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Rising Boxing Star Khalil Coe Beats Olympic Champ At First International Competition, Sees Olympics In Future

By Jim Caple | March 07, 2019, 6:08 p.m. (ET)


Khalil Coe says he has seen almost all the many boxing movies and his favorite is the original “Rocky,” which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1977. He also liked the first “Creed” movie but says, “I don’t think he has anything on Rocky.”

Given what he has achieved so far, perhaps Coe can become the next Rocky Balboa. 

And he certainly will have the time to do so. Still just 22 years old, Coe is a rising star in the sport, a designation he earned last year when he beat four-time world champion and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Julio Cesar La Cruz of Cuba. And the win came in the first round of their match at the Chemistry Cup held in Germany. Coe knocked La Cruz to the mat with a punch to the chin and his opponent was eliminated.

“Nobody was expecting it,” Coe said. “I studied him and watched him fight and made him come at me. … He was the main person I was training to fight. We studied the film, got some international spars, got some different looks and things like that. It just started that footprint.”

By beating La Cruz, Coe won the light heavyweight championship in that tournament and also was named the Most Outstanding Boxer of the Chemistry Cup. Even more impressive? It also was his first international competition, and the match itself was just his 25th overall.

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Nonetheless, he is getting better and better as a boxer.

“I’m still a baby in the sport. I’ve had about 32 fights now,” said Coe, who has finished first and third in the elite national championships. “I started to compete pretty late and have been playing catch-up. But some people say it’s OK considering where I’m at and that I don’t need that many fights. I feel like I would have more season experience if I had more fights but you never know. I guess everything happens for a reason.”

While growing up in New Jersey, Coe says he got into boxing because his mother had him start in the sport around age 12.

“She pretty much put me into it to learn discipline,” he said. “And ever since then I’ve just liked it.”

His first early boxing coach passed away just a couple years after Coe started training with him, and then he competed in other sports in high school such as football, basketball and swimming. Then Coe got back into boxing again at age 17 and it became his passion. And his career.



Coe trains several times a day and says he is in “tip-top” shape. Which makes sense considering how well he has fought. In addition to winning the Chemistry Cup last year, Coe won silver in the annual Strandja Tournament that was held last month in Bulgaria, though he believes he could have finished even higher.

“I would have won gold but I got a cut above my eye in the semifinals,” he said. “I got a head butt so they didn’t let me continue onto to the gold medal round. So I had to settle for a silver.”

Injuries, such as concussions, can be an issue in boxing, but Coe doesn’t worry or stress over that.

“When you accept boxing, you have to accept all the risks,” he said. “It all comes together once you make that decision. You have to be ready to deal with what comes with it and the risks. In order to avoid that, you have to train hard.”

Coe is aiming to compete at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games (his father joked that he’ll also need to hike up Machu Picchu), then the next big goal on his list is to compete at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “Just to be there and walk in and represent the country, it will be a crazy experience to say I get to do that. Even if worse comes to worse and I don’t do as good as I want to, it’s just the experience of being there will be great. But I’m not going to lose. …

“I’m working. I know that they’ll keep an eye on me so I have to bring something. I know I have to be different.”

Following that, Coe says he definitely wants to make the jump to professional boxing. 

“I am very elusive (in the ring),” he said. “I can box and I have power that people see now. I’m working on switching up. I’m trying to bring different looks, to adjust it. Like the former champ Andre Ward.” 

And based on his quick growth and skill in the sport, he possibly could win as many championships as Rocky and Creed.

Jim Caple is a former longtime writer for ESPN and the St. Paul Pioneer Press based in Seattle. He has covered sports on six continents, including 12 Olympics and 20 World Series. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.