Verquan "The Show" Kimbrough's professional boxing career didn't start out like those of most pro fighters.
A lot of those fighters, after all, support themselves with day jobs, earning just a few dollars a fight, sometimes waiting their entire careers for a sweet deal or nice payday. Not Kimbrough.
From the time the celebrated Aliquippa-born amateur decided to go pro at age 20, his sweet deal was already in place. In 2003, he had locked up a lucrative multi-year deal to headline fights at West Virginia's Mountaineer Casino. Sources close to the Mountaineer deal said Kimbrough was making nearly $200,000 annually when the deal ended in 2008. At Mountaineer, he had a set-up most 20-year-old boxers can only dream about: fighting every month or two and getting paid like clockwork.
"Ted Arneault [then-CEO of Mountaineer] really liked me and he took care of me," says Kimbrough now, roughly nine months after the Mountaineer deal expired, in September 2008. "It allowed me a place to fight and build up my record and my skills while I got paid consistently."
Indeed, Kimbrough racked up a 20-1-2 record, and is now ranked 15th by the World Boxing Association. By summer's end, he may have a shot at a title fight, and be the poster child for a boxing legend turned promoter who's looking to build a formidable presence in the Western PA boxing scene.
"Things are really starting to happen for me as a fighter," Kimbrough says. "I'm not going to lose it all now."
Kimbrough will get his first chance to prove it on Fri., June 12, when he faces lightweight Justo Sanchez (18-22) in Portland, Ore. It will be Kimbrough's first fight since last September, but he hopes it will also be just a tune-up for a bout planned for the end of the summer.
In August, Kimbrough hopes to face WBA Lightweight Champion Paulus "The Hitman" Moses. (The bout is signed and is tentatively slated for Aug. 22, though the venue has yet to be determined.)
What's behind all the newfound attention? In April, Kimbrough announced that he would be promoted by Square Ring promotions, owned by Roy Jones Jr. -- a former world champion and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time. (The main event on the Aug. 22 card, in fact, will feature Jones himself fighting Jeff Lacy.)
For Square Ring, signing Kimbrough was the opening bell for Jones' efforts to establish himself as a presence in Western Pennsylvania.
Jones "feels the fighters of this area, like Verquan Kimbrough and [world-ranked super featherweight] Monty Meza Clay, deserve to be fighting on a national and international stage," says Troy Ridgeley, Jones' business partner.
Square Ring has Pittsburgh roots already. Ridgeley, a former Notre Dame and NFL football player, is a native of Ambridge. And although Jones is from Pensacola, Fla., he's been coming to the Pittsburgh area to train for years. To clear his head and focus on upcoming fights, Jones stays in Ridgeley's basement, training at a boxing camp near California, Pa.
"Roy loves Pittsburgh and the city truly loves him," says Ridgeley. "And with Roy Jones Jr. comes TV deals. He's already made those connections through his successful boxing career. He's here to breathe new life into the sport of boxing, and we're starting right here with Verquan Kimbrough."
Square Ring is already gaining some traction locally. Starting July 17, Square Ring will be exclusively promoting fights at Mountaineer, Ridgeley says. The main event that night is tentatively scheduled to be former top-ranked amateur Jesse Lubash, of Munhall.
Mark Yankello, a local promoter with World Class Fight Promotions, says the entrance of Square Ring into the local fight scene could be very positive.
"I think this could be a great thing for the area because the talent in this area is as good as it's ever been," says Yankello. "It's an untapped, underrated market, and if another company comes in here and gets things going on a consistent basis it could be beneficial for everyone."
For Kimbrough, deciding to sign with Jones was easy.
"I decided to go with the fighter," says Kimbrough. "He knows what it's like to be young and hungry." For one thing, Kimbrough had been in limbo since the Mountaineer arrangement wrapped up. "I was training again, looking for my next fight, when all of a sudden I get a call saying Roy Jones Jr. wanted to work with me.
"Man, what would you do?"
Kimbrough is ecstatic at the thought of fighting for a world championship, most likely on a major boxing program or on pay-per-view. He says Moses is a good match-up for him.
"Moses is a righteous fighter, he's a comer [a pressure fighter, a puncher who tries to slug it out with his opponent]," says Kimbrough. "But from the time I was an amateur fighter I had been taught fundamentals by Tom Yankello, who is hands-down the best trainer in the world."
Yankello, of Ambridge, is the current trainer and manager of Meza Clay and was one of the original trainers of both former world champion "Pittsburgh Kid" Paul Spadafora and Munhall's Lubash.
And on paper, at least, Kimbrough should be the toughest challenger Moses has faced as champion. This will be the first title defense for the undefeated Moses, who is mandated by the WBA to defend it against a fighter ranked in the Top 15.
"As the champ you're always going to be fighting top guys," Ridgeley says. But most champions would rather take on a 15th-ranked opponent than one in the top five, "because you think it's going to be an easy fight. I think they'll find that strategy was a mistake. Verquan's going to kick this guy's ass."
Kimbrough is a bit more circumspect about his chances, though he says, "I truly believe that there is nothing that Moses can show me that I won't have an answer for. Most guys are either comers or they're boxers, but I can change my style to suit what you can do. This is the perfect opportunity for me to win a world title."
Of course, before he can get that shot, Kimbrough has to take care of Sanchez.
With his losing record, chances are Justo Sanchez will never get a title shot -- but that makes him dangerous to a guy like Kimbrough.
"I might be one of the biggest fights of his career," Kimbrough says. "As hard as I'm training to fight the champ, that's how hard he's fighting to face me. For a fighter like this, this is his title fight."
At the same time, Kimbrough worries that the Mountaineer deal "took away some of that hunger that a lot of young fighters have coming out."
Kimbrough is trying to whet that appetite in the gym. "He's a real hard-working kid," says John DiNardo, owner of DiNardo Fitness in Hopewell, where Kimbrough trains.
"I was living way too good for a young fighter because someone else was feeding me," Kimbrough says. "But now it's time for me to step up and make my own meal."
Clay to fight June 19
Rankin Boxer Monty Meza Clay will be back in action June 19 in Laredo, Texas, as he takes on Fernando Beltran Jr. for Beltran's International Boxing Federation Latino featherweight boxing title.
Clay, the former No. 1 contender to the World Boxing Organization featherweight title, has been out of action since suffering a controversial TKO in January to Mexican fighter Jorge Solis near Solis' hometown. The match will be the main event on Friday Night Fights at 10 p.m. June 19, on ESPN2.