Tall order for the heavyweight class

TEMPLE HILLS — Out of a small boombox, James Brown is preaching about shaking your moneymaker, getting up and staying on the scene, while the Giant's size 18 feet bounce in steady rhythm on the mat. Way, way up above, the boxer's meaty hands, each the size of a catcher's mitt, punch holes in the humid air.

This isn't a place where a champion tries to get to -- it's the kind of place you want to be from. But if someone were to go looking, we're in the no-frills boxing gym housed in the basement of a suburban Washington strip mall, as far away from fame and glory as you can imagine. Down the concrete steps and to the left. Under a shoe repair shop and a beauty salon, to be exact. This is fertile soil in the boxing world.

What's happening in the ring at the far end of the room speaks to either the dearth of talent in the heavyweight ranks, the Giant's immense potential or maybe both.

"I'm the future heavyweight champion of the world," says Ernest Mazyck, whom everyone calls Zeus. "There's not a doubt in my mind."

Mazyck (pronounced muh-ZEEK) fights tomorrow on a Ballroom Boxing card at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie. It's only his seventh professional bout. Mazyck is listed as 7 feet, 325 pounds, which makes him one of three things in a boxing world starved for heavyweights -- an oddity, a novelty or a future contender.

For right now, at the very least, it makes Mazyck intriguing. Not only has the sport lost fans to mixed martial arts, but it has lost athletes, too. If you can find a boxing gym -- look quickly, because they're disappearing -- you won't spot many big guys. At the highest level, all four heavyweight champions are foreign-born.

"We need a shot in the arm," says Richard Steele, a noted referee who runs a boxing gym in Las Vegas. "We need some new blood, we need some new American talent to light the fire again, because that fire has become so dim."

Steele has seen Mazyck in his gym, and though it's tough to predict world titles for someone so young in his career, it's easy to look at Mazyck's mountainous size and realize he'll probably get a shot.

"He has lot of ability and the skill level to make a big imprint," says Steele, "if he can pair up with the right trainer and the right financing. His size alone really made it easy for him to go from another sport to boxing. He's so strong and so tall and so big."

Mazyck became serious about boxing after college. As a teenager, he was a highly regarded basketball prospect. He left his Columbia, S.C., home when he was 14 to enroll in Mount Zion Christian Academy, the North Carolina basketball factory where Mazyck played alongside Tracy McGrady before accepting a scholarship to play at Missouri.

Injuries limited Mazyck's playing time, and he bounced around from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College to Nebraska and finally to Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., where Mazyck played football and basketball his senior year.

It's probably worth noting here that in boxing, when it comes to the truth, you always round up. Mazyck, 27, is billed as a 7-footer, but when he graduated from Shaw five years ago, he was listed as 6-10. That's just a minor detail, though, because Mazyck is legitimately big, cut from solid rock and able to enter the ring by casually stepping over the top rope.

"When I met him for the first time, I thought, 'Oh my God, he's huge,'" says Gene Molovinsky, who promoted Mazyck's last fight. "But, initially, you still wonder if there are any skills there at all."

For Molovinsky, that question was quickly answered. Mazyck fought in Fort Washington last month against 35-year-old Jamal Terry (3-7). The opening-round bell rang and was still echoing when Terry fell to the mat. Mazyck put him down with a single jab. "I thought he was dead," Molovinsky says. "We all did." Terry actually made it to his feet before Mazyck put him down for good the next round.

Mazyck is 6-0 with a pair of knockouts. He has never fought someone with a winning record, and tomorrow's opponent is no different. Rob Bell (2-4) is 6-2 and will need binoculars to look into Mazyck's eyes. Bell has lost each of his past four fights by technical knockout, and odds are pretty good he'll suffer a similar fate tomorrow.

"I don't want to kill nobody," Mazyck says. "I just want to put them out of their misery."

The words sound much more fierce than his tone. Mazyck peppers his speech with references to Yahweh and finds boxing a spiritual pursuit as much as anything.

"My ego isn't bigger than Yahweh. Nothing is," Mazyck says. "He's the one who put me here. Ego doesn't drive me. Doing his will is what drives me. He gave me that ring to express my true dominance, because he doesn't want me expressing it outside the ring."

The heavyweight ranks are barren today. Even if boxing fans are eager for an American champ, there aren't many American fighters up to the challenge. I don't know if Mazyck is a future champion. I don't even know if he's really 7 feet. ("He definitely, positively is," says his manager, Lovail Long.)

But I do know that championship careers still start in basement gyms, the kinds of places where a tall fighter can't even swing a jump rope without hitting the pipes overhead and where two ceiling fans aren't quite enough to keep you from wiping your forehead.

Most of the heavyweights today are instead playing football or maybe pursuing Ultimate Fighting. It's no matter, says the Giant, the one who calls himself Zeus.

"You'll see," he says. "Only one heavyweight will matter. Me."

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