Patrick Day's Olympic boxing dream might have been deferred by a convoluted qualifying system that left him on the outside at a time when he is one of the hottest amateur boxers in the nation, but he doesn't need a trip to London this summer to prove himself. Having won two major titles already this year, Freeport's Day enters this week's Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas as the favorite in the 152-pound class.
In early March, Day won the USA Boxing national title at 152, and he followed that up with a victory in the New York Golden Gloves. By winning the nationals, Day, 19, earned a spot as the U.S. Olympic team alternate at 152 to Errol Spence, who is one of only three U.S. boxers already qualified for the Olympics.
Day missed out on a chance to reach the Olympics when he lost in the final of the qualifier last July to Amir Iman, who later was beaten by Spence.
"I was pretty disappointed after winning five in a row," Day said. "I didn't fight the right fight. It was a maturity issue. [Iman] had more experience. It was my first national tournament."
Since that loss, Day has blossomed at such a rapid rate that trainer Joe Higgins, the longtime boxing director of Freeport PAL, envisions him turning pro by the end of 2013. "Patrick has evolved into one of the best-looking amateurs we've had in a decade," said Higgins, who doesn't hesitate to compare his protege to Sugar Ray Leonard. "Patrick is 6 feet tall, but he's not a string bean. He's got strong legs.
"We teach them to be elusive so we can send them home to their mothers pretty."
That was especially important to Day, whose mother lives right across the street from Higgins in Freeport and who was worried about allowing her son to box. "I've had some good guys, but this kid's special," Higgins said. "I've never seen a kid more dedicated. When you hit him, he can't wait to hit you back."
Curiosity led Day to the gym, where he discovered how much he enjoyed "learning to use my hands, getting in great condition and the chemistry of the gym. I didn't have any drive until I started boxing."
Having studied tapes of Leonard, Day sees some similarities. "Not many guys use their feet like I do, and I see it in my jab and my explosion," Day said. "Ray Leonard had a killer instinct. It's speed that turns into power. I feel I have that tool."
The road ahead is a busy one for Day. After the Golden Gloves, he will take part in the Olympic training camp, where he will meet Spence for the first time. "I've never seen Spence in person, but I know he's very talented," Day said. "I feel my style of fighting could frustrate him. If I'm not better than him, I'm the closest thing."
Sounds like the best amateur fight at 152 might take place in sparring before the Olympics.