By Karen Rosen | Dec. 16, 2019, 5:32 p.m. (ET)
Darius Fulghum (red) fights Jamra Talley at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team Trials on Dec. 15, 2019 in Lake Charles, La.

 

LAKE CHARLES, La. – Darius Fulghum leaves the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Boxing with a black eye and a blue belt.

He became only the second No. 8 seed to emerge as trials champion, defeating No. 7 seed Jamar Talley by unanimous decision at 91 kg. in a box-off Monday at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino. 

The heavyweight is well-equipped to take care of his discolored left eye. Fulghum, 23, graduated in May with a nursing degree from Prairie View A&M and he noted that the swelling had gone down quite a bit since he got the shiner last Wednesday in his second fight.

However, that’s the only nursing Fulghum is doing for now. He is boxing full-time while pursuing a spot on Team USA for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

“I felt like I couldn’t manage both if I was to go into nursing – my life on the line in this sport and other people’s lives on the line in nursing,” said Fulghum, who thanked his family for their financial support. “I didn’t want to juggle that. I was going to take boxing full-time while I’m young.”

Both Fulghum, of Rosharon, Texas, and Talley, of Camden, New Jersey, advance to the next stage of Team USA qualifying.

This was their third showdown in four days: Fulghum, who knocked off top-seeded Adrian Tillman in the opening round, lost to Talley by unanimous decision in the finals on Sunday after defeating him 3-2 Friday.

“I was so heartbroken when I lost yesterday,” he said. “I just had to channel the energy into this match and I tried to be aggressive from start to finish. I think that was the main difference.”

Fulghum was also driven by his No. 8 seed, the lowest in his division. Bruce Carrington at 57 kg., was the only other No. 8 seed to win the trials.

“I felt like I had a chip on my shoulder,” Fulghum said. “I was the underdog coming in as the eighth seed, so I felt like I had something to prove.”

Fulghum was a wrestler in high school, but left the sport when he went to college. However, he still wanted a competitive outlet and chose boxing in 2015, which makes him a relative newcomer in the sport.

“I did wrestling because I liked the one-on-one, man vs. man sports,” he said. “When I started doing boxing, I loved it.”

He said he likes it better than his former sport “for sure, because I’m going to take this to the top.”

However, Fulghum recognizes that he lacks experience, especially against competitors from around the world.

“I got my foot in the door now, where I can compete internationally,” Fulghum said, “so I’m just going to dive in headfirst. I think I can compete with the best of the best in the world, so I’m excited.”

After Fulghum won the national Golden Gloves in 2018, he did not compete during his last two semesters of college because of the workload. He couldn’t just take off a week for a tournament.

“Nursing is a great field, not just with pay and job security, but I really care generally about people,” Fulghum said. “To be able to take care of another individual is so fulfilling. I felt like it was a perfect fit. There are not a lot of men in that field, either. I love science and that’s kind of how I got into it. “

But for now Fulghum loves the sweet science even more.

Also Monday, No. 7 seed Lupe Gutierrez knocked off No. 4 seed Andrea Medina in the women’s 57 kg. division for the second day in a row to win the trials title. Gutierrez won 4-1 Monday, which was more convincing than her 3-2 decision Sunday.

“I was just thinking toward the end how bad I want it and how far I’ve come,” said Gutierrez, who is now 2-2 against Medina this year. “I’ve fought six times already and this is my fourth fight in a row and I wasn’t going to let anybody take that from me. It was just pushing myself to my limits.”

Gutierrez, 20, was world junior champion in 2015 and is ready to return to the top of the international stage.

“Now you’re fighting grown women, so you’ve got to be at the tip-top shape,” she said. 

Javier Martinez, the No. 2 seed, bounced back to defeat No. 3 seed Joseph Hicks in the men’s 75 kg. division. Martinez earned a 4-1 decision after falling 3-2 to Hicks on Sunday.

Martinez said his 6-year-old son Lionel put some pressure on him.

“He was like, ‘Dad, where are you going to put the other belt? Are you going to hang it up next to the other one?’” Martinez said of the belt he won for taking the 2018 national title. “That had me thinking the whole day. How do I do this?”

Martinez obviously figured it out, but now he has to keep the upper hand in his division according to the wide-ranging points system that will determine the Team USA representative in continental qualifying. 

The Olympic trials winners received five points and the losers three, with a maximum of 65 points possible.

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USA Boxing head coach Billy Walsh said the trials “was a bit of a grueler of a week. Some guys had to fight six, seven times in a week. It has given everybody a chance to actually show their wares.

“We’re trying to be as fair and open and clear as possible. All we want is the best athlete to represent the USA at the qualification to give us a better chance to qualify.”

All but one athlete in the finals will advance to a multi-nation training camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the Strandja Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria, Jan. 17-26. Jeremiah Milton, runner-up in the 91+ kg. division, will face Richard Torrez Jr., who missed the trials because of a medical exemption, on Jan. 4, 2020, for the right to be the second athlete in that weight class.

Once the 13 athletes – eight men and five women – are selected to represent Team USA, they’ll compete in the American Olympic Qualification Event March 26-April 3 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Athletes who do not qualify in Argentina have a final chance in the World Olympic Qualification Event May 13-24 in Paris.

Team USA qualified eight boxers for the Olympic Games Rio 2016 after having 12 in London.

“We’re hoping that we’re going to have a very good team and we’re looking forward to bringing some more glory back to the United States,” Walsh said. “Our mission is to qualify a full team.”

Team USA won 10 medals at the Pan American Games Lima 2019, its biggest haul since the 1980s, with Oshae Jones at 63 kg. taking the gold.

However, three medalists from Pan Ams did not qualify for the training camp and Torrez still has to make it.

“Even though a couple of medalists got beaten, the guys who beat them obviously did better,” Walsh said. “And we just hope that they can transfer that to the international stage.”

Keyshawn Davis at 63 kg., a world silver medalist, is the leading contender for a gold medal on the men’s side. 

“Throughout the week, you could see that he was a class apart from everybody else,” said Walsh.

On the women’s side, Virginia Fuchs at 51 kg., Rashida Ellis at 60 kg., Jones at 69 kg., and Naomi Graham at 75 kg., all have international medals under their belts.

“The women with a couple of percent improvement this year you could see them take a gold medal,” Walsh said.

The coach said the pair of No. 8 seeds who took the trials by storm also show potential.

He said Carrington, who dropped down to the 57 kg. division after competing at heavier weights, is now where he belongs. Carrington upset top-seeded Duke Ragan, a world and Pan Am silver medalist.

“He had a tight fight with Duke, but came through and continued to blossom since then,” Walsh said. “His confidence grew with that victory and he was the star of the show here in many ways.”

And Fulghum, the other No. 8, has “come on in leaps and bounds,” the coach said. “He has a lot of improvement, obviously, still to be done and we’ll see how he develops at the international level. 

“It’s going to be all new to him, but he doesn’t know any different, so let him keep doing what he’s doing because he’s been successful at it. We’ll just tidy him up and get him in a little better shape and get him ready for international competition.”