and runs his computer services business, DNG Technologies, in the Washington area.

"That fight was definitely one of my top knockouts," Wilson says, talking on the phone while grabbing an order of orange chicken during his lunch break. "But I've knocked out other guys like that."

Wilson's boxing career has been as uneven as it has been unorthodox, but one thing it has never been is dull.

Born in Cleveland to a 15-year-old single mother, Wilson grew up in Capitol Heights and didn't set foot inside a boxing gym until he was 22.

"People always told me in high school that I should box, but I procrastinated about it forever," Wilson says. "They used to call me Little Tyson because they said I looked like Mike Tyson."

Eventually, Wilson wandered into the gym of Charles Mooney, a former bantamweight who won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics. Mooney, who now runs his own boxing academy in Laurel, wasn't particularly impressed.

"Normally, a guy comes to gym at that age, and it's too late," Mooney says. "It's pretty rare for someone to pick up the sport and accomplish anything when you have guys started as young as 8 years old. ...

"But one of my guys, Carlos Diaz, kept telling me, 'You have to work with this guy. He's so strong.' I thought he was nothing but a puncher, but lo and behold, he kept knocking people out."

Wilson was, and in many respects still is, about as graceful as a brontosaurus in high heels inside the ring.

But his granite jaw and heavy punches meant his fights were never finished until the final bell rang, no matter what the scorecard read.

Sometimes, he would take a beating for seven or eight rounds, just waiting for the right opening, and one punch later, he would be the only man standing.

The crowds at Michael's Eighth Avenue loved it.

"That was really his first home," Mooney says of Michael's, where Wilson is 13-0-1. "They recognized this guy had guts. I wish most of the fighters in my past, and some in my future, had his no-quit attitude. He just doesn't know how to give up. He refuses to lose."

Wilson's hunger inside the ring, however, hasn't always matched his dedication outside of it. At least until recently.

"For a while, I kind of disrespected the sport," Wilson says.

He didn't train particularly hard, sometimes not at all, and didn't always make the wisest decisions. At one point, because he needed the money, he agreed to fight heavyweight Owen Beck in Madison Square Garden on three days' notice after another fighter withdrew. Five months later, he agreed to fight Andre Purlette, a cruiserweight with a 38-2 record, with 24 hours' notice when another fighter pulled out after the weigh-in. Both fights were close, but he lost both, contributing to a string of four consecutive losses.

"It was a real down time for him," Mooney says. "He was going down a bad path, but God takes care of good people. He brought him back to the good side."

Since he rededicated himself to boxing, Wilson has won four straight fights, but Mooney is still struggling to eliminate one of Wilson's pre-fight quirks: On the eve of his biggest bouts, Wilson rarely, if ever, sleeps.

"It's a medical thing we're trying to get worked out," Mooney says. "I can't wait to see him with proper rest, because I know what he's capable of. I know he can be a world champion."

If nothing else, Wilson's penchant for slugging it out has certainly earned him plenty of fans in the boxing world. Scott Wagner, the owner and promoter of Ballroom Boxing, calls Wilson "one of the most exciting fighters in the sport."

"People like to see a guy who will get in there and fight," Wagner says. "Most importantly, television executives are falling in love with him if they haven't already. He's a cruiserweight who looks like Mike Tyson, is built like Mike Tyson, who punches like Mike Tyson. And you have to remember, you don't have to be the most talented to draw the most eyeballs. ... I'm not going to cancel my plans to watch Floyd Mayweather or Zab Judah. But I will cancel them to watch Darnell Wilson."

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