The Boston Marathon bombing suspect killed by police early Friday participated in the National Golden Gloves boxing tournament in Salt Lake City in May 2009 and was preparing to compete in this year’s tournament, which is also at the Salt Palace Convention Center, May 13-18.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, lost his first and only bout in Salt Lake City in 2009, falling to Lamar Fenner of Chicago by decision in the 201-pound weight class. Fenner went on to the championship bout, but lost to Michigan’s Jordan Shimmell in that final.
Fenner died of a heart attack in 2012.
Alex Noshirvan, a sports clerk at The Salt Lake Tribune, covered Team New England’s bouts in Salt Lake City four years ago for the Lowell Sun newspaper. On Friday, he recalled that he met with the entire team the night before the tournament opened and that Tsarnaev said little during an interview, perhaps because he struggled to speak the English language at the time.
“You could tell he didn’t get along with the rest of his teammates,” Noshirvan said. “You could tell he wasn’t a part of the group. He kind of kept to himself.”
Even during the first night of bouts, Noshirvan said Tsarnaev sat a couple rows up in the bleachers from his teammates, by himself, when he wasn’t fighting.
Tsarnaev would later say he hoped to use the tournament as a springboard to the U.S. Olympic team, but lost in a controversial decision. Noshirvan described Tsarnaev as a “big, strong dude” who could punch hard. The reporter said he believed at the time that Tsarnaev won the fight.
Here’s what Noshirvan wrote for the Lowell Sun:
“In Team New England’s last bout of the night, Tamerlan Tsarnaev dropped a controversial decision to Lamar Fenner of Chicago in the 201-pound division. After flooring Fenner with a huge punch that required an eight count, it seemed that Tsarnaev was in control of the whole fight. Yet somehow the judges saw it differently and awarded Fenner the decision, a decision that drew boos from the crowd.”
Longtime Utah boxing official Larry Fullmer, who was the tournament director in 2009 and is involved in putting on the event again this year, said he does not remember Tsarnaev’s bout in 2009. Neither do Fullmer’s brothers, Hud and Troy, who are also part of the Golden Gloves Rocky Mountain Region board of directors.
Larry Fullmer said Tsarnaev would have to have been an accomplished boxer to have made it to Salt Lake City. He would have emerged from the New England Region, which includes Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine and is known as one of the stronger regions in the Golden Gloves system.
Mike Joyce, a Chicago attorney who coached Fenner in that 2009 bout in Salt Lake City, told the city’s CBS television affiliate on Friday that he remembered the bout well and that it was close and heated.
Joyce said he was “shocked” to learn that Tsarnaev was one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings because “even though boxing is an individual sport, it is also a fraternity, so you are practicing with your teammates, and you are competing in a very difficult sport, and you have respect for your opponents at all times.”
However, Joyce told the television station that Tsarnaev’s behavior in the bout “offered suggestions of possible racial prejudice against his black opponent, but nothing remotely resembling overt anti-Americanism.”
Noshirvan recalled only that the two combatants boxed like they did not like each other, as most serious boxers are prone to do.
USA Boxing spokeswoman Julie Goldsticker said Tsarnaev was not considered an elite prospect by the sport’s national governing body, nor would he have been able to fight for the U.S. even if he were a national contender.
“He was not close to making an Olympic team or national team,” she said. “As a noncitizen, he would have been precluded from competing in any qualifying tournaments or USA Boxing national events.”
Goldsticker said the 2009 Golden Gloves tournament in Salt Lake City was the only national amateur boxing event he competed in.