Growing up in Worcester, Khiary Gray-Pitts had two choices: stay in the streets and keep rolling with the wrong crowd, or get back in the boxing gym and turn his life around.
"The more I got into trouble, the more I realized I had to get back into boxing," he recalled.
A promising young amateur born and raised in a city synonymous with boxing excellence, from former world champion Jose Antonio Rivera to current world-title challenger Edwin Rodriguez, Gray-Pitts (2-0, 1 KO) seemed destined for greatness as a teenager until a devastating loss cost him a trip to the nationals and sent him veering down the wrong path.
"I began hanging with the wrong crowd, just getting into all sorts of trouble," he said.
Gray-Pitts was arrested eight times -- five times as a juvenile -- before one last run-in with the law forced him to reflect on the damage his behavior was doing to his mother and older brother, Trevor. Something finally clicked. He knew it was time to get back into the gym and off the streets.
"I never got into trouble when I boxed," he said.
Gray-Pitts clearly made the right choice, as evident by his success not only at the tail end of his amateur career, but in his brief foray as a professional as well, where he's now unbeaten in two fights preparing for yet another bout Friday, Nov. 7th, 2014 at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I.
Gray-Pitts will face Philadelphia's Vincent Floyd (1-0-1), a 5-foot-11 southpaw, on the undercard of CES Boxing's season finale, "Winner Take All," in a four-round middleweight bout that could steal the spotlight from the world championship main event.
The bout will end a whirlwind year for the 21-year-old prospect, one in which he fought his amateur finale and his professional debut all within a span of seven days, a remarkable transition in a short amount of time by industry standards. Now Gray-Pitts is one of the most feared, avoided fighters in his weight class, turned down by more than half a dozen regional fighters when approached with the idea of facing him on Friday night.
"I'm a whole different person now," said Gray-Pitts, who is also the father of a 2-year-old daughter Khilani. "I have a whole different outlook on everything."
Prior to his run-ins with the law, Gray-Pitts excelled as a two-sport athlete in Worcester, playing both basketball and football. He reluctantly began boxing in seventh grade after a friend told him to give it a try.
"I used to think boxing was for people that couldn't fight until I tried it," Gray-Pitts said. "After the first few days of training, I stayed with it. I had to beg my mom for an entire year before I could actually take an amateur fight."
Gray-Pitts amassed an impressive amateur record before a loss to Eddie Gomez in the amateurs cost him a shot at the nationals. That's when his downward spiral began. For the next three years, he swerved in and out of trouble until linking up with Kendrick Ball of Camp Get Right Boxing in Worcester.
That's when everything changed. Gray-Pitts began working exclusively with Ball and improved drastically as a fighter, finishing the second half of his amateur career in style with a win over fellow CES stablemate Ray Oliveira Jr. in May.
The idea of turning pro so quickly, just seven days after beating Oliveira Jr., was Ball's idea. He knew Gray-Pitts was ready, and when the opportunity to fight on a CES card in June presented itself, both he and his fighter took advantage.
"Everyone always told me I had a pro style, but I really didn't know I was ready until Kendrick told me I was," Gray-Pitts said. "He taught me a lot, specifically about turning my punches over and looking for that opening. I'm a lot more aggressive now."
That aggressiveness showed in his pro debut when he ate a few right hands from his opponent, On'rey Townes, before finishing him off just 27 seconds into the third round. As for absorbing a few blows, Gray-Pitts didn't seem to mind.
"I had to find out what it felt like, but I didn't do it on purpose," he said with a laugh.
"It actually felt good. It woke me up. It made me realize, 'OK, this isn't a game anymore.'"
The severity of the blows minus headgear isn't the only difference between the amateurs and the pros. Gray-Pitts noted the change in environment from his last amateur fight to his pro debut, the atmosphere and energy in the crowd. It'd be enough to unnerve some young fighters, but Gray-Pitts came out poised and looked every bit the professional.
"I was nervous," he admitted, "until the third round."
That quick flash of brilliance in the third, the overhand right that sent Townes crashing to the canvas, could be considered a warning shot for the rest of New England, a message of sorts to those already ducking Gray-Pitts before he turns 22 later this month. Leave it to a Philadelphia fighter to step up to the plate in what could be the fight of the night.
"I've been waiting for Friday since my last fight," he said. "I love being active."
"Winner Take All" is an all-ages show. Tickets for the event are on sale now for $40, $100 and $126 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com or www.twinriver.com, at the Twin River Box Office or by phone at 401-724-2253/2254. Doors open at 6 and the first bout begins at 7 p.m. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
Friday's event is headlined by the 10-round main event between Providence's Shelito Vincent (12-0, 1 KO) and Jackie Trivilino(9-8-3, 1 KO) for the vacant Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) female super bantamweight title.
Super middleweight Angel Camacho Jr. (12-0, 4 KOs) of Providence, R.I., will face Hyannis, Mass., vet Paul Gonsalves (7-4-1, 3 KOs) in the six-round co-feature. Camacho Jr. was originally scheduled to face Tylon Burris of Hartford, but Burris withdrew this weekend due to a back injury.
This will be Camacho Jr.'s first fight since 2011 and just his second in the last six years while Gonsalves is fighting for the fifth time in 2014, among them an impressive majority decision loss to unbeaten Mike Lee in July on the undercard of ESPN2's FridayNight Fights telecast.
Unbeaten Brockton, Mass., heavyweight Julian Pollard (4-0, 4 KOs) makes his Twin River debut in a special four-round attraction against Providence veteran Arthur Saribekian (23-5-1, 18 KOs) while Cranston, R.I., welterweight Nick DeLomba (5-0) will battle Miami's Lazar Stojadinovic (1-1-1) in a six-round bout.
"Winner Take All" also features New Bedford, Mass., prospects Ray Oliveira Jr. (1-0, 1 KO) and Scott Sullivan (1-0, 1 KO), who both won their pro debuts Sept. 12th. Sullivan faces unbeaten lightweight Oscar Bonilla (2-0-1) of New Haven, Conn., while Oliveira Jr. takes on 6-foot-3 super middleweight Mike Rodriguez(0-1) of Springfield, Mass.
Unbeaten Worcester, Mass., middleweight prospect Khiary Gray-Pitts (2-0, 1 KO) faces Greg Thomas (0-4) of Philadelphia. Warwick, R.I., super middleweight and Air Force vet Zack Christy(1-0), who also debuted in September, returns to face Sergio Cabrera (0-4) of Somerville, Mass.
Support WBOB Sports