After winning the World Boxing Association's U.S. Cruiserweight title on Nov. 23, Glen Burnie native and Old Mill High School grad Nick Kisner is preparing to defend his title for the first time in March.
Though Kisner said he didn't yet know who his opponent will be or what date the fight will take place, it will be at the same venue where he won the title, the Hollywood Casino in Columbus, Ohio. Kisner said his plans are for the fight to be the first of two title defenses, with victories in those fights hopefully leading to a title fight for the WBA's World Title in the weight class, which maxes out at 200 pounds.
Should all go as hoped, a fight for the cruiserweight title would give Kisner — a fifth-generation boxer — the chance to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a boxing world champion.
Kisner, who turned 26 on Jan. 17 — he shares the late Muhammed Ali's birthdate — has been boxing since he was 6 years old. Trained by his father, Danny Kisner, Nick turned professional when he became 18 and won his first 12 pro fights.
In winning the U.S. belt, Kisner won a 10-round decision over Brian Holstein. Nick currently has a record of 18-3-1 and has won four of his last five bouts. His only loss in that span was a split decision to Lateef Kayode, who was undefeated when they fought. Had he won that fight, Nick said he would have advanced into a title fight against world champion Denis Lebedev of Russia. Instead, Kayode advanced and was knocked out by Lebedev.
"That was as close as I have come to getting a shot at the world title and yet it was the first time I had fought in a 10-round match, so I was still pretty inexperienced," said Nick Kisner of the loss to Kayode.
According to Danny Kisner, Nick was even with Kayode over the first five rounds, but weakened over the final five rounds.
"It showed his inexperience," Danny Kisner said. "He had never had a fight that was longer than six rounds, but he wanted the experience so we took the fight. His inexperience showed. He wasn't ready to fight someone like Kayode.
"He didn't have the stamina to go 10 rounds and that's why he lost, but he never quit."
So far, Nick has boxed just 104 rounds professionally. He wants his next two fights to be 10-rounders. World title bouts are generally scheduled for 12 rounds. Nick has won six of his fights by knockout or TKO, but has never been knocked out, or knocked down, himself.
"Nick won't quit, he has a lot of heart," his father said. "He has a chin of stone and can take a punch. And he will fight until the end. He's a phenomenal boxer. All he needs is more rounds under his belt. He gets those rounds and then we can let him loose."
Though he has only 22 professional fights, as an amateur he fought frequently (132 bouts) and was very successful. He won three national Silver Gloves championships, two Junior National Golden Gloves championships, a Junior Olympic Gold Medal, and a Police Athletic League national title. The PAL win might have been his biggest as an amateur as he defeated 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympian Lenroy Thompson in the finals.
"That was the upset of the year in amateur boxing," gloated Danny Kisner. "That was when I knew that Nick could be a world champion.''
The win also gave Nick the distinction of being the youngest boxer to ever win the title, at 17 years and nine months. Previously, future heavyweight champion Mike Tyson had been the youngest at 17 years, 11 months.
In 2009, Kisner also won the silver medal at the U.S. Men's National Championships and earned a position on the U.S. Men's International team. Soon after that, he turned pro at age 18.
"I was tired of fighting for nothing and I wanted to make the move, even though 18 is very young to fight as a pro. My dad and I talked about it and when he saw how dedicated I was to going professional, he supported me," said Nick, who made his pro debut on Jan. 31, 2010.
As a professional he won his first 12 fights, with six knockouts. Two of his three losses have been by split decision and the other was in May 2015, when he lost the nationally-televised fight to Kayode, who was unbeaten in 20 fights at the time. Kayode went on to fight Lebedev for the world title, but lost by a TKO. Kisner also lost a split decision to Lamont Capers last May in Atlantic City.
"Had we gotten that fight, it could have earned Nick $150,000," Danny Kisner said.
Since the loss to Capers, he's registered two wins — including the title bout against Holstein. He now eyes his shot at the title, most likely against Lebedev, who is 29-3 and has defended the title six times since winning it in 2012.
His win over Holstein was a bit of an upset, as well, as it cost Holstein a bigger payday down the road.
"He was coming off a couple of big wins and was scheduled for a TV fight, but by losing to me, it spoiled it for him," Nick Kisner said. "Plus, we beat him in his hometown."
With a new manager. Charley Sung of Columbia, Kisner said he is getting better fights and fighting more often than he had under his former management, which has helped him improve his stature as a boxer.
"I am 4-1 since he's been my manager and he has gotten me a bunch of fights, even a title fight, in a short amount of time. I hadn't fought this much in five years before Charley became my manager. He's made a huge difference," Kisner said.
Kisner and his dad have set out clear goals for the boxer, including winning a world title. With the WBA's U.S. title belt in his possession, a shot at the world title seems more realistic now than ever before.
"Six months ago I wasn't sure (if he would get a shot at a world title). I had lost to a guy (Capers) I should have never lost to. I wasn't ready. I had turned pro too soon and had never fought more than six rounds. The fight could have gone either way, so I did better than people thought I would," Nick said. "But, still I lost and that's all that counts. Also, I had a lot of personal problems I was dealing with that were keeping me from being as good as I could be.
"Then I won the big fight (over Holstein) and now I am going after a possible shot at the world title," he added. "A lot has changed. I train differently, and I am living my life differently now."
Kisner also said he would like to fight Roy Jones, Jr., perhaps in addition to his title defenses. Though Jones is 47 years old and no longer has the skills that made him a world title holder in four different weight classes, he has won 10 of his 11 fights since losing back-to-back fights to Bernard Hopkins in 2010 and Lebedev in 2011. Jones is scheduled to fight Billy Gunn in a cruiserweight bout on Feb. 17.
"I'd love to fight Roy Jones Jr., if for no other reason than he is such a big name in boxing that it would be a marquee fight for me and great experience," Nick Kisner said.
Danny Kisner is a little less optimistic about a fight with Jones taking place without his son holding the WBA title.
"I don't think it would make any sense for Roy to box Nick. There would be too much for Roy to lose and not enough for him to gain," Danny Kisner said.
Nick Kisner said he has stayed in shape in between fights by working as a personal trainer and also helping his father run the Brooklyn Boxing Club in Patapsco. He expects to be "in my best shape ever" for his next fight.
"I'm always working out now, even when I don't have a fight to train for. Now that I am back to training, I'll work six days a week until the fight," he added. "Sparring, weights, roadwork, cardio … all of it."
Nick Kisner said having his father as his trainer has benefitted him and that they have a great father-son relationship. Together they talk out how Nick will fight each boxer.
"I trust my father's judgement and am really happy to have him as my coach," Nick Kisner said. "He shares my dream with me of getting a chance at fighting for a world title."
"I'm his father, but in this case he's one of my boxers and that's how I treat him," Danny Kisner said.
Nick and Danny Kisner have another dream they share — to open a boxing club together in Anne Arundel County.
But for now that has to wait. Nick's dream of being a world champion comes first. And Danny doesn't think his son is far from getting a shot at the title.
"I really think he has what it takes to be a world champion," said Danny of his son. "If he wins two more fights, he'll get a shot. It would give him 20 wins as a professional and push him up into the top 10 rankings. And he is also the U.S. champion. I think added together all that would earn him a shot at the title."