Not to be confused with "The Magic Man", names taken by world champions Marlon Starling, Antonio Tarver and Paulie Malignaggi, former middleweight contender Dennis Milton is the one and only "Magician". Boxing 101 caught up with this four-time New York Golden Gloves champion and former middleweight contender who has the honor of being the first man to go the distance with and defeat the dangerous Gerald McClellan.
Initially interested in enrolling in a karate program at a local PAL with a group of friends, a pre-teen Milton was unexpectedly drawn to boxing while watching trainer Manard Stovall working with a fighter in the ring. Milton quickly re-directed his focus and became an amateur standout under the watchful eye of Stovall with whom he worked during his career.
Nicknamed "The Magician" due to his performance of basic tricks while on trips as an amateur, Milton's magic carried into the ring. He won four consecutive Golden Gloves competitions, including a points victory over future world champion Iran Barkley to win the 165-pound Open championship for his first title in 1981. He won championships over the next three years at 156 pounds, continuing his domination of the division within the amateur ranks and defeating the likes of Frank Tate, Reggie Johnson and Michael Nunn (twice).
Favored to go to the Olympics as part of the immensely talented 1984 U.S. team, the National champion Milton suffered a highly controversial loss in the Olympic trials. He was forced to watch Frank Tate take home the gold in the 156-pound weight class, putting a somewhat bitter end to an otherwise magical amateur career.
Having beaten all of the top ranked amateurs he faced who later went on to win world championships as professionals, the magic was expected to transfer over into a flourishing pro career. Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case for Milton.
"Going into the professionals, it shouldn't have been a problem for me," said Milton who turned pro in 1985."The promoters, management and match-making were my biggest problems."
While influential and popular boxing manager Shelly Finkel was handling the pro careers of those from the star-studded 1984 Olympic team, including Pernell Whitaker, Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor and Mark Breland, Milton was not aligned with any particular promotional outfit or high-powered manager. Managed by his trainer Stovall, Milton primarily fought at Madison Square Garden's Felt Forum against lightly-regarded opposition.
Milton faced up and coming middleweight prospect Gerald McClellan in June 1989. The difficulty that Milton was experiencing with his pro career was somewhat evident as he had just 14 fights in four years at the time, with a record of 11-2-1 (4 KO's). Conversely, the fast-rising and undefeated McClellan had disposed of all 10 of his previous opponents within the first two rounds.
The 27-year old Milton worked his magic to overcome the inactivity and power differential, surviving a late knockdown to outbox McClellan and win a six-round decision, handing the future two-time middleweight champion his first pro loss. Milton would be one of only four fighters to go the distance with the dangerous McClellan, who amassed an 85% knockout percentage at the time of his retirement in 1995, and only one of two to beat him by decision.
"Gerald McClellan was the most dangerous guy I ever fought in my life. You couldn't fall asleep on him," Milton matter-of-factly stated.
The victory helped levitate Milton into position for a fight against contender Michael Olajide, whom he defeated by a hotly-disputed split decision in December 1989.
It would be almost two years and only three fights later that Milton entered the ring against WBC middleweight champion Julian Jackson in September 1991. There would be no magic this time as a chaotic training camp and new management distracted the challenger and Milton was knocked out in the first round. He lost his last two fights against a rising Bernard Hopkins in January 1992 and a comeback bout against former WBA welterweight champion Aaron Davis in January 1995. He retired with a record of 16-5-1 (5 KO’s).
"That's all in the past. I'm totally excited about all the stuff that I'm doing now and the things that I've got going on in the future. That stuff that happened, God willing, I learned from it," the 52-year old Milton told Boxing 101.
Milton, a member of Ring 10 Veteran Boxing Foundation of New York and supporter of initiatives to help fighters secure careers after boxing, currently works in the security department of an advertising agency. His exposure to the advertising field has piqued his interest in starting an internet marketing company, reputation1on1.com, that applies concepts such as SEO, blogging and web design to monitor, repair and improve the online reputation of local businesses. Launch is pending final construction of the website.
In an attempt to pass down the magic to the next generation, Milton trains a group of seven fighters at "Astro Fitness" in the Bronx, including 180-pound powerhouse Dave Cleveland and 150-pounder Arnold Gonzales, both for whom Milton has high hopes. The regimen includes visits every Saturday to "Worldwide Boxing Gym" to work with Milton's original trainer, Manard Stovall, who once trained in the same gym as the great Sugar Ray Robinson and closely observed the legendary fighter at work. This particular exposure allows these young athletes to absorb the same thing that was passed down to Milton from Stovall, but the ultimate objective extends beyond boxing.
"I'm just so fortunate to be in the gym now to take what I know, what I've learned through the years, and be able to help other kids. Not necessarily to go out and become world champions in the ring, but to become world champions in life," Milton proudly said, pointing to his former fighter Ben Hart as an example.
Hart fought through the disappointment of being disqualified from the Golden Gloves and losing several bad decisions as an amateur to ultimately re-invent himself as founder of Qinetic.com, a Fortune 500 interactive fitness and wellness network that connects professionals, enthusiasts and those who strive for a healthier lifestyle.
"I took boxing as a way out," explained Milton in summarizing what he learned from his boxing career. "I made it all the way to almost making the Olympic team. That didn't happen but I continued to fight and I went on, even through all of the crazy things that were going on with my career."
With this type of mindset, one has to believe that "The Magician" has several more tricks up his sleeve.
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