A lot of pro boxers who suffer their first defeat after a long run of success go down one of two roadways: Denial Drive or The Deep Funk Expressway. Dominic Breazeale has chosen to travel a different path.
A 2012 U.S. Olympian and onetime quarterback for the University of Northern Colorado, Breazeale took a 17-0 record (with 15 knockouts) to London last June to challenge heavyweight champion and fellow unbeaten ex-Olympian Anthony Joshua.
Although the 6-foot-7 Breazeale put up as good a fight as anyone has against the 6-foot-6 Joshua, it wasn’t good enough. In the first defense of his crown, Joshua dropped Breazeale twice in the seventh round to win by technical knockout.
As disappointed as he was to come up short in first heavyweight title opportunity, Breazeale looks back at the experience through a very positive prism.
“You’re always looking to learn, whether it’s a win or a loss. And I learned more in that one loss than I did in my 17 wins,” he says. “When I say that, I went back and watched the film several times. The quarterback in me came out, and I did a chalk talk and review.
“I drew up all of the good things that I did and all of the bad things that I did, and I realized there were a lot more shots that I should have gotten off than I did. I hesitated. But at the same time, I learned so much.”
Dominic Breazeale (17-1, 15 KOs) says he plans to use that newfound knowledge Saturday night when the 27-year-old returns to the ring for the first time since the Joshua defeat. Fighting on the undercard of Deontay Wilder’s heavyweight title defense against Gerald Washington, Breazeale will face another unbeaten big man in 6-foot-5 Izuagbe Ugonoh (17-0, 14 KOs) at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama (FOX, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).
We recently caught up with the Southern California native to talk more about the Joshua fight, what he expects from Ugonoh, his football playing days, the heavyweight legend he would’ve loved to face and his never-ending sweet tooth.
You fought Joshua in his backyard. Did the London crowd affect you at all?
No. I was out of my norm and in a different country, and there was probably a 90 percent to 10 percent split of the fans in the arena. But at the same time, I gained a lot of fans by going over there and putting on the performance that I did.
I never really get rattled—that’s just another guy in the ring. I never really allow the outside environment to affect me inside the squared circle.
What do you know about Saturday’s opponent, Izuagbe Ugonoh?
I know he stands about about [6-5] and weighs 230 pounds. He’s 17-0 with 14 KOs. As far as being compared to Anthony Joshua, man, that’s night and day. They’re two completely different athletes.
I’ve watched a little bit of film on the guy. I know he’s got some boxing skills. But he’s nowhere near the speed or aggressiveness of Joshua. They’re on two different tiers. Anthony Joshua’s a much higher-caliber fighter than [Ugonoh]. He’s got the potential to be there, but he’s not there.
“ I could have concentrated on and pursued football a little bit more, but at the same time, I’m glad that I moved on. ... Boxing’s been very good to me so far. ” Dominic Breazeale, heavyweight contender and former University of Northern Colorado QB
What sort of performance do you expect from yourself?
I expect to have a great performance that makes people say, “He’s back.” You’ll see more aggression and more pressure, and you’ll see me put punches together in bunches, threes and fours.
I’m looking to ultimately get this guy out of there earlier rather than later. I want to make sure that when I walk away, people say, “Man, I wanna see this guy again.”
Who have you been sparring with to prep you for this fight?
I’ve gotten some sparring in with Gerald Washington, who is going to be in the main event with Deontay Wilder. It worked out great for both of us.
We’ve sparred for a number of years now—he usually works with me when I’m in camp, and I work with him. It’s always great rounds, and it’s always great to have a big, strong guy across the ring from you.
In addition to the Wilder-Washington showdown, there’s another heavyweight title fight on the horizon between Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. Who wins both contests?
I’ve got to go with Klitschko because of the experience. He’s been there and done that. He’s been down and gotten back up and won it again. Joshua’s a great fighter, don’t get me wrong, [which I know] after being in the ring with him. But Klitschko has the experience, strength and wisdom, and he’s very dangerous.
With Deontay Wilder [against Washington], I think Gerald’s got the edge. His back is against the wall, and when you back a dog against the wall, he’ll come out firing. So I’m picking Gerald.
If you could pick the brain of any fighter in history, who would that be?
I’m a big fan of Riddick Bowe. He’s my guy. But at the same time, I think everyone would like to sit down with Muhammad Ali and have a cup of tea and a conversation.
Everybody says he did everything wrong technically, but at the same time he did everything right. He danced around the ring, put some great combinations together.
But I also like Riddick Bowe, who was a big man who used his jab really well. Every time Bowe hit somebody really well with his right hand, it was usually a wrap. At the same time, he could fight on the inside. He had fast hands throwing uppercuts and body shots. It’s very rare to see someone that big do it like that.
Is Bowe the one fighter in history you wish you could’ve fought? And if so, who wins?
Yeah. I think it would make for a helluva fight. It would be a slugfest where we go in trying to have a game plan but end up knocking each other down. It’s two big, tough guys, but in the end, I’d say I’d come out of it with a 10th-round knockout.
I gotta have confidence in myself. I’ve got heart, he’s got heart, and he always [went] out on his shield.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
… a criminal defense attorney—and one the best attorneys that you’ve ever seen.
If you had the ability to change your body type, what’s the one weight class you wish you could compete in?
I would go down to 147 pounds and fight Floyd Mayweather. I would want him in his prime, not at the end.
It would be almost like the Marcos Maidana fight, which I believe Maidana won. And I would be Maidana, only with my hand getting raised.
Not including yourself, who is the best fighter in your division right now?
I would have to say Anthony Joshua. He’s the only [opponent] I haven’t been able to overcome. He’s the only guy to put me down twice. But I’m still picking Klitschko to beat him.
Describe what it feels like to land the perfect punch. Is it anything like the feeling of throwing a long touchdown pass?
The perfect punch is always the one that lands and feels like it was done effortlessly. You’re not like, “That was a helluva shot.” But next thing you know, the guy is on the canvas and the referee’s not even counting as you walk to the neutral corner. I’ve done that a couple of times.
How does that compare to throwing a 70-yard touchdown pass? Well, there’s nothing like it. When I throw that ball, I’m hoping that the receiver catches it. In boxing, that right hand or left hook lands, as soon as it lands, the show is over.
Do you ever look back at your football career and wonder “What if”?
I think I sold myself a little bit short [in football, but] I’m definitely glad that I moved on to boxing.
I could have concentrated on and pursued football a little bit more, but at the same time, I’m glad that I moved on. I made the right decision. Boxing’s been very good to me so far, and I think that I’ve become a great fighter.
Who has hit you the hardest in your career?
It’s funny, it was probably during a sparring session. I sparred a guy named Lance Whitaker. Big guy, 6-foot-7, 240 pounds.
I was still an amateur with a big right hand. Probably in the third or fourth round, I hit him with a combination—a right hand and a [left] hook. I think the right hand had him out, but the hook woke him up. I take a step back, he walks to me, pumps a couple of jabs, and I block one and slip the other. Then he hits me with a flush right hand that felt like it hit me in the forehead, the nose and the mouth all at the same time.
It made me think to myself, “Why am I boxing?” I almost quit right then and there with that one shot. But no one’s come close since then to hitting me that hard.
Favorite punch to throw?
I would have to say the combination of the right hand and the left hook. Every time I land the right hand flush, there is usually no opponent who can weather the storm. The hook behind the right hand usually makes it a done deal.
What is the one thing about the life of a pro boxer that the general public doesn’t understand?
The sacrifices that we have to make. They know about the running, the training and the boxing, but they don’t understand that we have to miss holidays, birthdays, weddings. And there are certain foods that we have to give up.
Boxing is an entirely different lifestyle, not eating or drinking the same things that others can, and not doing the partying that everyone else can.
Well, you brought up food, so what is the one thing that’s toughest for you to give up when training?
I’m a big candy freak. I love gummy bears and jelly beans and Skittles and things like that. Not so much chocolate, but the fruit candies. That’s probably my biggest [weakness]. I’ll still buy the stuff during camp, but I just know I can’t eat it.
My wife sends me to the store to get milk and eggs, and I’ll come back with milk, eggs and Skittles. I store them in a cabinet until after the fight, and then when the fight’s over, it’s like the golden bucket.
If you could have dinner with four people in the history of the world, who would be on your guest list?
Martin Luther King Jr. Our great president, Barack Obama. Bob Marley. And then I’d have to take Joe Montana. I would have that combination of different greats.
What’s on your bucket list?
Traveling and just seeing the world. I want to see the islands and the mountaintops that few people have ever been to. When I hear somebody say, “Man, I wish I could have breakfast in Tahiti,” I’m like, “Cool, that’s a great game plan.”
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: Undefeated 147-pound world champion Keith Thurman.