By Jake Donovan
Dominic Breazeale was ranked 33rd amongst a lengthy field of quarterbacks hoping to have their name called during the 2008 NFL Draft. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were among the short list of 12 ultimately selected, both going in the first round.
The weekend session would end with Breazeale—a two-year starter for the University of Northern Colorado—remaining undrafted and ensuing weeks all but killing his dream of playing pro football. Then came a call from a visionary—the late, great Michael King whom wanted to place the California native on the path to a different pro career.
“The idea first came across in a phone call (from) Joe Onowar the recruiter at the time,” Breazeale (20-1, 18KOs) recalled of his being recruited for King’s now-defunct All-American Heavyweight camp shortly after graduating from college. “I completely thought he was crazy. There was no way in hell that I was going to pick up boxing at 23 years old.
“After I’d done football, basketball, track, baseball, hockey, wrestling – all that as a kid—never stepped foot into a boxing ring, then to pick it up as a sport at 23 years old when I was at the end of my (football) career. There was no way.”
There was a way, as it turned out. Breazeale—who closed out his college career with 2,468 passing yards and 10 touchdowns for a Bears team which managed just two wins in two season—realized the one open road at a time when the path towards his longtime dream was now a dead end, deciding to give it a try.
Fast forward 11 years later, and the veteran contender now has an Olympic tour behind him and—come May 18—a second crack at the heavyweight crown as he faces unbeaten titlist Deontay Wilder live on Showtime from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
“Honestly at the time I thought it was a real dumb idea but three months into it, I had my first amateur fight,” reflects Breazeale on the risk he took which ultimately changed his life in ways he never imagined. “Then I became a 2012 Olympian and now (more than) 10 years later now I’m fighting for the WBC World Title. I think Michael King was the smartest man on the planet.
“For me to be the one that came out the man on top is special, there were hundreds of athletes that came to the door. I feel like the idea of turning a Division I athlete into a professional boxer was crazy then… but now, I think it’s a great, phenomenal idea.”
Breazeale remained with the program until qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics. Shortly after the summer games came his pro debut in Nov. 2012, having since emerged as a mid-tier heavyweight contender. His lone career defeat came in his previous title bid, suffering a 7th round knockout at the hands of Anthony Joshua in June 2016.
Just three fights have followed, all knockout victories including an 8th round stoppage of Eric Molina in Nov. 2017 to earn a mandatory title shot versus Wilder (40-0-1, 39KOs). The streaking heavyweight—who is coming off of a 9th round knockout of Carlos Negron last December—is considered a massive longshot to unseat Wilder this weekend.
Still, the odds are much better than the chance anyone—himself included—ever gave him of even making it in the ring after having to step away from the gridiron.
Even if he didn’t always see it that way.
“I was actually pursuing the NFL. Things didn’t pan out the way I wanted them to,” Breazeale admits in looking back at the end of his senior year. “And it turned out that Michael King was still there when the NFL door closed so that’s why I began to venture into the boxing world.
“To tell you the truth, I actually started boxing to stay in shape for football camps but soon those doors closed and boxing was the only thing I had. And I’m grateful for it now. God put boxing into my life and it’s been a blessing in disguise.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox