Prime Time Served
Despite spending prime of his career in prison, local heavyweight champ Amir Mansour couldn't have succeeded without it.
Amir “Hardcore” Mansour, formerly known as Lavern Moorer, hopes to join the likes of Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder on the global heavyweight stage. To do it, the Wilmington native, who was raised in Penns Grove, N.J. and now trains out of Joe Hand Gym in Philadelphia, must first go through two-time cruiserweight champion Steve “USS” Cunningham when the two square off on April 4 for the USBA Heavyweight Title.
At 41-years old, Mansour’s career is closer to the end than the beginning. Unlike most stories, however, it is neither the end nor the beginning that contains the interesting action and intriguing plot twists.
Those can be found in the missing pages. The pages and chapters that have been torn from his book. The part of his life where professional boxing was no longer an option. The eight years he spent in federal prison.
“For a lot of people, it was unrealistic for me to be gone eight and a half years and come back to boxing,” says Mansour, former inmate No. 04408-015 at Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institution.
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It was 13 years ago, and the then-28-year old faced an opponent he couldn’t topple – for the first time in his career - the justice system.
Mansour wasn’t a stranger to the legal system. He was incarcerated for nearly five years in the early 1990s, four years of which were added after he was involved in an altercation with a corrections officer.
After his release, the undefeated club boxer began dealing cocaine, but managed to fly under the radar.
That was until October of 2001, when the law finally caught up with him.
The day he was caught, he knew the feds were onto him. A package he had sent to a friend's house had been identified. According to Mansour, that same day he warned his friend, an unwitting participant in his scheme, not to sign for anything. When she did, Mansour says he went to the house, took the package and waited with it on the porch for federal agents to arrive and arrest him.
"There was no way I was going to sit there and watch her go to prison," Mansour said. "She didn't know what was going on. This was my deal. I had to take responsibility for it."
And he did. Mansour -- then a heavyweight club fighter with a 9-0 record -- was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“The amount of drugs I got caught with was like 5-40 [years]. I ended up getting 10 years because I got prior convictions,” says Mansour, who was found guilty of possession of over 500 grams of cocaine with intent to distribute.
At that moment, he didn’t know if he would box again professionally, but he made a promise to himself. Whether he stepped in the ring again or not, he says he wasn’t going let this event define who he was as a man.
That would be the first seemingly impossible task the undefeated fighter would take on.
As a new inmate, the raw heavyweight would soon learn that his career as a fighter wasn’t officially over. Tests would come in the way of other inmates looking to prove their guile and test his reputation.
Since a peaceful resolution was out of the question at this point, Mansour did what any trained fighter would do. He stood his ground.
“After about two fights, they avoided me,” he recalls.
Proving himself as a man not to be trifled with, Mansour was able to distance himself from the fighting, but not the sport of boxing.
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Enter Calvin “Strictly Business” Davis, a 22-1 lightweight from Philadelphia who was incarcerated at Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institution - not only at the same time as Mansour, but for the same type of charges, narcotics distribution and possession.
The two first met in the early 90s, but it was the time they spent together in prison that would most impact the young fighter. Davis would be the one to take Mansour under his wing and refine his raw club style into one more suited for championship competition.
“He's a Philly fighter and very technical; a southpaw,” Mansour, currently ranked 13th among IBF heavyweights, says of Davis. “My style of fighting at that time was basically like a lightweight or cruiserweight [not a heavyweight].”
Given that both are southpaws, it was easier for him to adapt to the style Davis would teach him during their incarceration.
Mansour wouldn’t have to wait long to test his newly learned skills, either, getting a chance to spar with a few inmates in “Saigon.”
No, not the exotic, former city in Vietnam (now known as Ho Chi Minh City). That’s what they called the 10-foot-by-10-foot concrete closet at Schuylkill where they would hold sparring sessions and boxing matches.
It doesn’t get more “Hardcore” than that.
During this time, even with the prison matches, sparring, and his constant training with Davis, Mansour was still unsure of his future in the sport he loved so much. Even those closest to him warned him that professional boxing would be impossible for him once he got out of prison.
However, there was one lone, yet loud, voice that said something different. It belonged to Keith Stoffer.
“Keith is the first manager I had in boxing and he'll be the last manager I have in boxing,” Mansour said of Stoffer, who is more of a father figure to Mansour than a manager. Although Joe Hand, Sr. now manages the heavyweight, the two remain very close despite the switch in representation, so much so that Mansour still thinks of Stoffer as one of his managers.
Stoffer would talk to Mansour during his time in prison. He would tell him about professional fighters that he believed Mansour could beat once he got released.
“He believed in me [while I was incarcerated],” Mansour says, thinking back to their relationship during his time away. “He would say, ‘When you come home, you're going to beat this guy, and you’re going to beat this guy…”
Now, with two men – a trainer in Davis and a manager in Stoffer – squarely in his corner, believing in his ability to do the impossible, Mansour set out to do just that in 2010 following his release from prison.
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The first person to take a chance on Mansour was none other than Cunningham, his opponent for the April 4 title bout.
Cunningham gave him a job as his sparring partner at Schuler’s Gym in West Philadelphia.
It was here, after their sparring session, that Mansour cried in the bathroom stall, he admitted recently during a press conference at Joe Hand Gym.
The tears were not brought on by pain, however, but because he was able to hold his own in the ring with a world-class athlete. It was a much-needed boost for the troubled fighter, the kind that Davis was able to give him while locked up. In the sixteen months that followed, Mansour rode that momentum to a 16-0 record.
In May 2011, Mansour beat Raymond Ochieng (TKO) to claim the vacant WBF Intercontinental Heavyweight title. Then in August, he beat Dominick Guinn (unanimous decision), winning the vacant IBF North American and interim WBO NABO Heavyweight titles. In early December, his 16-month whirlwind of boxing success culminated with a TKO of Epifanio Mendoza to retain his WBF title.
Then, just three weeks after beating Mendoza, Mansour was again knocked down by the only opponent that’s ever bested him: the law.
The now-champion boxer was found in a house where another felon was residing with drugs and ammunition on the premises. He had violated his parole and was sentenced to seven months in prison, nearly losing all that he had worked for since he began training in prison.
Mansour could have given up, called it a day, a career. But he wasn’t going to let his past mistakes define him, so he didn’t. Upon his release in 2012, he continued improving his flawless record to 19-0 while capturing the USBA Heavyweight title in the process.
And now, the man once known as Lavern Moorer, as a drug dealer, and as inmate No. 04408-015, is now just Amir “Hardcore” Mansour, champion.
He also holds another distinction.
“I may be the first fighter that’s not from Philly that is considered a ‘Philly fighter,’” Mansour says jokingly, while recognizing the innate truth in that statement. He may have been born in Wilmington and raised in Penns Grove, but if you look at who helped shape his career and his skillset, it is all Philadelphia bred.
His road to redemption could reach a crescendo next week at The Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University, when the he faces Cunningham, the first person to give Mansour a shot at redemption after his first stint in prison.
The only question is, does Amir “Hardcore” Mansour have one more odd-defying performance left in his 41-year-old body?
If his body of work thus far has proven anything, betting against him is probably not wise.
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For ticket info, go to comcasttix.com
The fight will air live on NBC Sports.