Fifteen months ago, heavyweight Joey Dawejko was so far down that when he looked up he saw the bottom. That was then and this is now and as Dawejko, winner of five in a row and nationally ranked, prepares to fight Unobong Umohette, of Nigeria, on Friday evening, March 6, at the 2300 Arena, he concedes it’s been a wild ride.
“It’s hard to believe the way things turned out,” Dawejko said, “but I’m not complaining. I started in the outhouse, and while I’m surely not in the penthouse yet, at least I am pointed in the right direction.” When Dawejko was stopped in the third round by unbeaten lefty Charles Martin on Nov. 14, 2013, it marked his third loss in five fights and the first time he had been on the floor as an amateur or pro.
“When I got the call to fight Charles Martin, I was working on a roof in Atlantic City,” Dawejko said. “The fight was seven days away. I hadn’t been in the gym and there was no time to train after I got the call since I needed to keep roofing to pay bills. “I went out there (Hollywood, CA) with my trainer and my brother and I had nothing. I could tell when the fight started. I got knocked down for the first time in my life and my trainer threw in the towel at the end of the third round.
“After the fight, I knew my dreams of becoming a contender were over, but I figured I could always make money as an opponent. Since I was still working as a roofer, I knew I could always fall back on that.”
It had been that way for too long for Dawejko, an outstanding amateur (56-12 record) who won 14 national titles and, at 16, became the youngest-ever to win the Eastern Olympic Trials, doing it in 2007.
“My grandfather took me to a Golden Gloves card at the Blue Horizon when I was 10 years old and I was hooked,” Dawejko said. “After that, I got him to take me to a boxing gym (Harrowgate) and that’s where I started.”
When he turned pro in 2009, Dawejko was managed by former WBC heavyweight champ Hasim Rahman.
“I had been in camp with Rahman and I guess he liked what he saw,” Dawejko said, “but things didn’t work out and we went our separate ways after my fourth pro fight.” From there, Dawejko went from one manager to another, one promoter to another, mostly managing himself, training himself (when he found time) and promoting himself.
He once flew alone to Montreal and lost a six-round decision to then-unbeaten Didier Bence.
“I never had the team around me that other fighters had,” Dawejko said. “It was not easy.”
Two months after losing to Martin, Dawejko got a call on two weeks’ notice to box fringe contender Derric Rossy, of Medford, NY, at the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City. When Dawejko upset Rossy via eight-round decision, everything changed. “After that fight, I knew I still had a chance to become a contender,” Dawejko said.
In the audience at the Dawejko-Rossy fight was promoter J Russell Peltz. “Joey controlled the fight that night,” said Peltz, “and he had a nice little fan base there on a couple of weeks’ notice. “For the next month or two, I stayed in touch with him. His promotional contract was declared invalid and I was getting close to signing him. We talked about him fighting Mark Rideout on May 16 at the 2300 Arena. Joey had beaten Mark in the amateurs, but Mark had not lost in six pro fights.
“The last week of March, Joey got an offer for $20,000 to go to Russia on one week’s notice to fight Kubrat Pulev, a top contender. It was a tough call. Joey had bills to pay and here I was asking him to walk away from a $20,000 payday in return for one that would pay him $17,000 less. “I kept reminding him that by taking the Pulev fight, he would just be doing what he had been doing for years, taking hard fights on short notice. He understood, but the money was appealing.
“When he told me he was going to discuss it with Maria (fiancé Maria Sagias), I thought I was a goner. They had two young children I was sure Maria would go for the money.
“Wrong! She agreed that it was time for Joey to see the big picture so he turned down the Pulev fight and signed with me that same week.”Dawejko, now known as The Tank—he is 5-foot-10, 235 pounds–defeated Rideout by eight-round decision on May 16.
With Dawejko in search of a manager, Peltz suggested Mark Cipparone, of Rocco’s Collision in Haddonfield, NJ, who was making a name for himself with junior lightweight Tevin Farmer.
“I’ve got a new place to live, a strength coach, a new trainer and I couldn’t be happier,” Dawejko said. “I have people looking out for me and I never had that before. All I ever had was broken promises. I’ve never trained like this before and I never before at peace with my boxing career.”
Ranked No. 12 by the USBA, Dawejko, 24, followed the win over Rideout with a trio of first-round knockouts over David Williams, of Philadelphia, Yohan Banks, of Redwood City, CA, and Rayford Johnson, of Longview, TX, bringing his record to 13-3-2, 6K0s. On a personal level, Dawejko and Sagias take care of Hailey, 9, and Jayla, 2, and they are expecting a third girl in April. “If I get by Umohette in March, then I will look for a fight that by winning will get me a world ranking,” Dawejko said. “Then I would be in the penthouse.”