Heading into the 2023 National Golden Gloves, Amir Anderson had something to prove.
Despite having won eight prior national titles, the 19-year-old amateur standout, who had most of his open class success a division lower at 156 pounds, faced questions of whether he was strong enough to stand up to the top fighters in the country at 165 pounds. Others felt he was just a pure boxer who didn’t have the power to earn his opponents’ respect.
The Syracuse, N.Y. resident dispelled both of those notions in his breakout performance at the National Golden Gloves in Chester, Pa., which took place from May 8-13. Anderson made a statement in his first bout, stopping Detroit’s Josiah Shackleford with a crushing right hand in the first round, but his greatest test would come against Donte Layne, the division’s number one rated boxer from New York City, in the semifinals. Layne had defeated Anderson by split decision at the 2020 USA Boxing National Championships, and Anderson had this matchup circled on his schedule.
After a close first round which Anderson edged on three of the five scorecards, Anderson dropped the southpaw Layne with a well-timed overhand right midway through the second round, securing the points needed for the unanimous decision win on May 12.
“I think I made a big impression about that but I always knew that I was the better boxer and stronger than him,” said the 6’2” Anderson, who shutout the no. 2 rated Jonathan Montalvo the following day to win the championship and the “Golden Boy” award for the tournament’s best male boxer.
“I think I made a statement. A lot of people thought I could only box and I can’t bang and I don’t have any power in my punches. I just went in there and thought I had to be dominant.”
Domination was far from what Anderson had in mind when he first walked into a boxing gym at age 7. His mother, Toni Klock, enrolled him into the West Area Athletic and Education Center, hoping to toughen him up and help him stand up to bullies.
“I was a sensitive kid, I always cried even if it would be little stuff. In classrooms they would be calling me crybaby. I would never want to defend myself so my mom put me in boxing to learn how to defend myself,” remembers Anderson.
The last time Anderson was bullied was when he was 15 years old. He said a kid who had been spreading rumors about him and picking on him needed to be taught a lesson. Anderson earned himself a school suspension, while the bully had a broken nose to heal. Since then, Anderson’s only other confrontations outside the ring have been in defense of his younger sister, Nevaeh, a boxer who also has national tournament experience.
Head trainer Chris Burns saw first hand how sensitive Anderson could be. He says when Anderson was young, other kids called him “Waterworks” because he would often cry after tough sparring sessions or after losing in early tournaments. Burns, who is the nephew of legendary upstate New York amateur trainer Ray Rinaldi, saw the instructional value of those emotions, and advised Anderson that if he stuck with the sport, it would be him standing on top of the podium.
The change began around 2017-2018 as Burns began to notice a shift in his confidence and ability to follow instructions. Then, in 2019, at the age of 15, he qualified to make the USA Boxing junior team, which made him eligible to travel overseas to represent his country in international tournaments. Before Anderson could compete, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the trip to be canceled. The way Anderson reacted to disappointment revealed something new to Burns about his character.
“That’s when I really saw a turn because a lot of people were second guessing if they were gonna keep boxing. He just stuck with it, kept training, kept working out. This was something he had worked at for years and didn’t get too perturbed that the trip was canceled,” said Burns.
Anderson made the USA Boxing youth team for boxers age 16-17 in 2021, and the following year he was part of the team which traveled to La Nucia, Spain for the IBA Youth World Boxing Championships. There he drew the reigning European champion, Bobbi Flood in his first bout. Utilizing his unorthodox, switch-hitting style and crafty movement, Anderson won a 4-1 decision to advance. He lost a split decision in his next fight to Turkey’s Sultan Osmanli, but had showed he was someone to keep an eye on.
“That was fun, it was a different atmosphere than the American tournaments. At international tournaments they either love America or they hate America, so there’s not really any in between. Fighting wise I had to show that I’m really here to stay,” said Anderson.
Anderson closed 2022 in a big way, winning the USA Boxing National Championships at 156 pounds, earning him consideration to make the USA Boxing High Performance team. Anderson competed in some test matches in January against the no. 1 rated boxer, Omari Jones of Orlando, Fla., but USA Boxing elected to go with Jones for their international tournaments.
Burns says USA Boxing’s coaches feel he should move up in weight because their bio-scans have analyzed that he is too dehydrated making the 156-pound limit. Since the next division, 165 pounds, isn’t an Olympic weight class, he would have to jump all the way up to 176 pounds to compete for an Olympic berth. Anderson, who says he’s most natural at 165 pounds, tried out the 176-pound division on a trip with USA Boxing to Germany last month, winning two test matches and dropping a split decision in the third. He’s also been in training camp with USA Boxing’s top 176-pounder, reigning world champion Rahim Gonzales of Las Vegas.
What makes Anderson’s hopes of a Paris Olympic bid more of a long shot is the fact that, while the U.S. Olympic team trials will take place in Lafayette, La. From December 1-9, the first Olympic qualifier will take place from October 21-27 at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, meaning that the only Olympic spot Anderson could qualify for may not even be up for grabs by the time the trials come around.
The uncertainty of the Olympic situation – there is still no guarantee that boxing will be on the Olympic schedule for the Los Angeles Games in 2028 due to corruption scandals surrounding the International Boxing Association (IBA) – complicates their planning for upcoming tournaments and qualifiers.
“They want us to stick around for the Games when they come to the U.S. [in 2028], he’ll be 23 years old, coming in to his actual strength,” said Burns. “The thing is, the way the Olympic committees are, weight classes could change, but they really want him traveling the country at 176 pounds.”
Undeterred, Anderson remains all-in on his Olympic dream. A 2022 graduate from the Public Service Leadership Academy at George Fowler High School in Syracuse, Anderson had been planning to start Sports Medicine courses at Syracuse University later this year, but decided instead to focus on trying to make it to the Paris Games.
What if an Olympic spot isn’t available? “Then I’ll just fight in the Olympic trials, become an alternate and just wait on what’s next for me,” answered Anderson, who estimates his amateur record to be 61-12.
Anderson has a vision for boxing that goes beyond Paris and even Los Angeles, one where he envisions improving his own place in life and that of his family through his in-ring achievements.
“I want to become a world champion in multiple weight classes, I want to be able to move my mom out of where she’s living right now, I want to put my gym in a better position than it’s in. I just want to do stuff for my community and boxing is gonna help me with that. I want to make a legacy, I don’t just want to go pro. I want to be the best of the best, I want to be a Hall of Famer in boxing,” said Anderson, who says he finds inspiration in boxers like Shakur Stevenson, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr.
And what about the original goal of boxing, to grow into a tougher person. Burns says there’s no doubt that boxing has helped reveal the confidence that helped Anderson mature and become a role model to other young people at the youth center where he boxes.
Has boxing changed who Amir Anderson is at his core, or has it just made him more comfortable with being himself in the world?
“I think I got a little bit softer from learning how to box,” said Anderson.
“What I learned is that you don’t really need to be tougher in life. You just need to know that if something does happen that you know how to defend yourself. You don’t need to walk around with your shoulders high, thinking you’re the tough guy. You just go through life being kind, still forgiving people and just being nice.”
National Golden Gloves winners
112 pounds – Alex Espinoza (Texas)
125 pounds – Francis Stewart (Cleveland)
132 pounds – Tyshawn Denson (Cleveland)
139 pounds – Jonathan Mansour (California)
147 pounds – Adrian Salazar (Texas)
156 pounds – Aaron Waldon (Indiana)
165 pounds – Amir Anderson (Buffalo)
176 pounds – Julian Delgado (Texas)
203 pounds – Malachi Georges (New Jersey)
203+ pounds – Eric Ross (Chicago)
110 pounds – Jazzelle Rabago-Bobadilla (Hawaii) – also won Golden Girl award
119 pounds – Kayla Gomez (Texas)
125 pounds – Shera Mae Patricio (Hawaii)
132 pounds – Neida Ibarra (Kansas/Oklahoma)
139 pounds – Samantha Ginithan (Colorado/New Mexico)
146 pounds – Alegeria Johnson (Buffalo)
154 pounds – Ariana Carrasco (Colorado/New Mexico)
165 pounds – Stephanie Marie Simon (Florida)
178 pounds – Ornella Sathoud (Buffalo)
178+ pounds – Glyenann Harper (Cleveland)
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.