PAWTUCKET --- Toka Kahn-Clary is on the doorstep of a berth on the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team.
The 19-year-old Pawtucket fighter sewed up one of the eight spots in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials by copping a silver medal at the USA Boxing National Championships late last week at the Olympic Training Center’s Sports Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Competing in a competitive 132-pound division, Kahn-Clary needed just two victories to clinch a berth in the Team Trials, which will be held from July 31-Aug. 6 at the Mobile Civic Center in Mobile, Ala.
He picked them up with a dominant 25-8 triumph over Daniel Hernandez of Kenosha, Wis. in his opening bout, and an electrifying 23-22 victory over the tournament’s No. 1 seed, national Police Athletic League champion Kenneth Sims Jr. of Chicago, in his next fight, one that many folks felt was the fight of the tournament.
“I knew what he could do because I’ve seen him fight,” said Kahn-Clary. “I felt like I was a lot stronger than he was and I knew he had some hand speed, so when I went in there, I tried to overwhelm him with my power and put the pressure on him a little bit. I had to be aggressive with him, because he has a lot of speed and he’s a really talented kid.”
Those two victories catapulted him into the championship match against Jose Ramirez of Avenal, Calif., the defending 132-pound champion, and thanks to a strong second round, Ramirez was able to top Kahn-Clary by a 28-20 score.
A key factor to Kahn-Clary’s loss was an unintentional headbutt he absorbed on the top of his right eye from Ramirez in the second round. Ramirez tried to overwhelm Kahn-Clary and land some big shots at the start of the round, but in the process of doing that, he landed the headbutt.
“When that happened, I couldn’t really do anything,” added Kahn-Clary, who took a standing eight-count after the headbutt. “My trainer [Peter Manfredo Sr.] talked about that, and when that happens, he said you can’t let that bother you, but I kind of let it bother me.”
Kahn-Clary eventually came back in the third round with a solid performance, but it wasn’t enough to beat Ramirez, who will be the No. 1 seed in the Team Trials.
The defeat was a tough one for Kahn-Clary, who was pursuing his fourth title of the season, but the prospects of competing for an Olympic berth and being the second seed in next month’s tournament brought a smile to his face as he talked about his eventful week on Monday at Manfredo’s Gym.
“I’m definitely happy about it,” said Kahn-Clary. “And if I see (Ramirez) in the Trials, I’ll definitely be ready for him. He’s a good friend of mine and I’m a good friend of his, but we know when it’s time to work, it’s time to work.”
The winners of the 10 divisions in the Trials will form the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team, which will then participate in the 2011 World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan and try to qualify for the 2012 Games in London.
If Kahn-Clary makes the U.S. team, he will become the third straight fighter from the state to do so, joining heavyweight Jason Estrada (2004) and junior middleweight Demetrius Andrade (2008).
Kahn-Clary returned to R.I. with Manfredo Sr. late Sunday night following a long flight, but was right back in the gym on Monday afternoon, preparing for another prestigious tournament.
But this time, Kahn-Clary will be competing in the final Pan-American Games Qualifier in Panama City, Panama. He will spend 10 days there with a team of U.S. fighters and try to qualify for the ’11 Pan-Am Games, which will be held from Oct. 17-30, in Mexico.
“I’m excited because I’m going to travel and I like traveling and meeting new people,” said Kahn-Clary. “But I know I have to go over there to take care of business. I want to give it my all and qualify for the Pan-Am Games.”
“This is a good international experience, and he needs that right now,” added Manfredo Sr. “It will get him prepared for the Olympic Trials, and he’s going to see competition that is going to be as good, if not, better than what he will see at the Trials.”
Kahn-Clary has been giving it his all since he begin boxing a handful of years ago. His amateur record is 76-8, and this year, he captured the New England Tournament of Champions, New England Golden Gloves Tournament, and Northeast Regional Championships.
“What I like about him is that not only can he fight, but he trains really hard,” said Manfredo Sr. “And he’s a well-liked kid. He’s well-liked throughout the country and he gets a lot of respect. People speak well of him. He’s not cocky and he’s not wise; he’s a gentleman and he knows how to handle himself.”