A recent University of California Irvine grad has launched a career path that almost certainly is a first among the school’s alums. He became a professional boxer. Daniel Kim graduated in June with a 3.3 gradepoint average, a bachelor’s degree in psychology and social behavior and a love of what can be brutal sport. This past week, he earned his first professional victory. Many boxers first were attracted to the sport because they saw it as a possible ticket out of poverty. But Kim comes from a privileged background.
He was born in Cerritos, attended Whitney high school, one of the top public high schools in the nation, and received a UC Regents scholarship entering college described as the “most prestigious scholarship a UC college offers to freshmen. “I’m fighting because I love it,” he said. “I’d rather do boxing for a decade than work 9 to 5 at a job I can barely tolerate.” On Thursday, Kim continued his pugilistic pursuit at the Fight Club OC in the Hanger at the OC Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. The 5’ 10” 136pound KoreanAmerican fighter had lost his first fight in October by decision and resolved that wouldn’t happen again this time around. It had taken him three years to get this far.
Kim started boxing in 2010 at the age of 20, a rather late start. Kim initially wanted to pursue a professional basketball career but as he says, “I let the outside voices get to me.” Those outside voices were naysayers. “They’d say, ‘I’m too short. I’m Asian. You can’t compete with the other athletes. And more than anything I bought into the subtle messages that I couldn’t do it.” As a sophomore at Whitney, Kim said he initially was chosen to play on the varsity team until a coach demoted him to captain of the junior varsity squad. Kim quit and didn’t come back to the hard court until his senior year.
Alan Kemp, Kim’s manager and trainer, met Kim at a gym in Orange County. “It was the proverbial story of a guy walking in a gym and wanting to learn how to box,” Kemp said. “It was the perfect kind of fit with what I wanted to do. I soon found out, working with him, that he had a unique talent and a real strong commitment and conviction in himself.” Kemp is a former threetime New York Gold Glove champion and fought professionally in the early and mid 1970s. He fought out of Buffalo and finished his career with a 162 record before moving out west to work in film and television production. About seven years ago, Kemp had semiretired from his career and wanted to give back to his first love – boxing. “I saw there were a lot of trainers and boxers ill prepared for their careers,” Kemp said. “I was frustrated with what I saw so I wanted to commit myself and share what I knew to this new generation of boxers.” Kemp said he and Kim immediately hit it off. Kemp liked that Kim was coachable and had a strong commitment of always wanting to get better. “He was physically fit and had a unique talent,” Kemp said. “He has a competitive spirit, a fire in his belly. He wants to excel and be the best he can be. He’s very analytical and he brings that intelligence inside the ring.” But as former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Kemp said Kim’s smarts sometimes hurt him “He tends to over think.” “Once you get in the ring, you have to start reacting in there,” Kemp said. “He knows he has to be more aggressive and just go for it. That’s what we’re working on right now.” With Kemp by his side, Kim won an amateur championship in 2012.
Kim fought 18 times before signing a professional contract with local boxing promoter Roy Engelbrecht. “With Daniel being from Cerritos, it was a natural fit,” Engelbrecht said in a statement upon signing Kim in August. “It also didn’t hurt that Daniel is a college graduate, has great roots in the Southern California Korean community, has matinee idol looks, a strong spiritual faith, and can fight.” Kim said he learned from his first fight; he says he let his opponent outwork him. This past Thursday night in front 1,406 fans, Kim faced Devonte Donaldson of Long Beach (11) in a four round lightweight (136 pound) bout. It would be a litmus test for Kim. A second loss would jeopardize his promotional contract and may force him to find work somewhere else. Like many professional fights matching beginning boxers, the fight fell short of a classic. Both fighters came out apprehensive. Kim threw a lot of punches that hit mostly air. Donaldson didn’t fare any better. Both would land a few punches here and there but no one had a decided advantage. In the third round, it appeared Kim’s feet got tangled up with Donaldson’s. As Kim backed up to regain his footing, Donaldson threw a left hook that glanced Kim’s head. Kim fell. The referee ruled it a knockdown. Sensing he had little time, Kim got up and came out aggressively. He landed a straight right that knocked Donaldson’s head back. In the fourth round, Kim pressed his aggressive style. He threw a left hook that knocked Donaldson down. With momentum on his side, Kim didn’t relent and continued pressuring Donaldson. All three judges ruled the bout for Kim. “After I got knocked down, I was like ‘I’m not about to spend another two months with a loss,’ ” Kim said. The victory reinforced Kim’s decision to pursue his pugilistic career. “I’m going to box for as long as I can,” he said.
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