Dominique Crowder sometimes made excuses he hoped would convince his father to let him skip sessions, the way a child might fear a school bully.
Nor were his circumstances so different.
Because these sparring sessions were more like beatdowns, with Crowder outmatched and outgunned. He was a novice then, a teenager still learning how to box, and his opponent showed little mercy.
“When he first started, we heard the coaches were high on him, but we wanted to examine him and see if he was really built for it,” said Andrew Jones, his old sparring partner. “There were days after our sessions when I thought he wouldn’t come back.”
There were days he didn’t want to. With his confidence shaken, and his ego as bruised as his body, Crowder wondered if the sport was for him.
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“Andrew always got the upper hand,” Crowder admitted recently, shaking his head as he spoke. “I asked my dad, ‘Can I go every other day instead?’ But he kept bringing me and told me to stick with it.”
For him, the APJ Boxing Club in Poughkeepsie became a literal school of hard knocks.
Some of those memories rushed back to him as he entered the facility Wednesday night, greeted by a throng of old friends and new fans, happy to celebrate the success.
“I walked into this gym just a few years ago and only a few people knew who I was,” the 29-year-old said. “It’s amazing to see this now. I used to pray for times like this.”
And things like the championship belt that people were eager to take pictures of.
Crowder took a significant step in his ascent, capturing the World Boxing Association International bantamweight title earlier this month. He’s undefeated in his professional career and has raised his profile this year, even befriending superstar Gervonta Davis, a fellow from Baltimore.
The victory lap included a return to Poughkeepsie and a stop at the gym that led to his boxing career. This time he was welcomed as a conquering hero. Among the gifts was a congratulatory certificate presented by Stacey Bottoms, who is Deputy District Director for State Senator Rob Rolison and a member of the APJ Club.
Crowder posed for pictures, signed autographs, caught up with old friends and chatted with people who stopped by to see a newly minted champion with local ties.
The event was hosted by Kariym Patterson, owner of the gym and Crowder’s first trainer. Among those present were the APJ coaches and club members who knew him as a skinny newcomer a decade ago.
“I’m incredibly happy for him, and it’s hard to put into words what this means,” said Ty Stokes, a Poughkeepsie-based boxer who trained with Crowder early on. “To hold a share of the WBA title is fantastic. What he’s doing motivates me, and hopefully it motivates some kids here to aspire to something big.”
As discouraging as the sparring sessions were initially, Crowder’s father did not allow him to quit, and his confidence was ultimately boosted by the faith that Patterson and coach Kelvin Mitchell had in him. With his 6-foot-1 reach, along with natural athleticism and speed, Patterson insisted Crowder could be successful.
“They told me I had a lot of potential, even when it didn’t look like it,” Crowder said. “Coach Mitch said, ‘Trust me. Just put in the work and see how things change.'”
He got serious about his conditioning, pushing himself to master the basics and develop some advanced techniques, learning as many of the nuances as he could. There were training sessions at 5am with Stokes, and even some Sunday morning workouts when the two of them were the only ones in the gym.
The first change Crowder noticed was the games where Jones was no longer so lopsided.
“No matter how hard he got beat up, he kept coming back and getting better,” Jones said. “Pretty soon he was better than me. It got to the point where his high skills just blew past us.”
Crowder turned professional in 2019 after a successful amateur run that included two New York Golden Gloves titles and triumphs in three national tournaments.
He now trains with trainers Mark Breland and Jose Guzman, whom he credits with teaching him “the Puerto Rican style of boxing,” which he said has deepened his repertoire.
“There’s something in him that drives him,” Jones said. “He fought for free for a long time, so it’s probably not money. It might not even be trophies. He just wants to be great. He’s a fantastic fighter, and I know it myself.”
Crowder defeated Kenny Demecillo of the Philippines on August 5 in a unanimous decision for the international bantamweight title, improving his professional record to 16-0. He won decisively on each of the judges’ scorecards, and as he was announced as the winner, he thought, “We’re here!”
“I was excited but not surprised because I knew the work I had put in,” Crowder said. “I believe in it; that effort will be rewarded in the end.”
The belt is a sign of what he has achieved so far, he said, but it is also “a piece of the puzzle” and a reminder of how much more there is to win. Crowder hopes to challenge Takuma Inoue, a Japanese standout who holds the WBA bantamweight crown.
“I need more hardware,” he said. “There are more belts out there and I need them.”
Dominique was raised by her mother, Nicole Crowder, in Baltimore, but admittedly became wayward as a teenager. His parents feared he would continue down a troubled path, so he moved to Hyde Park to live with his father. Craig Harris believed his son could flourish in a quieter environment and with his influence. Additionally, boxing lessons can instill some discipline.
“He was right,” Crowder said with a smile. “I am grateful for that. I’m glad things went the way they did.”
Crowder has again made Maryland his home, moving back two years ago and buying a house. There, he said, his life is “100% different” than it used to be. It feels “surreal” when he is recognized in public and strangers congratulate the hometown kid on his way up.
Still, he said, Poughkeepsie and Hyde Park are also hometowns.
“This is where it started for me,” he said. “Things started to turn around when I came up here and got involved in this gym. So this community (will) always be a part of me and I will always have love for these people.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com; 845-437-4826; Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
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