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Even after early-career defeats, near-fatal accidents and gunshot wounds, Tevin Farmer never stopped believing

Tevin Farmer super-featherweight
Ed Mullholland/Matchroom USA
Ahead of his upcoming fight with Joseph Diaz, Tevin Farmer discusses the obstacles he has overcome to cement himself as a world champion

THE face on Tevin Farmer’s YouTube channel was familiar, yet unexpected. Less than a year after a contentious build-up followed by a 12-round championship fight, Dublin’s Jono Carroll was in training camp in Philadelphia with Farmer, helping the IBF super-featherweight champion prepare for his January 30 title defence against Joseph Diaz.

“After you’re done with what you’re supposed to do in the ring, there’s never supposed to be hate after,” said Farmer, explaining how these two rivals became friends. And it wasn’t all about the Philly cheesesteaks.

“He had to get a few more,” laughed Farmer before making it clear that Carroll isn’t working on a move to middleweight. “He’s working hard too.”

So hard that the tagline for this camp is “No Days Off,” but that’s always been the way the 29-year-old Farmer has approached his career. That doesn’t mean he’s engaging in the gym wars that made his hometown famous, opting against trading brain cells for street cred.

Philly always had that mentality, but even though I’m from Philly, I never played into that role,” he said. “I always did my own thing and that’s why I’m a four-time defending champ.”

An attitude like that may take more grit than it does to go along with the crowd and trade punches for endless rounds in the gym. It’s why no one questions that along with the brawlers that put the “City of Brotherly Love” on the fistic map, Farmer belongs right there with them.

“It means a lot,” he said. “Philly’s grown us to be who we are with our toughness and we have to be tough. Growing up, we fight, and it teaches us everything, especially toughness. I just don’t get caught up in that city hype. A lot of guys from Philly are good, but a lot of guys from Philly don’t make it.”

Farmer wasn’t expected to make it. He started too late. He didn’t have the right style and he didn’t have the right connections. Losing his first pro fight in 2011 to Oscar Santana via fourth-round TKO and having a 4-3-1 record after eight bouts only reinforced those opinions. Farmer may have been the great nephew of the legendary Joe Gans, but he was no Joe Gans. Instead, he was a stranger in a strange land, trying to navigate waters that came with no instruction manual. Still, he believed.

“My whole career, since I started, I knew,” Farmer said when asked when he realised he had the potential to make it to world championship level. “I knew I had to make changes to my career, but I didn’t know what the changes were at the time because I had just gotten into boxing so I was learning on the job. Once I learned it, I mastered it.”

Well, maybe mastered it is too strong a phrase for a boxer still evolving, but after a 2012 loss to Jose Pedraza, Farmer began to find his groove, winning fight after fight as he built his name, doing it his way every step of the way.

“You gotta understand, I started boxing late at 19 years old,” he said. “I wasn’t a guy that grew up on boxing. I got started boxing late and I just did my own thing. I never watched it and I never looked up to no one.”

In 2017, he appeared to be breaking through, but a series of incidents, including a near-fatal swimming accident while on vacation in Puerto Rico, a torn right biceps that required surgery, and a gunshot wound while trying to disarm an assailant at a family birthday party threatened not just his career, but his life.

Again, he believed, and in December 2017, he got his long-awaited shot at the vacant IBF 130-pound title, only to lose a highly controversial split decision to Kenichi Ogawa.

“I didn’t think it was close,” said Farmer of what was widely seen as one of the worst decisions in recent memory. “It was competitive, it wasn’t close, and I got shot in my hand a few months prior to that, too.”

But a loss is a loss, at least until Ogawa tested positive for the banned substance Androstanediol. Suddenly, a fighter who got few, if any, breaks, got one. The result of the Ogawa fight was changed to a No Contest and Farmer got a second shot at the crown against Billy Dib in August 2018, and this time he left no doubts, scoring a near-shutout decision win in Australia.

Tevin Farmer was a world champion, and he’s barely been touched since, successfully defending his title four times, defeating James Tennyson, Francisco Fonseca, Carroll and Guillaume Frenois. And while he’s not leaving a pint of blood in the ring every time he steps between the ropes, his slick boxing and stellar defence is making a positive impression with hardcore fans.

“I definitely think people are starting to appreciate it,” Farmer said. “It’s about damn time [laughs]! I still think I have some doubters out there, but it’s okay to have doubters because without doubters, we wouldn’t be who we are. It’s not their job to believe in me, it’s my job to make them believers.”

A win over 2012 Olympian Diaz (30-1, 15 KOs) will go a long way towards eliminating the remaining doubters, but Farmer (30-4-1, 6 KOs, 1 NC) doesn’t believe one of the most intriguing bouts of the new year will be that intriguing once the bell rings.

“I don’t really think it’s going to be tough,” said Farmer ahead of the fight at Miami’s Meridian at Island Gardens. “I just feel like he’s definitely coming to fight, he’s gonna come in shape and he ain’t gonna back down. He’s got some balls with him. It’s expected to be a tough fight, but I’m expecting to make it easy.”

The toughest fights may be ahead, and none of them will be taking place in the ring. Instead, Farmer’s most formidable test is getting the other champions and big names at 130lbs to agree to fight him.

“I don’t let it bother me,” he said. “I just fight and win. If the fights get made, they get made; if they don’t, they don’t. I don’t base my career on nobody else’s path and I don’t focus on what I can’t control.”

But is he at least optimistic that he will soon share the ring with Gervonta Davis, Rene Alvarado, WBC champion Miguel Berchelt, WBA belt-holder Leo Santa Cruz or WBO boss Jamel Herring?

“I don’t know,” Farmer said. “We don’t dictate that. As bad as I want them and keep calling names out, it’s not gonna happen on my time. Boxing is not one organisation. It’s multiple different people, so if their promoter don’t want them to fight me, it’s not gonna happen. So why worry?”

It’s another example of Farmer following his own road, and though he’s made his feelings known about fighting the fights fans want to see him in, he knows he’s on record doing his part to make them come to fruition.

“I wonder why me and Gervonta Davis didn’t fight yet,” he said. “I wonder why me and Berchelt didn’t fight yet. I wonder why me and any of these other guys didn’t fight yet. I’m going on my fifth defence. I know I want the fight on my end, and I can make it happen on my end, but the other guys don’t. I don’t feel like they want to fight me.”

Who would? Farmer has the perfect style to make anyone look bad, and that’s a testament to his skill and adherence to a forgotten creed that in the prize ring, the object is to hit and don’t get hit. But if a 130lb fighter wants to be great, he can’t duck Tevin Farmer forever. He knows that, so there is a little bit of optimism there that the best is yet to come.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m just getting started.”

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