SALT LAKE CITY — Dead Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev boxed in a national Golden Gloves tournament in Utah in 2009.
Tsarnaev, 26, lost his one and only fight in the 201-pound weight class in a decision to Lamar Fenner of Chicago. The loss eliminated him from the weeklong tournament held at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Troy Fullmer, a longtime Utah boxing official, helped put on the event but said with 300 boxers in town, he doesn't remember Tsarnaev.
Like all boxers who qualify for the national championships, Tsarnaev would have had to win very competitive state and regional tournaments to represent the New England area.
"You have to be really dedicated and be a really good boxer," Fullmer said.
"These kids are always good, hard-working kids. They come from a different background. Boxing is a colorful sport."
Larry Fullmer, a member of the Rocky Mountain Golden Gloves board of directors, said he understands Tsarnaev might have been training to return to the national tournament, which Salt Lake City will host again next month.
But a February story in the Lowell, Mass., Sun about the New England Golden Gloves championships does not list Tsarnaev among the boxers competing for a spot on the team.
Tsarnaev came from a Russian region near Chechnya, which has been plagued by an Islamic insurgency that has carried out deadly bombings. He grew up in Grozny, the capital city of the Chechen Republic, much of which was destroyed during the Russia-Chechen conflict. His family left seeking a better life and he has lived near Boston for about a decade.
Larry Fullmer said young boxers often come from at-risk, low-income homes and violent backgrounds.
"Boxing has kind of channeled that, taught them discipline. That's what the coaches dedicate their lives to do is helping these kids change their lives. This is like it backfired in this particular situation. You just wonder what happened to a kid to make him change like that," he said of Tsarnaev.
The Lowell Sun covered Tsarnaev's fight in Salt Lake City:
"In Team New England's last bout of the night, Tamerlan Tsarnaev dropped a controversial decision to Lamar Fenner of Chicago in the 201-pound division. After flooring Fenner with a huge punch that required an eight count, it seemed that Tsarnaev was in control of the whole fight. Yet somehow the judges saw it differently and awarded Fenner the decision, a decision that drew boos from the crowd."
Fenner went on to lose in the finals.
Tsarnaev apparently was the subject of a photo essay, "Will Box for Passport," taken before he competed in Salt Lake City. In it he is quoted as saying, "I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them."
John Curran, of Watertown, Mass., Tsarnaev's coach at the nationals in Salt Lake City, recalled that Tsarnaev wasn't felling well one particular morning.
"So I went to his room and knocked on the door," Curran told the Sun on Friday. "I walked into the room and he was doing that Muslim thing, he was praying. There was a little carpet. I didn't know he was a Muslim. I was surprised. I had never seen anything like that."
But Curran would not connect what he saw that May 2009 day in Salt Lake City to this week's events.
"If you had asked me two days before this happened what kind of person he was, I would say terrific, talented, respectful," Curran told the Sun while under lockdown in Watertown. "Suffice to say, I am shocked beyond belief today."
Tsarnaev apparently had aspirations to become an Olympic boxer. He was registered with USA Boxing in 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2010.
USA boxing spokeswoman Julie Goldsticker told NPR that Tsarnaev was not close to making an Olympic team or national team. As a non-citizen, he would have been precluded from competing in any qualifying tournaments, including Golden Gloves, or USA Boxing national events.
According to the Sun, he won a Golden Gloves fight in the 178-pound weight division in January 2004. "I wanted to fight in the Gloves to see how I would do," Tsarnaev said at the time. "So far, so good."
Tsarnaev also told the newspaper, "I like the USA. America has a lot of jobs. That's something Russia doesn't have. You have a chance to make money here if you are willing to work."
According to multiple media reports, he took part in a number of regional bouts and won the prestigious Rocky Marciano Trophy as the New England heavyweight champ.
Tsarnaev was studying engineering at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston but took a leave of absence to train for the Golden Gloves tournament in Salt Lake City, according to news reports