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“Me Champion,” Romanian transplant pledges after latest win

Alexandru Marin had been on U.S. soil from his native Romania for nearly two months when trainer Bruce Babashan first tested his revolve.

The scene was the Headbangers’ Boxing Gym in Washington, D.C., four years ago. There, Marin sparred with Baltimore’s Gervonta “Tank” Davis, a prodigy considered an heir apparent to his mentor and promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

“He had an uncle in Silver Spring who recommended Alex before he arrived. I’d seen him on video, but we wanted to see how tough he was. Alex displayed some exceptional talent and un-teachable gifts,” said Babashan of Marin, who went 150-10 as an amateur and twice won national titles. “He came here with the specific goal of becoming a professional boxer, and I agreed to train him with very little expectation. When he arrived, he knew two words of English: ‘Me champion.’ I said ‘We’ll see.’”

Marin’s journey continued last Saturday at the sold-out MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, where his shutout six-round unanimous decision over Mexican boxer German Meraz (55-44-1, 32 KOs) improved his mark to 13-0 with nine knockouts. Marin weighed just over 122 pounds for the 30-year-old Meraz, but will pursue a world championship as a junior bantamweight (115 pounds).

“I usually take about three or four rounds before getting the knockout, but I’m happy that I fought in front of so many people in such a large arena like the MGM,” said Marin, 25, who targeted a berth in the 2016 Olympics before turning pro in part to support a newborn child. “I like body shots, the left hooks, right uppercuts, and I could have thrown more combinations. My dream would be to fight there for a world title.”

Babashan trains Marin at the Rockville-based Champion’s Boxing & Fitness, where his assistant is William Joppy, a 46-year-old former middleweight (160 pounds) champion from Takoma Park. Babashan also houses Marin in Bethesda along with the boxer’s wife, Anca, and their 5-year-old daughter, who are planning to move into their own residence in a few weeks.

Since stopping his first two opponents in the second and first rounds in June and November 2013, Marin is has improved, in part, thanks to sparring with the likes of former champion Rau’Shee Warren (14-2, 4 KOs) of Cincinnati, Lamont Roach (13-0, 5 KOs) of Upper Marlboro, Antonio Russell (8-0, 6 KOs) of Capitol Heights, Kevin Rivers (13-1, 10 KOs) of Landover and Josh Davis (11-1, 5 KOs) of Washington, D.C.

“Alex is a boxer-puncher with the power to hurt and finish a guy,” said Babashan. “But he’s also extremely intelligent with a ring IQ that’s very high as a result of his youth coach in Romania.”

Marin’s run of four straight knockouts ended against Meraz, a steel-chinned Mexican who has gone the distance in losses to Davis and former champs Warren, Juan Carlos Payano, Tomoki Kameda, Hernan Marquez and Gerry Penalosa.

“Alex might have been able to stop Meraz had he stepped it up a little more,” said Joppy. “On a scale of 1-to-10, I’d give Alex an 8. He needed to work the jab more and throw more body shots, but this was a positive step up in the right direction.”

Marin was part of a card representing a boxing resurgence in Maryland, its main event featuring southpaw Gary Russell (28-1, 17 KOs) of Capitol Heights scoring his third straight knockout in the second defense of his WBC featherweight (126 pounds) title.

Russell, 28, won by seventh-round stoppage over Oscar Escandon (25-3, 17 KOs), a 32-year-old who was floored once each in the third and final rounds and knocked out for the first time in his career.

Part of a televised split-site double-header, the show featured an arena broadcast from London of Davis (18-0, 17 KOs) retaining his IBF junior lightweight (130 pounds) crown by third-round knockout against fellow left-hander Liam Walsh (21-1, 14 KOs) of England. Davis, 22, is America’s youngest reigning champion.

Russell’s victory capped a family affair. His younger siblings, junior welterweight (140 pounds) Gary Antuanne (1-0, 1 KO) and junior featherweight (120 pounds) Gary Antonio (8-0, 6 KOs), won by first- and third-round knockouts on the 58th birthday of father and trainer Gary Sr.

Russell Jr., Antuanne, 20, and Antonio, 24, are all southpaws among seven brothers who were given their father’s first name.

“Alex was very relaxed, dominated, precise with his punches and unaffected by the size and magnitude of the event,” said Babashan. “We’ll continue fighting on big cards. We feel he’s on track to becoming a world champion. We’d like his next fight to be this summer, probably in July.”

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