PAIN is a sensation familiar to every fighter. It’s accepted, overcome, and dispensed with relish. Yet the agony of grief is something all of us struggle to manage. Bereavements can corrode and paralyse even the most ambitious and resilient. One young fighter who’s worked his way through this type of loss is Top Rank prospect, Bruce Carrington Jnr. The undefeated featherweight lost his brother, Michael Hayden, in 2014, the victim of a senseless shooting as he returned home from buying a video game.
“I knew that I didn’t want to be stuck in that mud, be stuck in that hole, for the rest of my life,” he tells Boxing News. “There’s no way. I got to do something. And I started to look up videos and I started to read articles on the five stages of grief [a theory developed by psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, in the late 1960s]. And I noticed that, out of all the stages, the most difficult stage to get over, to get through, was acceptance. People can go throughout their whole life not accepting. All of a sudden things happen and they’ll always be stuck in grief. So I knew, ‘No, I can’t do that. I can’t. I have to accept. I have to accept that he’s gone. I have to accept that he’s never going to come back. I have to accept that I won’t be able to talk to him and I have to accept that I won’t be able to see him again.’ All that stuff. I had to train myself each and every day. And it was super hard, it made me very emotional. But that actually made me stronger. And I started to realise my brother’s not going to want me weeping and moping around for the rest of my life either. He’s gonna want me to continue to fight and continue to be the star that he wanted me to be.”
Carrington Jnr, known affectionately as “Shu Shu”, will fight for the fourth time as a professional on the undercard of the huge Artur Beterbiev vs Joe Smith Jnr fight on June 18. The 25-year-old New Yorker has been making a name for himself in boxing circles ever since he was seven years old, his gift for entertaining both in and out of the ring brilliantly documented in a powerful short film about his early life called Brownsville Born.
“I met the director before my brother passed and it was supposed to be a totally different type of documentary. He just wanted it to be a documentary about myself, me growing up in Brownsville and just boxing mostly. But it became something different when my brother died. It became a whole different type of movement to where he wanted to build awareness of gun violence.”
The district of Brownsville is an area synonymous with boxing, home to former champions such as Mike Tyson, Zab Judah, Riddick Bowe and Danny Jacobs. It’s a notoriously difficult place to rise out of, yet Carrington Jnr is philosophical about the challenges he’s faced growing up there and now welcomes the sense of responsibility he feels towards his community.
“Brownsville is like the grimiest area you could go into. People that’s even in the toughest neighbourhoods in Brooklyn don’t walk in Brownsville at a certain time of night. They definitely don’t. You’re gonna always see the drug users, drug dealers and stuff like that. People killing and shootings and all that type of stuff. You’re gonna see all of that growing up in Brownsville. And it’s kind of something that you have to adapt to if you’re not used to it. In a way it kind of makes you have tougher skin, you going into certain life situations. I kind of, in a way, appreciate that I grew up with some experiences because of that. Because a lot of the things that people complain about I kind of walk over like it’s nothing because I’ve been through so many things that other people haven’t been through. And I have tougher skin because of that.”
Such resilience was required when Shu Shu was harshly refused a place on Team USA for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Having previously looked like a certain addition to the squad the pandemic put paid to the qualifiers, instead relying on a ranking system that excluded him in favour of a fighter he’d already beaten at the Trials, Duke Ragan. It was a crushing blow to a young man who’d dreamt of Olympic gold but very soon he was focusing on switching to the paid ranks and chasing a new goal.
“Once he told me that I wasn’t going to go to the Olympics I was like, ‘yeah, I’ve overstayed my welcome in the amateurs. I did everything that I had to do, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be where I want to be. So I’m just going to take the next step and turn professional and just do what I’ve been training to do my whole life anyway’,” he recalls.
“I was happy once I turned pro because I would have more rounds to be able to showcase my talent and showcase my ability as a boxer and really show my IQ. Because that’s something with a lot of boxers. I feel like I’m up there with the best of the best when it comes to IQ and my thinking. A lot of guys are playing checkers while I’m playing chess and you’re gonna continue to see that each and every fight.”
Having impressed on his professional debut on the Fury vs Wilder III undercard he soon received a call from Top Rank’s Bob Arum. His short term plan is a straightforward one, remain extremely active and build his profile, particularly in New York. Alongside these ambitions for his career, however, is his desire to elevate the name of his brother, his best friend, and his biggest supporter. It’s all for Ike.
“I feel like I have a lot of endurance because I have a lot on my back. And coming up from where I come from and seeing the things that I’ve seen and going through the things that I’ve been through, it makes a difference in terms of fighters. You fight with a chip on your shoulder. And each and every fight I make sure I’ve gone there with my brother with me as well. If you notice when I walk in with the Mike Tyson towel, you’ll see on the front of my towel it says ‘Forever Ike’. My brother’s name is Michael Hayden, we all called him Ike. And that’s someone that I bring with me every fight. Even on my gloves, that thumb part of my gloves, you’ll see ‘Forever Ike’. All of that stuff right there just makes me build more of an endurance and, like I said, just a chip on my shoulder and bring a different anger with me into each and every fight.”
*You can watch the Bruce Carrington Jnr documentary, ‘Brownsville Born’, for free at www.brownsvilleborn.com