SONNY CONTO was a baseball player. A South Philly native out of Marian Anderson Recreation Center, Conto chose to attend West Deptford (N.J.) High School over Neumann-Goretti because of the program. After high school, Conto continued his baseball career with Rowan College at Gloucester County. A pitcher, Conto helped the Roadrunners reach the 2015 NJCAA Division III World Series, where it finished third.
At 21, Conto is now a boxer and will be competing in the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves Regional Championships on Saturday at the 2300 Arena, 2300 S. Swanson St.
An auto accident while he was in college altered Conto's path in sports. After a couple of failed epidural shots, Conto opted for surgery, and hung up his baseball spikes.
What was at first seen as a curse became a blessing when the 6-4, 200-pounder turned his full attention to boxing. He has a record of 40-2 and fights in the amateur heavyweight division.
"I've really dedicated myself 110 percent to the sport of boxing," Conto said. "I eat, live, sleep and breathe boxing. That's it. My goal is to be the heavyweight champion of the world."
Though Conto was a baseball player, he has loved boxing as long as he can remember. At 2 years old, Conto would hit a heavy bag his father hung up for him in their house. He was in the gym, training as a boxer, since he was 12.
"The kid trains hard," said his trainer, Hassan Williams, also known as "The Candy Man." "He trains like he wants to be a champion. You can't tell him no."
Williams and Conto have been together for three years, since Conto sought him out.
"He presents nothing but positive energy," Conto said of Williams. "When he comes to the gym, he's upbeat. He just brings the whole gym alive and makes everyone want to train hard and laugh. But at the same time, serious business."
Conto, who goes by "Baby Klitschko," is coming into the Golden Gloves with a chip on his shoulder. Two years ago, Conto fought and lost to a fighter almost 10 years older than him. After a controversial decision, this go-round has a little added incentive.
"It definitely puts a fire in me. I just trained harder, spent more time in the gym, ran more miles, and really pushed myself to the limit," Conto explained. "I wanted to come back. I wanted to be the Golden Glove champ."
Conto has his sights on bigger things after the regional Golden Gloves. He wants a shot at the National Golden Gloves and then hopes to go pro in another three years. Sonny from South Philly wants to be the heavyweight champion. He highlights his family as the reason why.
"I want to get a big signing deal and promoter behind me. I want to be able to give my mom a couple hundred thousand dollars and say, 'Here, go shopping. Do what you want,' " Conto said. "I want to buy my mother and father a house. So, yeah, that definitely adds a lot of fire to me."
Williams refers to Conto as a "boxing prodigy" and believes the sky is the limit for his fighter: "I am convinced that one day he will be the heavyweight champ."