Golden Gloves: Meet U.S. amateur boxing's 'Mr. Awesome'
He climbs into the boxing ring with his own long, braided hair flowing beneath bright pink headgear to promote breast cancer awareness. If he's feeling like it, he will sport a flashy pink or purple cape, and almost always he immediately searches for the nearest camera to do a little pre-fight posing.
Four months ago Thursday, the dynamic, 24-year-old super heavyweight who was born in Long Island, N.Y., but has lived in Kansas City the past five years to work with renowned trainer John Brown legally changed his name to the most arrogant, memorable one he could come up with:
Cameron F. Awesome.
"Why wait to let people find out how I really am? Why hide it? I am an entertainer," he says, when asked why he changed his name, while pointing to his mantra, which is printed on the tank top he's almost always wearing: "I am an artist. The canvas is my canvas."
The 220-pound lefty who was known as Lenroy "Cam" Thompson until Feb. 16 his "half-birthday" when he shelled out $179 bucks, he says, to "begin a new life," is easily the most-accomplished fighter at the Golden Gloves National Tournament of Champions going on this week at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
And the most flamboyant, confident and seemingly self-assured which probably goes without saying.
Does the F. really stand for, well, what most people think it does?
"It's just an 'F' and it is whatever you want it to be," he says, flashing his Kansas driver's license to prove it.
Look past the pretentiousness, however, and Awesome yeah, we will play along actually has a refreshing message for many of the 300 or so of the best amateur boxers in the country who have gathered in Salt Lake City.
Joining the professional ranks as soon as a few dollars are thrown in your direction, Awesome tells his fellow amateurs and anyone else who will listen, might not be the best way to go. If anyone would know, it is him.
As Lenroy Thompson, he won eight national championships two in Golden Gloves, three in PAL (Police Athletic League), two at the USA Boxing National Championships and one at the 2011 U.S. Olympic Trials, although he didn't compete in the 2012 London Games because he failed to inform the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that he would be out of the country and miss three random tests. He was suspended for a year, and cynics have suggested that has as much to do with the name change as anything else.
"He's shy," says his trainer, Brown, tongue planted firmly in cheek, when that topic comes up. "He's working on being more outgoing."
Post-suspension, fighting as Awesome for the first time, he won last month's USA Boxing national championship at 201+ pounds in Spokane, Wash., his ninth national title. The day after Saturday's 7 p.m. Golden Gloves finals, he will fly directly to Puerto Rico to fight for the U.S. National Team in an international tournament.
"This will be my 10th national championship, when I win it," he says matter-of-factly. "Sometimes I go, 'Oh, man, I have a tough fight.' But then I think, 'but I am Cam F. Awesome,' and I laugh to myself. I know then I am going to win."
When he's not traveling to boxing events, Awesome works as a personal trainer at Brown's gym in Kansas City and is an avowed vegan. Surely, a fighter as accomplished as he is would rather be fighting for money, wouldn't he?
"It seems like really good money, but if you think about it, most [pro boxers] don't really make lots of money," he said, claiming that he's "done the math" and figures a fighter who agrees to a $20,000 payday actually clears about $3,000 after he pays his manager, coach, sparring partners and travel expenses.
National boxing officials say the eagerness to turn pro early is one of the many reasons why the U.S. has been abysmal in the Olympics the past decade; Team USA did not claim a medal in London last summer, got just one in 2008 in Beijing (Deontay Wilder's bronze) and hasn't won a gold since 2004 in Athens (Andre Ward).
All nine male U.S. Olympians in 2012 have already turned pro; George Rincon, a 141-pounder from Texas, is the only champion from last year's national Golden Gloves tournament in Mesquite, Nev., who is in the field this year in Salt Lake City.
"It is fun being in the lights and all that, but I like the amateur scene because I am a giant fish in a small pond," Awesome says.
A giant fish with a gargantuan ego, and an even bigger personality.
Twitter: @drewjay •
Utahns at National Golden Gloves
At the Salt Palace
123 lbs. • Ja'Rico O'Quinn, Detroit, dec. Isaac Aguilar, West Valley City
152 lbs. • Kareem Martin, Washington, D.C., dec. Larry Gomez, West Jordan
201+ lbs. • Kent Brinson, Texas, dec. Jesse West, Fruit Heights