By: Vishare Mooney
It’s too early to see what this Kansas boy is made of. He left his amateur career behind, packed up, moved to LA and walked into Fortune Gym. In his first mitt session, he impressed Justin Fortune so much that the former world heavyweight contender and strength trainer to Manny Pacquiao soon became Eric Priest’s head trainer. With Fortune by his side, Priest has been seamlessly absorbed into the elite Los Angeles boxing scene.
Fewer than 18 months after moving to LA, the 22-year-old, cornered by his famous boxing coach, became a regular sparring figure at the iconic Wild Card gym. He has sparred with the likes of serious heavy-hitting contenders like Israil Madrimov, Tim Tszyu and Bektemir Melikuziev. Recently he logged over 60 rounds with Gabe Rosado to help Rosado prepare for his fight with Danny Jacobs.
In less than a year, Priest has fought in two professional bouts, both wins by early-round TKO. This Thursday, Priest moves on to his third fight in 2020, this time in a hot new boxing venue, Ring City USA and broadcast on NBC Sports. It’s another four-round bout, this time with Colorado prospect Angel Mendez. It’s early indeed, but this kid moves fast.
BoxingInsider.com paid a visit to Fortune Gym to see Eric and Justin in action during a light pre-bout training session. When asked what he first saw in Priest, Fortune replied, “We knew the kid was fast and strong. As soon as you put him through mitts a couple times then you see how well and how quickly he can learn and then you know you have a prospect. He picked things up quickly and adapted to his training and adapted to his sparring. He trains hard, he works hard, he’s dedicated, all the things you need for a fighter.”
We asked Priest what it’s like to be coached by Justin Fortune: “Having him as a head coach is outstanding. When I say his style of training compliments my style of fighting – hit hard, hit fast, no pitter-patter, I’m-not-going-in-there-to-play-with-you-I’m-going-in-there-to-hurt-you. So he brings that attitude into training and that reflects on me and then I start expressing that way.” Priest added, “When I get in the ring I start hitting people hard and fast; I don’t dance around them and extend the fight longer than it needs to be.”
Fortune notes that though Priest has the basic skills that make him a dangerous fighter, namely speed, power and sheer youthful athleticism, it is Priest’s natural ability to be evasive in the ring that caught his attention.
“When you have speed and power like that then you have abilities. He also naturally moves very well, he’s very evasive, it’s something you really can’t teach, it’s natural – head movement, he’s seeing shit, he gets out of the way, he knows what’s coming. He’s very very hard to hit… First times sparring – he’s sparring good fighters, ex world champions, there were a lot of fighters in there not really not catching him or landing shots.”
The Priest vs. Mendez bout is very early on Ring City’s undercard roster, the main card features US Olympian Charles Conwell vs. Kazakh fighter Madiyar Ashkeyev. It will be a while before the Priest/Fortune team headlines and that’s just fine with Fortune, who is realistic about developing talent.
“We’re building him and stepping him up gradually and in the same respect he has to go out there and do his job, his job is not to go out there and last four round for these fights, it’s to go out there and demolish your opponent and then move onto the next one.”
Priest grew up in Kansas, his mother is Korean, his father Caucasian. Priest’s father was part of the Navy’s Special Forces and he, along with famed amateur boxing coach John Brown, shaped the work ethic that brought Priest amateur accolades including winning the Kansas Golden Gloves title in the elite men’s division at age 18. He has participated in combat sports since age 10, starting with jujitsu and found his true love in the sweet science. Priest moved to Los Angeles specifically to launch his pro career, his ultimate goal, like many fighters before and after him, a world title.
It’s not lost on Priest that his Korean American background is a rarity in boxing; he hopes to change that and make an impact.
“My goal is to make Korean Americans proud,” Priest explained. “To honor my background and represent both my cultures in and outside of the ring.”
Wonderful goals to have for the sport, but for now, Priest knows he has to put in the work to get what he’s really after, boxing’s highest honor.
“In the future I have a lot of respect for the champions right now. I don’t not like them, I just want what they have. I want a world title. As a kid I never wanted to be president – I didn’t want to be a firefighter, I didn’t want to be a police officer or this or that, I didn’t want to be famous. At one point, I want to be the best in the world at this.”
Parting words, from Justin Fortune when asked who among the top fighters is Eric Priest like?
“The ones I want to liken him to are absolute legends; so no one yet. He’s still developing his own style, when he develops his own style then we can liken him to other people. At the moment no one yet. He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s very hard to hit, he’s naturally evasive so you can liken him to anyone who moves like that. The ones I have in mind are up here (laughs). He’s down here. He’s not there yet.”
What will bring him up there?
“More fights. Learning your trade. The more fights you get the more experience you get the better you become at it like everything else.”