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Friday, May 20, 2005
Derailed by prison, Evans back on track in 'Gloves'

Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- Six years ago, Michael Evans was an up-and-coming amateur boxer fresh off winning a national Golden Gloves title and earning a bronze medal at the Goodwill Games.

He was young, ambitious and aggressive – and maybe too aggressive.

For three years from 2001 to 2003, Evans was locked inside a correctional facility in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, for beating up another man. His Olympic dreams suddenly became unattainable, as he was taken away from his second home – the boxing ring.

The ropes changed to steel bars and the canvas to cement.

"It opened my eyes," he said. "It helped me become a stronger person. I kept a winner's attitude. When I got in there, I actually got focused. There was so much negative attention. You are just another number in there and I had to prove to myself. I made a mistake and God forgave me for it."

Michael Evans
Evans, 27, is torn between turning pro or trying to make the 2008 Olympic team.

Less than two years after he was released, Evans vaulted to the top of the amateur ranks as a lightweight. He is listed as the top fighter in the United States in the 132-pound weight division and is gunning for his second national Golden Gloves title in Little Rock this week.

On Thursday in the quarterfinals, Evans decisioned Jonathan Gover of San Antonio, 5-0. The semifinals and finals for the various weight classes will air Friday and Saturday night on ESPN Classic beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.

As a 27-year-old, Evans is seen as a veteran in a sport that is dominated by men who are barely old enough to have a drink – and some who aren't.

"In amateur boxing he is old," said Marty Smith, head of the Cincinnati Golden Gloves franchise. "But I expect him to be a champion. He has his quickness back and he is a very cunning boxer."

Raised by his grandmother, Emmaline Ross, Evans was in fifth grade when he was introduced to the sport following a donnybrook with a kid who boxed. After getting pummeled in the scuffle he termed a "Battle Royale," Evans decided he wanted to jump in the ring in 1989. By 1992, he began to leave his mark when he won the junior Olympics in his weight class. Six years later he was crowned the U.S. national champion and was fighting in the Goodwill Games alongside middleweight Jermain Taylor, a Little Rock native in line to challenge Bernard Hopkins for the professional title in a July 16 bout.

"I think I can box and brawl and bang," Evans said. "I have quick hands and I've got a little power. But there are a lot of things I could work on."

Wearing a blue polo shirt, dark shorts and slippers, the 5-9, 132-pound Evans does not look like a boxer. He has a big smile, soft voice and an easy-going nature. Seeking a degree in applied computer science at Sinclair Community College in his hometown, Evans has made an effort to transform his life.

"He has a really good personality," Smith said. "He's very courteous and has a good sense of humor."

He's also pensive and cerebral. The boxer who has knocked out 32 opponents on way to a 79-14 career record has been wrestling with the idea of turning professional or pursuing a chance to make the U.S. national team that will head to Beijing in 2008 for the Olympic Games.

Evans said he likes the idea of representing his country overseas.

"It is an experience of a lifetime," he said. "When I go to countries, we are not looked upon highly because of the war and political disagreements. I act as an ambassador. I pass out a lot of USA buttons. I feel like it is a responsibility."

Evans was recently in Hungary, where he lost to Dudas Tibor in a decision just over a week ago. He made his international comeback six months earlier, when he was defeated by 17-year-old Amir Khan of Great Britain, a silver medalist in the 2004 Olympics. Evans said his comeback is a work in progress, but that he is still holding onto his dreams.

"I'm just getting back," he said. "For me, it has been a triumphant success."