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Sleezer's a chip off the old boxer

Son of pro fighter begins national tourney today with high hopes

Sam Sleezer didn't get to see his father -- a professional heavyweight boxer nearly 30 years ago -- fight any of his 30 bouts.

He was 57 years old when I was born, says Sleezer. But I heard a lot about what he did, and how good he was.

Lathrop Sleezer won 24 of 30 professional fights and a few bucks here and there on the professional circuit. But big money -- and fame -- eluded him.

Sam Sleezer, who grew up in Weed, Calif., has the potential, despite his late start in boxing, to be a successful professional boxer, according to Bulldog Boxing Club coaches Ernie Johnson Jr. and Joe Pedrojetti.

Sleezer has the luxury of not worrying about burning out as a boxer. At age 23, he's just getting started.

That works in my favor compared to some other guys I know who are tired of it, he says. They are tired of getting knocked around and not making progress.

Sleezer says every day in the Bulldog Boxing Club gym is a new adventure for him. I'm learning every day, says Sleezer. Usually, I can't wait to get in there and see what's going to happen today.

I'm not burned out, and I'm not going go give up, that's for sure. I like doing this.

Sleezer says his father didn't try to push, or even suggest, that his son should try boxing when he was a young boy.

He didn't want to make me do it, and I really never liked it, says Sleezer.

Until two years ago.

Suddenly, his interest in the sport put him on a path to try to emulate his father. That was just after Lathrop Sleezer died.

I did it for him, says Sleezer. I missed my dad when he was gone and I decided to give boxing a try in his name. It made me think of him more.

He's been improving as a hard-punching amateur boxer since.

At first, I was just messing around with it and doing some training when I was going to college, says Sleezer. I worked out and I got a fight about every two years.

I lost a split decision, but it was to a real good fighter. After the fight, he told me I was good and I should stay with it.

That's all the encouragement Sleezer needed.

He started training and fighting. After a fight in Coos Bay last year, Sleezer met Johnson and later was introduced to Joe Pedrojetti, owner of the Bulldog Boxing Club of Medford.

I was floundering around with my life at that time, and I didn't know what I wanted to do, says Sleezer. I was looking for something I could do. I was working out and training in Chico, but Ernie and Joe talked me into coming to Medford and training.

Joe liked how I boxed. He asked me if I wanted to come to Medford, work for him in the furniture store (Joseph Winans) and train with his fighters at the club.

Sleezer, who is a furniture delivery coordinator for Joseph Winans, has reached higher and higher for success since he joined the boxing club.

Today, he reaches for what could be the most significant win of his young career when he fights for the Bulldogs in the National USA Boxing Championships at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Sleezer qualified for the national finals of the heavyweight division by winning state and regional championships recently.

I'm going there to win, says Sleezer, who will be one of the older boxers in the competition.

In Sleezer's case, older isn't better. He has just 16 fights as he ventures to Colorado Springs with an unimpressive amateur career record of 11-5 in the light heavyweight division. But that record is somewhat deceiving, and he's determined to prove it against the best amateurs in the country.

I think I can do it, says Sleezer. When I show up there with my record, people aren't going to take me seriously. They will think based on my record and lack of experience, I'm not very good.

They're going to be surprised. I've learned a lot real fast here and I basically know who I'm going to be up against in the tournament. I'm going there expecting to beat guys with between 100 and 200 fights.

Johnson, a former professional fighter, says Sleezer's future in boxing can carry him as far was he wants to go based on his willingness to work hard and learn.

He has athletic ability and he punches hard, says Johnson. The first time I saw him fight, he stopped a guy with a body shot. I said, `Wow.' The next time I saw him, he broke a guy's jaw. He's a hard puncher and he just keeps coming.

Pedrojetti says Sleezer can make up for lost time as a budding boxer by performing well at the national tournament.

Sam needs to do well in the nationals to get some recognition, says Pedrojetti. But he has a lot of confidence because of his recent wins.

He beat Billy Boyd of Portland to win the state championship last month. That opened some eyes.

Pedrojetti says Sleezer thrives in the Bulldog Boxing Club's system because of his skills.

Around here, our emphasis is on punching and moving, says Pedrojetti. Sam is quick and fast for a heavyweight, he has a good jab and he has good power behind his punches.

He's also an athlete and he's a student of boxing. He's smart out there.

Sleezer says he tries to surprise fighters with combinations of punches.

I'll be going along and I'll try to give my opponent something he isn't expecting, he says. I think about those kinds of things a lot. It usually seems to work sooner or later.

I seem to be able to sense when I can surprise a guy. I try to jump on that.

Medford boxer Sam Sleezer, left, says surprising opponents with combinations is one of his strengths. He begins a national tournament today. - Photo by Andy Atkinson