By Carlos Sadovi
7:56 PM CDT, April 19, 2013
A Chicago boxer hoping to go pro faced one of the Boston Marathon suspects in the ring in 2009 and beat him to go on to the Golden Gloves finals.
Lamar Fenner's record was 24-0 when he fought Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a national Golden Gloves tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah. Fenner bested him after getting up from an eight-count, but then lost to a boxer from Michigan in the finals. Fenner went on to join Team USA and died last December from natural causes at the age of 29.
Tsarnaev reportedly aspired to compete for the United States in the Olympics and planned to compete in this year's Golden Gloves finals. He was killed during a police chase in the Boston area overnight, and Friday night Boston police said his brother was taken into custody following a massive, day-long manhunt.
In 2009, Tsarnaev was representing Team New England when he entered the ring against Fenner.
Al Silva, the coach in Fenner's corner, remembers Tsarnaev as a strong but unimaginative fighter, while Fenner had an unconventional style and was able to land enough blows to win the bout.
"What happened in that fight was that [Fenner] was really awkward and it took the other fighter [Tsarnaev] almost the whole fight to figure him out," said Silva, 71. "[Tsarnaev] wasn't the type of boxer who had a surprise."
By contrast, Fenner would cross his feet, lean one way and then jab from the other side, a style he developed while wrestling in college.
"[Tsarnaev] couldn't hit Fenner. Fenner would move awkwardly and [Tsarnaev] never expected a punch from that angle," said Silva, who has been coaching fighters for 52 years. "The other kid was sort of one, two, one, two. I remember if he would have connected with a good solid punch he would have knocked Fenner out because he was strong but he was slow."
Silva remembers that when all five judges gave the bout to Fenner, Tsarnaev who appeared upset, seemed to swat toward the referee and quickly got out of the ring.
"He was a little upset when they announced the winner," Silva said. "He just put his hand down like he was pushing somebody away and left."
Fenner had been nervous before the bout. "He would call me everyday and he would tell me who he was fighting," said Mike Joyce, a longtime boxing trainer and manager in Chicago. "He said the guy was Eastern European fighting out of Boston or Lowell."
Fenner told him Tsarnaev "was a typical Olympics stand-up fighter, so I told him to get inside of him," Joyce said. "He did what I told him to do, get inside every one of these guys."
But the decision wasn't without some controversy.
As the Lowell Sun out of Massachusetts reported at the time, "After flooring Fenner with a huge punch that required an eight count, it seemed that Tsarnaev was in control of the whole fight. Yet somehow the judges saw it differently and awarded Fenner the decision, a decision that drew boos from the crowd." Tsarnaev was involved in a boxing club out of Lowell, Mass.
Fenner had boxed while attending Leo Catholic High School, where he won in the junior nationals in 2001. He told the Chicagoist that he hoped to win the Golden Gloves finals, then drop some weight and go professional.
Fenner said he was nervous facing Tsarnaev. "The first fight was the hardest because I was nervous and I didn't really know what was going on," he said. "But really, when I get in the ring, I look at the other person, put my gloves on, see what he's got and then show him what I got."
Joyce, who got to know Fenner when he trained him at Leo, was a pallbearer at his funeral. He said Fenner was to begin a job as a truck driver when he was found dead in his South Side apartment.
Fenner was the son of a Chicago firefighter and a retired banker. A brother said today's news opened old wounds and the family would have no comment.
Tribune reporter Lolly Bowean contributed.
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