Although undefeated featherweight prospect Jason Litzau’s nickname is “The American Boy,” there is nothing conventionally all-American about the 22-year-old native of St. Paul, Minnesota. For him, boxing is more than a means to an end. It is salvation, not just for him but also for his three brothers, one sister, and two daughters.
Litzau, 15-0 (14 KOs), has taken it upon himself to be the guiding force in a family that was devastated by alcohol abuse, drug addiction, physical and emotional abandonment, and incarceration.
“My family is [Jerry] Springer-like,” said the intensely sensible Litzau, who is scheduled to headline Main Events’ “Back to the Future” show at the Schuetzen Park ballroom in North Bergen, New Jersey, on November 30. His opponent is the alligator-tough Miguel Munguia, 15-4-1 (13 KOs), of Mexico City.
One of the only lessons that Litzau ever learned from his guardians was how to shoplift. His abusive stepfather most often communicated with Jason and his 21-year-old brother Allen, who is now 8-1 (4 KOs) as a professional featherweight, by smashing their heads together and telling them in more ways than one how worthless they were.
Jason says the only positive adult influences in his life were his uncle Frankie, who was in and out of jail, and a boxing coach named Jim Glantey who ran a local gym.
“Uncle Frankie went to prison a lot, but at least he loved us,” said Litzau. “That meant more than anything to me. And Jim was there for us when we needed him. He was good to us when we were young.”
While it would have been expected for Jason and Allen, the oldest boys in a family of five, to grow up full of rage, hatred, and a sub-conscious determination to be as dysfunctional as their elders, they found positive outlets in sports. They excelled in hockey, baseball and wrestling, but didn’t grow big enough to compete in those sports at the professional level.
For them, boxing provided a perfect athletic and emotional outlet. They both won multiple Upper Midwest Golden Gloves titles, as well as several national crowns. They tirelessly fought with raw aggression and had power to spare. They were burning with a desire fueled by the colossal disappointments and disenchantment of their youths.
Soon after he began boxing at the age of 11, Jason made a pact with his brother that they would never drink or do drugs. Even then he had the wherewithal and fortitude to not let their dire familial history repeat itself.
“It’s really quite amazing that these guys turned out the way they did,” said Bob Van Syckle, Jason’s New Jersey-based manager. “I saw them at an amateur tournament and could see how focused and intense they were. Jason came in second at the U.S. championships, but came back two weeks later and beat the guy who beat him.”
After developing a relationship with Jason, Van Syckle knew that he had a genuine blue-chip prospect on his hands. But he was wary of signing him with certain promoters because he was afraid he would get lost in the mix.
“Main Events was perfect,” said Van Syckle. “They had the ability to treat him like the star he will become. He has spent a good part of his life getting rejected, so it was important for him to have a personal relationship with those representing him.”
One of the reasons that Main Events was able to treat Litzau like a star is because he fights like one. He is a nonstop punching machine who approaches every fight as if his life depended on it.
He scored 14 straight knockouts, including six of his first nine in two rounds or less. However, it was in his last fight, a 12-round split decision victory over John Nolasco on ESPN2 in July, in which Litzau really showed his mettle.
Dropped hard in the seventh round, he dragged himself off the canvas and roared back to win the fight of his life. “I just told myself to get up and fight,” said Litzau. “There was so much on the line; much more than anyone can understand. My little brothers and my sister look up to me. I need to be able to provide for them. Losing wasn’t an option. It never will be an option. Somebody would have to kill me before I’d quit.”
The Munguia bout is Litzau’s first stop in a future that he hopes will include mega-fights with Robert Guerrero and Rocky Juarez. The American Boy is determined to live the American Dream—and he sees boxing as the only way to bring that dream to fruition.
“I respect any fighter with 15 wins and 13 knockouts,” said Litzau. “This will be another tough test for me on the way to the title.”
The whole notion of the American Dream is based on people pulling themselves up from their bootstraps and upsetting the odds to see their dreams come true. After all that he’s experienced, it’s hard to imagine that Litzau could ever be hurt by an opponent more than he’s already been hurt by his own personal history.
“Boxing is probably the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s also the most positive. It enabled me to be disciplined and competitive and not go down the road that I saw so many others go down. It saved my life. It is my life.”