Interview With Tor Hamer, An Actual — You’re Kidding, Right? — Promising Young American Heavyweight

If I were building the ideal heavyweight from scratch, he might, after all, end up looking a bit like Tor Hamer, a 5-0 prospect whom I recently had the pleasure of interviewing.

I’ve made no effort to conceal my disdain for the modern heavyweight, preferring the cruiserweights as a closer facsimile of the heavyweights of days gone by, when everyone from the likes of Joe Louis to Muhammad Ali fought far closer to 200 pounds and could actually move and box a little rather than plod around the ring like an aircraft carrier. So, check there — Hamer’s a smaller-sized heavyweight (6’2″, 220-230 lbs.), one who can actually move and box a little, coming as he does from a good amateur background. And he LOOKS the part, not coming in flabby like some other promising young American heavyweights we know.

tor_hamer.jpgFurthermore, while I’m not opposed at all to foreign boxers, I know that having a good American heavyweight is a positive thing for the sport’s profile in the United States. Check there — Hamer’s from the gold old U.S. of A.

And at least a good part of the fun of boxing is that it’s got its share of colorful characters, and it takes charisma to sell a fighter to the mainstream. You won’t find many boxers with personalities or stories like Hamer around the sport, so check there, too. He’s a graduate of Penn State and the the son of a Harvard-educated father and a Villanova-educated mother, and, well, you’ll see some of his personality when you read the interview. But he’s already gotten a lot of attention, in part because of his story and personality and in part he’s been exceptionally well-promoted so far, boxing in New York City storefront windows at Christmas time and being featured in top-shelf pubs like the Village Voice and New York magazine.

Hamer’s getting ready to fight again. He’ll be on the undercard of the May 30 welterweight Andre Berto-Juan Urango fight, although his fight won’t be televised. I know — and he knows — he’s got a hell of a long way to go before he can live up to his full promise, and getting there won’t be easy with some of the specific obstacles before him. But he’s an interesting cat, and he’s worth keeping an eye on; the man who graduates from promising, charismatic young American heavyweight to the best heavyweight in the world, whoever that is, might well be something like the savior of boxing in the United States.

(At the end of the interview, I’ve attached a couple clips of Hamer from the website No Mas, which often features interesting, well-crafted videos from the boxing world. They feature Hamer in a little bit of action, besides how well-done they are.)

TQBR: For people who haven’t seen you fight, describe your style, please.
TH: My style is best described, in the words of my trainer Robert “Bobby” Miles — I’m a combination of Evander Holfyield, Joe Frazier, and who’s the last guy? Muhammad Ali. That’s his description of me. I have the tenacity and heart of Evander. The determination and relentless of pursuit of Joe. And the outside the ring swagger of a Muhammad Ali.

TQBR: Those are big names.
TH: Those are big names. He’s my trainer. He wants to put me in the best light possible. I personally think I’m just me. Who am I to argue with almost 80 years of experience in boxing?

TQBR: Why do you fight? I know you get a lot of questions like that, but your story isn’t the usual boxer back story.
TH: I have that fight in me, Tim. It’s simply that… you know, recently, during recent times, with us having some really big mega-fights, Pacquiao-Hatton, Marquez and Mayweather coming around — We’ve got some big fights. All these guys are millionaires. But they continue to pursue the fight. The two explanations are one, that they make more money doing this than doing anything else and it’s what they do best the best. Two, they have it in them. They have that competitive spirit to be hit and be pushed and having to perform. That’s innate to certain kind of individuals. I’m learning how to make it a career.

TQBR: You say weird things for a boxer, like that you don’t believe you can become heavyweight champion, or that you don’t like to wake up early to train. Do you really not believe that?
TH: The reason why I’m questioning whether I can be heavyweight champion is because I’m too small and I’m too old. Will I run into stiff competition and decide to do something else? I don’t really need this. These are all questions — I’m not ignorant. I’m not out there to say things that don’t hold water… I realize boxing is full of very smart men dedicated to their craft who are historians, who understand and have studied more fighters. The questions they ask are legitimate. How will my whiskers hold up to Klitschko? Can I push back a guy against a guy like Peter? Will my movement save me against a guy like “Fast” Eddie Chambers? No one is asking the question, “can I get there.” I’ve proved myself on the amateur circuit. Everyone understands I can get to the world-class level. The question is what will happen, what happens after that stage. I didn’t grow up to be a boxer. I have other interests. I own a piece of No Mas. For me to become world champion, such a small percentage — there are so many other factors beyond how well you can fight. A lot of fighters don’t realize or refuse to acknowledge or simply don’t realize that. There’s timing. How strong you are. How quick you are. Are you fighting in Vegas or Europe or Africa? What belt are you fighting for? How many tough opponents do you fight on the way up? There are so many different ways you can get to that road. Any reasonable human being has to acknowledge the odds are against it. I’m a small guy in the era of giants. Nowhere in the history of boxing have their been such big boring — boring, I’ll say it — heavyweights. Foreman at his biggest was 225, and he was hardest-hitting motherfucker out there. Valuev is 325 pounds, what, seven foot? What are you going to do with that? The only guy out there who could do something with it — most bloggers and analysts agree — Holyfield beat him, now Valuev is searching for rematch and Holyfield’s playing coy. [Note: Ruslan Chagaev has a win over Valuev.] The point is that small guys like me have a lot of hurdles to overcome. I’m not running away from the tough questions. I’m a hard worker with a decent head on my shoulders, with an excellent team behind me… all I have to do is show up to the gym.

TQBR: You said you’re old, and I know you’re referrring to starting late, but you’re 26, which is young for a heavyweight these days. What’s the long-term plan?  What do you want to work on in the short term?
TH: One round at a time. My job is to win the rounds. My goal for the year, we started that last August, was to get to 10-0. After that I want to pick up the competition and the rounds and start looking for junior belts and such. Planning past a year in boxing is difficult to say.

TQBR: What do you think of the state of the heavyweight division?
TH: Well, Tim… What I see is a drastic change from the heavyweight division going from its golden days. A different type of fighter is coming into the heavyweights. They have size but not so much ability. The talent is shallow here. The talent is definitely low. That being said, I do not like the general public opinion of heavyweight boxers. The reasons why I don’t like it, granted I’m from the inside looking outside, is that it’s the same amount of work it’s always been but different people doing it…. Having an average weight of 20 more pounds than previously, there are a lot of slower-type fights. It’s a little like the way they used to fight, with low guards and a back and forth battering, not a lot of clean shots, infighting. There are guys who definitely can change that. I’m one of them. Chambers has to fight from angles. I have to fight from angles. The smaller guys like us are more interesting to watch but the reality is we have these weight hurdles.

TQBR: Who do you like in the Haye-Klitschko bout?
TH: It’s Klitschko all the way. David Haye — first, I’ll say it. You can tell I’m a business guy, I have disclaimers. I know where I am. I have no delusions where I am on the boxing totem pole. I’m answering you more as a fan than a boxer. From a spectator perspective, David Haye doesn’t have the necessary prerequisites to beat a hammer and sickle Klitschko-like fighter. He doesn’t have that style. In order to beat the hammer and sickle style — the long extended jab stabs opponents from a distance, the hammer is the big right hand — in order to beat that style, you have to make the sickle miss, get inside of it. Once you’re at the end of this thing, once it’s found you, it’s pretty much over.  He establishes his jab, and once the guy stops moving, or stops to focus on blocking, or tries to jab with a Klitschko, it’s over. Lennox Lewis, he jabbed with Klitschko, and with his size, that works. Guys my size or Haye’s size, it doesn’t. Haye, there’s way too much machismo in him. The first couple rounds, he will try to move and slip his way in. Then he’ll give it up and start trying to bang, just like he did with Monte Barrett. He’ll be trying to fight with a guy who physically is a specimen. You have to stick and move, beat [Klitschko] to the spot and fire. Haye doesn’t think like that. All he wants to be is on TV. He signed some some felonious contract weighted to the Klitschkos…. If he loses, he gets nothing. That sounds like a desperate guy to me. He could fight other guys, establish himself and make a mega-fight. He’s going to throw his record down the tubes, and for what? Nobody gives him a chance.

TQBR: You got some criticism in your last win [over Kelsey Arnold], on ESPN2 — stamina, defense, power, footwork, a few other things. How do you answer all that?
TH: I was visibly disappointed after the fight. I fought a journeyman, an MMA fighter. He had 20 amateur fights. He had more fights than I did boxing-wise, but none against good competition. What the issue was for me was one, I became f
rustrated because he didn’t go down. I hit him like I hit a lot of other guys bigger than him with bigger gloves and they went down. I started walking down and trying to impose my will and prove I was just as tough as he was. That’s never a good idea. It ended up working. I slowed my pace, but still punched a good 40 per round, and that’s decent now for a heavyweight. The 1st round was higher. Then I abandoned all defense. That clearly was a mistake. I fell into that trap. Was I tired, no, was I significantly significantly hurt, no. It was learning experience. I don’t have super power; I’ve stopped my share of good, high-ranked national guys in the amateurs. But it’s not what we practice.

TQBR: What do you know about your next opponent?
TH: Samuel Brown. He’s similar to Kelsey Arnold. When you fight a mixed martial artist, you have to be ready to go the distance. They work with four ounce gloves. They’re getting a lot bigger sting than with 10 ounce gloves on. When my team told me that, it made me feel a little bit better. Here’s a guy who’s a legitimate mixed martial artist, who gets hit with four ounce gloves. I watched the video, a few times, actually, and he was out more than once. Every time I watch it, I still think he’s going to fall down. I don’t have the ring experience to set up the big shots and drag a guy down. I’ve been running through them, which I’m supposed to do. How do I want to answer your question? He’s from the military base, and just recently has been allowed to start fighting. He’s going to be in some kind of shape, military shape. I don’t expect him to be that big or that good, but I expect him to have a basic understanding. It’s going to become an issue of survival rather than winning a fight. The first minute of the 1st round, everyone is trying to win. As punches accumulate, guys start asking, “What am I doing here?” He’s an opponent. But I’m not the first guy who started off his career that way.

TQBR: Where did you get such a cool name, first and last?
TH: Last is easier. It’s a plantation name in the South. Slaves were coming across… and were given the last name of their plantation to remember where to keep them… My first name, Tor, was given to me by my father, who decided against Ralph, from my mother. The reason he decided that was because of the meaning. In several different languages, it means different things. In West African… I think in Ghana, it means “king” or “high place.” In general Western culture, it means “high, rocky place,” like the top of a mountain. In Scandanavian it means “God of Thunder,” and the original spelling is Thor. So obviously he wanted me to be a boxer. That’s what I tell him. Why else would you give me this kind of name?… This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If he wanted me to be something else, he should have gone with Ralph.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.