The right cross came quick, came straight, turned over just before impact and the impact was hard. In the first round of his first fight as a professional boxer, on Oct. 6, 2012, Preston Freeman dropped fourteen-fight veteran Jose Mendoza with a right hand en route to a clear decision win.
One of the differences in witnessing a fight in person, as opposed to on T.V., is that the glimpses of the spectacular are so vividly etched into your memories as to be close to permanent. In Preston Freeman’s three fight undefeated career at junior welterweight, he produced many of these revelations. In each of his fights he debuted something new. His first fight, he showed relaxed poise, ridiculous poise for a 19 year old making his pro debut), reflexes and the right. In his second, power. In his third, he showed us a jab that could control any lesser fighter, a precision check hook, and footwork. Yes, Preston Freeman was one to watch.
And oh, his uppercuts. Most fight fans are attracted to the power punchers. I don’t think this is because fight fans take great pleasure is seeing another man knocked unconscious, although those fans certainly exist. Instead, I think that the punches themselves are the excitement. True power punching at the elite level explodes with such force that the punching produces its own light, color and energy. That is what I saw when Preston Freeman threw his uppercuts. People would gasp. His uppercuts made the ring a dangerous place for his opponents. The ring may have been the safest place for Preston Freeman.
On Wednesday night, Preston Freeman, 20 years old, was shot and killed outside a nightclub in University City, a city within St. Louis, Mo.
A 2012 National Golden Gloves semi-finalist, Freeman moved at 19 to Salinas, Ca. to turn pro under the guidance of the Garcia family. Freeman was trained by the father and son team of Max and Sam Garcia and managed by Kathy Garcia, Max’s wife. According to an article published in the Monterey Herald, this move was made in part to escape the St. Louis street violence that previously claimed the life of Preston’s younger brother. Preston had returned to the St. Louis area this Monday after complaining of homesickness.
Preston Freeman’s death will linger in the boxing community he touched. From his young chief trainer, Sam Garcia, who had dreams of taking Preston to a world title, to the Familton brothers, to Max and Kathy Garcia, who literally opened their home to him while he lived and trained under their roof, to his training partner, middleweight Paul Mendez.
His death will lay heavy on the young men and women training at the North County Athletic Association, the amateur boxing club in St. Louis where Preston learned to box.
Too much comes from the shooting death of Preston Freeman, and the deaths of children like him that fill the metro section of our newspapers - mothers, fathers, family, friends who will never be whole again. The lessons of futility, hopelessness and despair, again and again, echoing, deafening through his community.
My interactions with him were brief. But I am lucky to have had the pleasure to see him in the place where he earned the opportunity to be larger than life: under the lights, shining, in the ring.
Being in the ring with Preston Freeman was not a safe place for trained professional boxers to be. Unfortunately for Preston Freeman, the ring may have been the safest place for himself.