Special to the Daily
Lovejoy graduate Jonathan Hamm has turned into one of the top amateur boxers in the country. He is ranked No. 1 in the Super Heavyweight Division heading into the Olympic trails.
By Doug Gorman
In some athletic circles, Lovejoy High School graduate Jonathan Hamm, 27, would be considered a late bloomer.
He never played high school football, but earned his way on to the college gridiron, where thanks to his 6-foot, 7-fame, the defensive end terrorized opponents as a member of the Clark Atlanta University squad, earning all SIAC honors.
His talents took him briefly to the NFL where he signed a free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints in 2007.
A two-year stint with the New York Dragons in the Arena Football League also dots his impressive athletic resume.
Hamm has even tried his hand at acting, making an appearance in a Super Bowl commercial for Sobe and also in the movie "The Big Fan."
Athletically, the Lovejoy graduate has made up for lost time, except now, he's moved his energies from the football field to the boxing ring.
"When it became apparent that football really wasn't going to work out, I decided to give boxing a try," Hamm said. "It's a whole lot more difficult then people might think."
His journey to the boxing ring was helped along by Natu Visina, a former football teammate, who has entered the professional boxing ranks.
Hamm is now an overnight sensation, and these days, he's the top-ranked super heavyweight in the United States with an eye on making the Olympics.
He will get his chance when the Olympic trials start in Mobile on July 31.
"To make the Olympics would be a great accomplishment," he said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think this was possible."
Hamm caught the attention of All-American Heavweight promoter Michael King. King is a television producer and huge supporter of boxing who helps fund the boxing team.
But it almost didn't workout. The boxing program was going to release
Hamm after a slow start.
That's when trainer Jamal Abdullah stepped in and saved Hamm's career.
"He was so unorthodox, and so raw, but he had a lot of heart," Abdullah said by phone on Tuesday night.
Abdullah even put his own reputation on the line.
"I told them to let me train Hamm, and if things didn't work out, I would leave too," Abdullah said.
Both men got to stay.
At 258-pounds and the owner of a powerful punch, Hamm looks like he belongs in the boxing ring, but as far as most in the sport are concerned, he's a newcomer.
"Nobody with such little experience has ever made an Olympic team," Hamm said. "I want to be the first."
Once he started working with Abdullah, there was an instant connection.
"I told him, if he worked hard, and listened, I would make him the best boxer on the team," Abdullah said.
It was a slow process. Hamm spent several months just training before even thinking about his first fight.
I spent several months just learning how to box," he said.
He must be doing something right. He heads to the Olympic trails with a 25-1 record and as the No.1-ranked super heavyweight.
Until trying his hand at boxing, Hamm had no fighting experience.
"I liked watching boxing as a kid, but never really thought about giving it a try."
Hamm closely followed the careers of former heavyweight champions
Evander Holyfield and Lenoxx Lewis.
These days, it's Lewis he tries to model himself after. At 6-5, Lewis had a commanding presence in the ring. He ended his career with a 42-2 record, winning three heavyweight titles.
"I watched a lot of his fights on film, and just tried to learn from the things he did in the ring," he said.
Abdullah is building an impressive list of boxing clients. He also trains Joe Hanks, who is 17-0 and won IBA heavyweight title on Saturday with a victory over Alfredo Escalera jr.
He would love to add Hamm's name to his list of champions.
"He has a chance to be very good, and he should come through the Olympic trails on top, but with amateur fighters, you just never know," Abduallah.
For Hamm, there is one thing about making the transition from the gridiron to the ring that is the same.
"Both take a sold work ethic," he said.
Hamm's boxing goals are clear.
"No matter what happens, after the Olympics, I am going to turn pro," he said.