They called him Kid Dynamite, but he’s no kid anymore. He’s 41.
However, after nearly 20 years as a professional boxer, Antwun Echols still is harboring hopes of resurrecting a once-thriving boxing career.
“I just want to establish myself again and go further,” Echols says. “I just want to support my family.”
Echols was scheduled to step into the ring for the 56th time in his pro career Saturday night against George Carter Jr. of Galesburg, Ill., at Danceland Ballroom in Davenport. That fight, which would have been his first in his hometown in 13 years, has been cancelled because of a dispute with the promoters. But Echols vows that this won’t be the last we hear of a boxer who once was among the most feared middleweights in the world.
Echols held USBA, NABF and NABA championships, and fought for IBF and WBA world titles. He fought in 20 states and three foreign countries. He had fights televised by ESPN, HBO and Showtime.
But in the past decade, he has pretty much been relegated to the role of professional punching bag, fighting mostly younger, spryer up-and-comers who need a tune-up for future fights of real importance.
Echols doesn’t see himself that way. He still thinks he can reach the pinnacle.
“I want to get that title before I’m done,” he says.
He is standing to the side of the ring in Beasly’s Boxing Club, a cramped, no-frills facility above a pawn shop at 3rd and Myrtle in Davenport. He is chomping on trail mix while shouting words of encouragement to younger boxers going through sparring sessions.
As a reporter talks to him, Echols shifts his weight from foot to foot and playfully flips faux body shots at his interviewers’ midsection.
The jabs are a tell. They come when he doesn’t appreciate the question.
Like when the reporter wonders how a fighter who is 1-14-3 in his past 18 fights can possibly have world championship aspirations. Although his career record is a solid 32-19-4, Echols is working on a string of six straight fights in which he has lost by third-round TKOs. His only victory in the past eight years came against a winless fighter.
However, he points out that Bernard Hopkins, whom he fought twice for the IBF world championship, still is competing at a high level. Hopkins won a world title when he was 46, and now, at the age of 48, is preparing for another title shot.
“Retirement isn’t something he’s even thinking about,” Echols says. “I’m not either.”
He understands that many will scoff or perhaps even laugh at the notion he could ever win a world title.
“That’s my dream,” Echols says in a sincere voice. “I’ve just got to work to get it. You know how it is. As athletes, we never want to quit until our dream is done.”
Escaping the streets
Away from the ring, Echols has what could be described as a checkered past.
His life is strewn with brushes with the law. He was arrested twice on assault charges early in his pro career and has had numerous other encounters with police, who he felt targeted him at times.
He carries two bullets in his body from old gunshot wounds, one in his right leg, one in his left armpit.
He now lives in Dade City, Fla., with his fianceé, Alexis Smith, and four children, but Echols has had several girlfriends and lots of children. Asked how many kids he has fathered through the years, he ducks, weaves and gives the reporter one of those playful body shots.
“Touchy subject,” he says.
When pressed, he answers.
“Twenty-three, I think.”
However, he says those things mostly happened when he was young and immature.
“I’ve started going to school,” he says. “I wanted a better life. I was tired of the street life. The games got old. I wanted something better for my own kids. I didn’t want them growing up that way.”
He says he is enrolled at Everest University and could earn a bachelor of arts degree as early as next January.
He says it helped him to move to Florida and get away from the mean streets that spawned him.
“I started clearing my head and figuring out what I want to do with my life,” he adds.
“I wanted to do something to make my mom proud. I want her to be able to say, ‘That’s my son. He rose above this.’”
Echols concedes he also made some bad decisions in his boxing career and sometimes got bad advice. He changed managers a few times and took fights he never should have accepted.
“He’s taken about 10 fights he shouldn’t have,” says Darren Lacy, an Atlanta-based manager who is now trying to help Echols make better choices.
His past seven fights have come against boxers who had a combined record of 135-9-4. Lacy says Echols wasn’t in proper shape for any of those bouts and many of them were one or two weight classes above where he should be competing.
“I was fighting light heavyweights sometimes,” Echols says. “I’m 158 pounds. I was getting thrown in against guys who had a lot of weight on me.
“But I had to support my family,” he adds. “I’ll do anything to take care of my family.”
Danny Dothard, who was Echols’ trainer for his two fights with Hopkins and through many of the years when he was a contender, agrees his former protégé took “some of the wrong fights at the wrong time.”
And while the move to Florida might have been good for Echols’ personal life, Dothard doesn’t think it helped him as a boxer.
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“He was always better doing his training in Davenport,” Dothard says. “Some guys need to get out of here, but he was the kind of guy that didn’t need to leave home.”
Echols says one other thing held him back. He calls it his “sickness.”
“I never knew it, but I was born with diabetes,” he says. “As I got older, I noticed my legs were getting weak. I even noticed it back when I was an amateur.
“I remember as a little kid I would go to sleep and couldn’t wake up. I realize now it was a diabetic coma. I was 37 when I found out I had this.”
He says he now controls the disease with insulin and a better diet. He says he is gaining strength every day.
Still a contender?
Echols viewed his aborted battle with Carter as a chance to start over.
He says he is in better shape than he has been in years. He was running about 5 miles three days a week, covering a stretch from Farnam Street to the foot of the Government Bridge to the Village of East Davenport and back. He also was working out at Pena’s Davenport Boxing Club, where he got his start, and Lacy says he was swimming in the evening hours.
“I still have the punching power,” Echols says. “I just needed to get my legs back.”
Lacy says it’s all a matter of keeping Echols focused on a regular training regimen and good eating habits.
“He’s still a contender,” Lacy says. “He still has that right hand that will slow anybody. He still has it if he just watches his diet and everything. I don’t know if he’ll ever get back to world championship level, but he can definitely be a good contender. He can still make a lot of money at this.”
Echols insists he can get another title shot and do it fast. He believes the current landscape of boxing and the name recognition from his earlier glories will help him rise through the ranks quickly.
“I see myself getting there in two years,” he says.
Lacy says Echols just needs a win right now, perhaps as much as at any time in his life.
“I get calls all the time for Antwun to fight, but he hasn’t been ready,” Lacy says. “I got an offer for a title shot over in Australia and another fight in Colombia. I get calls from all over the place. … He just hasn’t been ready.”
What if he loses his next fight, whenever or wherever that takes place? Echols flashes a wary smile and gives the interviewer one more poke in the belly.
He admits that could get him thinking about retirement.
“Where else is there to go?’’ he says. “I’ve gotten myself into the best shape in a long time. If I don’t get it done now, I’m never going to get it done.”