Renard Safo thinks of himself as a big brother to the amateur boxers he's trained over the last 16 years. Monday though Friday each week, he makes sure they lift weights, load up on carbs, and focus on their after-school sparring matches.
"They're good listeners, they believe in me, and they train hard," says Safo, who coaches at the Teen America Boxing School on Cleveland's east side. "A lot of people don't like competing against my guys, because they say they're always in condition."
USA Boxing has taken notice of Safo's stable of fighters. The country's governing body for amateur boxing handpicked two of his students to compete at Thursday's International Boxing Triad. Some of the best American boxers in 11 weight classes will take on fighters from Ireland and Italy in a series of four two-minute rounds.
Prenice Brewer, the 17-year-old Golden Gloves and Pan-Am Games champ, will represent the U.S. in the featherweight division for 125-pounders. And 18-year-old Willie Nelson, last year's light-welterweight champ at the national Police Activities League fight in California, will also lace up. "He's skinny, and people think he's weak," Safo says. "But he's strong, powerful, and hits so hard."
Safo's known all along that Brewer and Nelson would be champions. When Brewer signed up for training at 11 years old, his fast right hook and fancy footwork "knocked me out," says Safo. And when Nelson, then a lanky 10-year-old, met Safo, he said he wanted to be "champ of the world."
"When people come and see them box, they're going to really see we have some real good talent, because Willie and Prenice have technique," says Safo. "A lot of guys have a good jab or a good right hand, but these guys have a complete combination of everything. They could be real good pros."