Tevin Farmer: The Long And Winding Road

To say that Tevin Farmer‘s IBF super featherweight title shot against Japanese contender Kenichi Ogawa on Saturday is an improbable opportunity redefines the word “understatement.” Farmer (25-4-1), a slick southpaw from Philadelphia, has overcome a 7-4-1 start to his career, the inability to rely on punching power to bail him out of tough fights (he has only five KO’s in 25 wins), and a recent gun shot wound to his right hand, to now, most improbably, stand just one win away from from joining the elite at 130 pounds.

Back in 2012 Farmer suffered a TKO loss to former world champion Jose Pedraza, a match that Tevin says he took on “three or four days notice,” but since then the Philadelphian has reeled off 18 consecutive wins, including an outclassing of former top prospect Ivan Redkach. That victory punctuated a critical three-fight winning streak that included a knockout of Daulis Prescott and a unanimous decision over Gamaliel Diaz. And during this stretch, Farmer has developed into a most slippery and crafty boxer, a stylistic nightmare for any of the top fighters in his division. But the road to get to this point, has been, to put it mildly, a long and winding one.

“Damn right!” Farmer exclaims when asked about whether he sees value in his early struggles. “I definitely see the value. It makes you a strong person. It’s not easy to make a change in life. Sometimes making those decisions can hurt you. But sometimes you’ve got to pull your pants up and be a big man and make those decisions, to do what’s best for yourself. And that’s what I did.”

Given the aimless start to his career, it would have been simple, expected even, for Tevin Farmer to fade into obscurity and dutifully play the role of an opponent or gatekeeper. In a sport that produces such extreme moments of drama because so many matches appear, at a first and uncritical glance, almost pre-ordained, the journeyman role is one few boxers are ever able to transcend. Once typecast in that role, it’s difficult to break free.

As a fledgling fighter, Farmer was literally taking every opportunity presented to him with little sense of the broader trajectory of his career. Without promotional backing, Farmer was left to flounder and navigate the arduous path of development, while also worrying about the practical responsibilities of building his record. Forget curating opponent selection; like Orlando Salido, who headlines Saturday’s HBO card, Tevin Farmer was forced to learn from losses and being matched tough. More importantly, he had to put enough distance between himself and the Pedraza defeat to alter the preconceived notions about his viability, assumptions that weighed him down like an albatross.

It turns out that 18 consecutive wins is “all” it took to accomplish that rare feat, but surrounding himself with a support system grounded in total trust has also been essential to Farmer’s rejuvenation. In speaking with Farmer, the confidence he has in his camp and those guiding his career is unflappable, much like the fighter himself.

“My former manager Mark Cipparone, he built me up and helped me make key decisions. I believe I have the best team in the world. I don’t see no other fighters out there who have what my team’s done for me. Going from 7-4 to 25-4, that’s about balance.”

Deep down, Tevin “American Idol” Farmer probably knew that even after a seemingly improbable win streak, his journey to a shot at a world title still wouldn’t be without hardship and setbacks. But even a fighter with a profound understanding of boxing’s harsh realities couldn’t have been prepared for the ordeal Farmer experienced this past summer.

While attending his niece’s birthday party in Philadelphia, Farmer was shot clean through his right hand after intervening in a domestic dispute and attempting to disarm one of those involved in the conflict. The gun was fired during the scuffle and the unarmed Farmer was shot, the bullet also grazing the face of Farmer’s brother, closing his eye and sending both men to hospital. Fortunately for Tevin, the bullet had passed through his hand without shattering bone or rupturing a tendon.

Still, the initial prognosis was a two month hiatus from training at a time when Tevin Farmer was just starting to break into the broader consciousness of fight fans. In fact, Farmer was set to travel to Brooklyn for the Mikey Garcia-Adrien Broner bout, which would have been an invaluable opportunity to connect with both media and fans. Instead, Farmer found himself in a hospital bed and having to go through an official process with police before he was cleared of any malfeasance. (An image of Farmer handcuffed to his hospital bed surfaced shortly after news of the shooting broke.)

“I can honestly say that now that I’m here and about to fight for a world title, thinking back, it [the shooting] didn’t bother me at all. I was just happy to go to therapy every day and I looked forward to fighting soon. I was back in the gym the next week. It didn’t bother me at all.” Farmer adds that the ordeal has helped him to be grateful for each day and to stay focused on the present moment, an attitude which has only helped him in his training and the ability to focus on the task at hand.

Further, Tevin Farmer has absolutely no reservations about stepping into a title shot in his first fight after recovering from the shooting. In reality, and given his circuitous path in boxing, how could he? Farmer has never had the luxury of being selective, and that reality won’t change (at least not yet) despite his recent success. What is unusual, however, is that Farmer is finally the A-side and he is expected to win a marquee, high-stakes match. While this simple fact could be seen as a major accomplishment or moral victory for a boxer with Farmer’s “blemished” record, the Philadelphian has come too far and struggled too profoundly to rest on any laurels.

Farmer’s swift recovery from his gunshot wound means that he’s entering Saturday’s bout in optimal shape having lost relatively little time from training considering what could have happened at his niece’s birthday party. In Ogawa (22-1, 17 KOs), Farmer is facing a hard-hitting and rangy fighter who is the Japanese national champion at super featherweight and has successfully defended his belt five times. Ogawa’s only loss came via TKO in his ninth contest back in 2012 — the same year Farmer experienced his last setback. And yet, Ogawa’s ledger is exclusively comprised of domestic opposition, and his fight against Farmer will be his first outside of Japan.

Although Farmer hasn’t exactly faced a Murderers’ Row of foes, he has tangled with, and outclassed, known and credible opposition, giving him a decisive edge over Ogawa in terms of experience and intangibles. As ever, the light fisted Farmer will have to lean on these variables alongside his boxing skills to likely outpoint a naturally heavier puncher.

But make no mistake: Tevin Farmer is ready for his close-up on HBO. He’s already proven himself to be a pugilist who thrives under duress and when odds are long. Expect a disciplined, professional performance from a fighter who has honed his craft in throwback fashion. And with major opportunities on the horizon — including a possible clash against former champion Gervonta Davis, with whom Farmer continues to spar with on social media in heated trash talk — now cannot be the moment where doubt or fear creeps in.

“There’s never pressure for me,” Farmer says. “No pressure can get worse than bullets flying. No pressure can get worse than a Mexican coming towards you when you have a torn bicep and one hand. No pressure can get worse than fighting an Olympian, Jose Pedraza, and I’m gassed out in the second round. How bad can it get? It can’t get any worse than that.”                 — Zachary Alapi 

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