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Deeper Than Boxing

Boxing is very different from most sports. A fighter may have a team of people around him, but when it comes down to it, it is only him and his opponent in the ring. In the world of sports, many athletes fear being independent. Claude Staten, Jr., 28-year-old junior featherweight boxer from Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, stands alone.

In a recent interview, I asked the boxer known as Claudie Boy what steered him in the direction of boxing. Boxing is very generational. Most fighters have fathers that were boxers, and have been in the sport their whole lives. Claudie always watched boxing, growing up. So as a teen, he chose to begin directing all of his energy toward boxing. He loved Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker and watched old tapes of Sugar Ray Robinson. More than anything, he felt like boxing gave him control on his life. He enjoyed that. “It's not like football, where your teammate can fumble the ball and cost the game. Or basketball, where a guy can blow the game winning shot, and the same thing in baseball. Boxing doesn’t give you something that you didn’t work for. I can control my destiny.” said Staten.

Not only did Staten elect to control his destiny in the ring, but also outside of it. He handles all of his promotion, endorsements and contracts. On his own, Staten researches and selects his opponents, and does his own financial backing. Claudie Boy is a one-man team.

In 2012, Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions announced that they would be bringing fights to the newly-built Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Claude took the opportunity, himself, to speak directly with the promotion execs and sell himself as a fighter that should be on the undercard. He was able to negotiate a deal where he had to sell $10,000 in tickets or he was to be dropped from the fight. Well, in only nine days, Claudie Boy had already sold $14,000 in tickets. He went on to make his professional debut in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York in March of 2013. Staten fought on the undercard for the bout that featured Bernard Hopkins's legendary fight that made him the oldest fighter in history to win a major boxing title. Claude Staten, Jr. made his own history that night, too.

There are great difficulties in being the athlete and the manager, but Claude has overcome those challenges, thus far. He sees managing his own career as his way of being true to himself like his inspiration, Allen Iverson. Staten had the pleasure of meeting Iverson in Atlanta, Georgia over dinner. He was amazed by how after all of these years, Iverson remained true to himself (even still wearing the 4XL baggy sweats, durag and fitted cap). Well, that's what made Allen Iverson a cultural icon, and that's also a goal of Staten's.

“To be a champion, in my opinion, is to be a cultural icon.”

Although Staten grew up on the East Coast, he has been living in Los Angeles, California since 2012. A part of his daily routine is to go jogging during the early mornings and late nights in downtown Los Angeles. There he became familiar with the ridiculous amount of homeless people in a section called Skid Row. "I hate to see people homeless," said Staten. "I didn't have much but I knew that I had to do something to help them." he continued. An amateur at the time, Claudie Boy spoke with a restaurant owner about gaining access to a restaurant depot where he could buy food at wholesale prices. With that, he provided thousands of sandwiches, donated hundreds of t-shirts and pairs of sneakers, and even had local barbers give free haircuts to the homeless. In the vicious winter of 2014, he teamed up with a local Brooklyn church to provide hot soup for the homeless in New York. "I'm comfortable with the homeless. I feel like in order for me to stay grounded, I need to be around them to make that impact." Staten said.

Mustaf: So, what are your goals in boxing? And what do you plan to accomplish outside of boxing?
Staten: So to be notable in the boxing world….It’s to stay unbeaten for my whole career. And obviously to be a champion. You have to say that or no one will take you serious, if you don’t. But, it’s deeper than just winning a world title or championship belt. I mean, is it good to win a belt, the hardware? Yes. Do people pride themselves too much on that? Yeah. “I want to win a belt. I want to win a world title.” That’s the general consensus of how you know that you’ve made it. That’s bullshit. So, if I was to say that my main goal is to be a world champion, I’d be halfway lying to you. But, that’s what any fighter will say. To be a champion is not defined by a belt, a piece of hardware. To be a champion, in my opinion, is to be a cultural icon. And to change my life by accumulating enough finances, enough money to change my life and my loved ones’ lives, and to help people. That’s a champion. So I’m boxing to accumulate financial stability. Obviously, I would love to make billions of dollars and push my brand and my package to make as much money as possible, and hopefully, if it’s in the cards for me, to develop myself into a cultural icon, in my own right. That’s what I’m boxing for. That’s why I say it’s deeper than boxing. Boxing was my distraction from destruction. Maybe I’d be…I’m pretty sure I’d be in jail by now if it wasn’t for boxing. So, it’s deep for me in why I chose this.

After a strong debut followed by a draw, both in his hometown, Claudie Boy took a two-year break from the sport to deal with just, well life.

There is more to life than just boxing for Staten. Although he values his career as a professional fighter, he refers to boxing as the vehicle to get him to where he wants to be in life.

This past summer, Claude made his return to the ring, defeating his opponent by knockout, at the Grady Cole Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. That outing was followed up by another win by knocking his opponent out cold, only twenty-five seconds into the first round! Claudie Boy Staten looks to compete in at least another fight before the year's end. One thing for sure is that regardless of the outcome, this guy is a true People's Champ.

Visit his website to follow Claudie Boy and his journey to the top:

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The Last of a Dying Breed

So, it's official. The NBA game is different.

We have heard the old guys (yes, I'm talking about you, Charles Barkley) say for years that the game is soft, now. As young fans, we argued that statement. We refused to accept the fact that not only the way the game is regulated has gone cotton-soft, but that the players themselves are soft. Well in the words of Kobe Bryant, " You (expletive) soft like Charmin, out this (expletive)!" I have given up the argument. I don't even think it is worth fighting, anymore.

You can blame LeBron James all you want, but the fact of the matter is....he isn't the cause. Want your culprit? Well look no further than the Amateur Athletic Union. AAU basketball is nothing new. Hell, my parents even played AAU ball. However, their AAU and the millennial AAU are completely different. Many of today's AAU teams are sponsored by the world's largest sportswear brands, like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. The brands run the summer circuit.

Brand reps are team coaches and scouts. First, they find the kids. Then, they put them on their teams, giving the players maximum exposure through the brand's tournaments and events. And where do the kids go from there? Most likely transferring from their local school to a private school, sponsored by the SAME brand. Coincidence? I think not. These brands dictate what moves the players make.

Back in the day, the best players from their respective neighborhoods, carried their teams to prominence and competed against each other. Nowadays, all the best players are stacked on one maybe two teams in each region. True fans, no matter the sport, would agree that half of the passion for the game comes from the love for competition. However, it seems that competition no longer drives the passion. AAU basketball destroyed that. 

Players form friendships, even brotherhoods with the guys that they play with, year-round. From summer ball, to the classroom, to school ball, and brand-sponsored combines, these guys are spending a lot of time together. How could they not become close? And although they still have to play against each other from time to time, when they do, it's more so like friendly competition. The type where you may hug or dap-up your opponent before tipoff. No longer is it that nasty competitiveness. The kind where you don't really know the guy, but you hate him, anyway, just because he has on a different jersey. That trash-talking, physical, grimy game is gone, and it left with the last player to bring that mentality to the NBA game; Kobe Bryant. Well, maybe he isn't the last guy.

At 27 years of age, Russell Westbrook is the last of the Mohicans. He plays the game with an intensity unparalleled to his peers. Westbrook plays the game with a chip on his shoulder and a competitive edge, almost as if he belongs in the 80's. I assume the chip on his shoulder came from not starting on his high school varsity roster until he was a junior, or not receiving his first recruiting letter until his senior season. It could probably have to do with the fact that he received his UCLA scholarship offer, only after Jordan Farmar declared for the NBA Draft. It could be one, the other, or a combination of all. But I would bet that the chip on his shoulder is more like a boulder after his longtime Thunder teammate, Kevin Durant, bolted on him for the NBA's golden boy, Stephen Curry, and his mob.

When asked how he feels about Durant's decision to leave the Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, whom they had down 3-1 in their Western Conference Final best of seven series that they eventually lost, Russell Westbrook seems unphazed. If anything, I think that he is relieved. He looks forward to the challenge to silence his critics and prove the doubters wrong, similar to Kobe after Shaq's departure in Los Angeles. He doesn't want to run. Westbrook wants to lead his team to glory, help or no help.

Can he win alone? Is he only as good as Durant's sidekick? Is he a leader? These are all questions that will soon be answered. But one thing for sure, Russell Westbrook is nothing like the rest of today's NBA. He is the last of a dying breed.

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Belief Maker

After coming under the radar as an eighth grader, it seems like the hype revolving around Thon Maker has died down, considerably. Once known in only basketball circles, as a the most versatile seven-footer we have ever seen, at just 14 years-old, Thon then became a YouTube sensation obliterating the one million view mark on multiple of his highlight videos. The name Thon Maker no longer was known to only hoops junkies.

Strangely enough, when Maker declared for the 2016 NBA Draft, upon his high school graduation, the responses were not what one would expect. Instead of praise for the second coming of some sort of Kevin Garnett-Kevin Durant hybrid, fans only saw his declaration as a mistake. Even mock drafts have him going in the second round.

In 2005, after the year's draft, the league's collective bargaining agreement changed rules for draft eligibility. To keep things simple, all players must be at least nineteen years of age within the draft year, or one year removed from high school. We have seen players the likes of Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay option to become international professionals rather than the traditional college route. But since the 2005 NBA Draft, Thon Maker will be the first player to make the jump from prep to pro.

For years, it was very common to see high school players get drafted. 30 of the 43 NBA players drafted from high school, since 1962 were selected in the first round. These players were highly coveted for their young age, talent, and high-ceilings! What has changed?

Both Kevin Garnett (left) and Kobe Bryant (right) were first round draft picks, out of high school.

Dwight Howard (left) and LeBron James (right) were, as well.

According to Mike Schmitz of Draft Express, Maker has three major weaknesses being his "feel for the game, offensive polish, and strength". I do agree that Thon Maker is a bit raw in some aspects of the game, but he is ONLY NINETEEN and has too much potential to be overlooked as a prospect. The kid is 7'1" 220 lbs and has the ability to play positions 3-5. His game features good ball-handling, athleticism, great foot speed, and a smooth jump shot. Not to mention he has a 7'3" wingspan and a 9'3" standing reach.

Many players that are drafted are projects, or seen as a couple years away from impacting the NBA game. This could be the case for Maker, but he is a project worth betting on. Year after year, we see front offices take their chances on European players with high upside, and a lot of them, we never see or hear much of in their careers. Yet, in this year's draft, teams in the top five of the lottery are looking to gamble on Dragan Bender, who no one has seen enough of to determine if he'll be a bust or not. Bender has a similar style to Maker, but did not play much for Maccabi Tel Aviv. What is it that makes Thon different?

If this screams, "high-lottery" I am confused.

Even the fourth pick in the 2015 draft, Kristaps Porzingis, was seen as a project-player, a couple years away from being the prospect New York thought he could be. Porzingis proved otherwise, becoming a star-rookie, ranking fourth in league jersey sales and second in Rookie of the Year voting. That's just a little proof of how worth the risk some high-reward prospects can be.

New York Knicks star, PorzinGOD.

With the new revolution of the NBA underway, Thon Maker makes the ideal stretch big. He can handle the rock, step out beyond the three-point arc and has the length and quickness to guard multiple positions. Position-less players, while not always popular, are now becoming a league commodity. Players of this kind are invaluable to their franchises and are not common to come across.

Thon Maker can be an NBA star, and should not be subject to anything lower than late-lottery. But, if teams don't buy into the hype, they will regret it later when Thon makes believers of them all.

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