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Dead Boston Bombing Suspect Wanted to Be U.S. Olympic Boxer

Posted on 04/19/2013

By Charles Jay

If you have been watching television this morning, you are aware that the Boston Police Department has identified one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing after he was killed in a dramatic shootout last night. And his brother is on the loose.

The suspect has been ID’d as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a native of Grozny, capital of the southern Russia region of Chechnya (which is principally Muslim) who lived in Kazakhstan before coming to the United States. In a bizarre press conference, his uncle, Ruslan Tsami, asked about his nephew’s death, called him a “loser” who deserved his fate, adding, with regard to him and his brother Dzhokhar (who was a scholarship student), “They do not deserve to live on this earth.” Another uncle, Alvi Tsarnaev, who had actually heard from Tamerlan just two hours before the fatal shooting with a plea for forgiveness, said, “Killing innocent people. I cannot forgive that.”

What you may not know about the young man who had been refrred to as “Suspect #1” is that he was somewhat accomplished as an amateur boxer.

He had sparred a bit when he lived in Russia, but never competed formally until 2004, just a few months after arriving in the U.S. At the time he was a sophomore at the prestigious Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, which has produced notables such as brothers Ben and Casey Affleck, Oscar winner Walter Brennan, poet e.e. cummings, actor Matt Damon and basketball star Patrick Ewing.

He may have gotten some of his fistic instinct from his father Anzor, who was reportedly an amateur champion of some kind in Russia. Shortly after he arrived he told a Lowell Sun reporter “I like the USA. America has lots of jobs. That’s something Russia doesn’t have. You have a chance to make money here if you are willing to work.” As he was competing in the Greater Lowell Golden Gloves, his trainer at the Somerville Athletic Club, Gene McCarthy, was quoted as saying, “He can throw,” emphasizing that Tsarnaev’s musical training (he studied piano and violin when he lived in Russia) may have come in handy in the ring. “Music is rhythm,” the trainer said, “and boxing is about establishing a rhythm.”

Tsarnaev eventually became one of the best amateurs in the area, and was aiming high.

Reporters unearthed a photo essay compiled by a photographer named Johannes Hirn entitled “Will Box For Passport” ( which depicted Tsarnaev as an Olympic boxing aspirant who was headed to Salt Lake City for the 2009 National Golden Gloves in the heavyweight (201-pound limit) division. He had already defeated Gerald Lee Lamour in the New England Golden Gloves.

Tsarnaev can certainly be credited with having some power. In the opening round of action in the national tournament, he knocked down Lamar Fenner of Chicago, and in the words of one newspaper account, “was in control of the whole fight.” But Fenner won the decision, a verdict that drew boos from the audience. Fenner went on to the national finals, where he lost to Jordan Shimmell (who is currently 9-0 as a pro). He later had two professional MMA fights (according to official record-keepers) and fought in the quasi-amateur World Series of Boxing before dying of a heart attack last year.

It was reported also that Tsarnaev beat Bryan Daniels in the heavyweight finals of the New England Golden Gloves in 2010 and wound up winning the Rocky Marciano Trophy as that division’s Open Class champion.

According to Hirn’s 2009 photo essay, if he was able to win in Salt Lake City, “Tamerlan says he could be selected for the U.S. Olympic team and be naturalized American. Unless his native Chechnya becomes independent, Tamerlan says he would rather compete for the United States than for Russia.”

To be a U.S. Olympian would have been logistically difficult, to say the least. According to Rule 101.9 of the USA Boxing Rulebook, while non-U.S. citizens can engage in competitions that do not lead to international competitions (e.g., the Golden Gloves), only U.S. citizens, regardless of whether they are permanent residents or refugees, can compete in a tournament or box-off where the winners advance to an international competition; i.e., as a member of the U.S. team.

Tsarnaev, a student at Bunker Hill Community College who drove a Mercedes (according to the photo essay) and considered himself “very religious,” trained at the Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts Center in Boston (236 Brighton Avenue), which was the training home of a host of pro MMA fighters, among them former UFC welterweight and current CES middleweight John Howard (with a record of 19-7) and Sean Gannon, a heavyweight. Here’s the interesting thing about Gannon: he is best known as the man who beat Kimbo Slice in one of those notorious YouTube “street fight” videos. Gannon, a Boston police officer, is, according to his Wikipedia page, “currently assigned to the prestigious Boston Regional Intelligence Center, an elite unit focused on drug/gang intel, as well as Homeland Security issues.”

Tsarnaev appeared to be something of a loner. “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them,” according to the photo essay. However, he did have a girlfriend, a half-Italian, half-Portuguese woman who had elected to convert to Islam. Presumably it was that girlfriend who pressed charges against him on July 28, 2009 for domestic assault and battery. The address listed for the crime report was on Norfolk Street in Boston (which may actually be Cambridge). Perhaps that is the same location where Tsarnaev lived with this brother,Dzhokhar, who escaped during last night’s shootout and is a subject of one of the largest manhunts in recent history as of this writing.

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