Chicago boxer faced marathon suspect in the ring -- and won

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.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Tamerlan Tsamaev at 2009 Golden Gloves

    Tamerlan Tsamaev at 2009 Golden Gloves

    Tamerlan Tsamaev, right, and Lamar Fenner, left, stand during a decision in the 201-pound division boxing match during the 2009 Golden Gloves National Tournament of Champions in Salt Lake City, Utah. After a car chase and shootout with police today, Tsarnaev, 26, a suspect in the Boston Marathon...

  • Lamar Fenner in 2002

    Lamar Fenner in 2002

    Leo Boxing Club fighter Lamar Fenner waits in the back of a Chicago Gaelic Park banquet room for his turn to box during the Grand Open Amateur Boxing Tournament in Oak Forest in 2002.

  • Bombing underscores Sochi security concerns

    Boston bombing links underscore Sochi Olympic security concerns

    After two trips to the 2014 Sochi Olympic bobsled venue over the past two winters, sled pusher Katie Eberling of Palos Hills said she is not worried about returning or having family members travel there because of links between the prime suspects in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings and areas of...

  • Where to go to laugh while The Second City undergoes repairs

    Where to go to laugh while The Second City undergoes repairs

    The early-afternoon fire on Aug. 26 that started in the Adobo Grill restaurant next door to The Second City has forced the historic theater to move or cancel all of its performances in their Mainstage, e.t.c and UP Comedy Club theaters until at least Sunday, Sept. 20, which will mark 26 days without...

  • City to offer ticket, tax amnesty program

    City to offer ticket, tax amnesty program

    Faced with pushing through City Council a massive property tax increase and other fees as part of a 2016 budget, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to slightly soften that politically difficult package by offering an amnesty program for people who have unpaid tickets and back taxes they owe the city.

  • O'Hare noise complaints top 2 million for year

    O'Hare noise complaints top 2 million for year

    Complaints about jet noise from O'Hare International Airport topped 2 million during the first seven months of this year — eight times the number filed in all of 2014, the Chicago Department of Aviation said Friday.

  • Second City to move or cancel shows through Sept. 20 after fire

    Second City to move or cancel shows through Sept. 20 after fire

    Second City announced Friday it is moving or canceling all performances scheduled in its Mainstage, e.t.c. Stage and UP Comedy Club theaters through Sept. 20 as the comedy company works to clean up after an extra-alarm fire destroyed its Old Town offices last week, though not the performance spaces.

  • Two new 'Empire' songs released before Season 2 premiere

    Two new 'Empire' songs released before Season 2 premiere

    Fox and Columbia Records this week released two new tracks for the second season of "Empire," a show that's filmed in Chicago.