By Tom Archdeacon
DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/Associated Press
Ron Siler, who was raised in Cincinnati and lives in Covington, has overcome a disadvantaged upbringing to become the nation's top-ranked flyweight and an Olympic hopeful. He won his opening bout Tuesday in the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Dayton Daily News
TUNICA, Miss. -- Ron Siler Jr. had been readying himself for this night since the very moment he was born.
"He come out of the womb and as soon as that doctor slapped his bottom, he swung back," Siler's dad, Ron Sr., said Tuesday. "Before he took his first breath, he was swinging. The doctor looked at me and said, 'Looks like your son's going to be a fighter.' "
The kid had to be:
Immediately after his birth, he said, his mom walked out of the hospital, joined the Army and never again was a part of his life.
He ended up being raised in Cincinnati by his dad, who admitted he'd been "out on the street -- living in my car" before his son was born.
Just 13 months ago, he was in the Dayton Correctional Institution, where he spent nine months after an assault conviction following a dispute he said involved some 30 young people in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. He got out, he said, thanks to the efforts of some USA Boxing people, and especially famed fight trainer Emanuel Steward.
"I don't think the judge believed it at first," Siler said, "but then Emanuel came and explained I could be something in the ring."
Steward was right. At 5 feet 3 and just 112 pounds, Siler is the nation's No. 1-ranked flyweight. He's the reigning National Golden Gloves champion, the Police Athletic League champ and was the 112-pound winner at the recent U.S. Championships.
Tuesday night, the 23-year-old Cincinnati boxer took the most important swings in his life. In winning a 25-17 decision against San Diego's David Clark in the opening session of the Olympic Boxing Trials, Siler now is just a few fights away from making the United States Olympic Team for this summer's Games in Athens, Greece. "That's my dream and my father's, and it's as much his as mine," Siler said. "I feel like he's been the only one behind me through life's ups and downs. And believe me, there's been a whole lot of hard times. But look at us, we're still here. A lot of people never thought we would be."
The elder Siler said his life was a mess when his boy was born: "I wasn't doing any drugs, but I was drinking beer. Then (Ron Jr.'s) momma called and said if I wanted him, I better come to the hospital in Knoxville."
When he got to Tennessee, the elder Siler felt an instant connection with his son: "He was born face first. That's just the way his granddaddy and I was born. They called both of us Face and that my boy's name, too."
The younger Siler smiled a gold-toothed smile and nodded: "Back in Cincinnati, everybody calls me Face."
For his dad, passing on the nickname was easy. The rest was not: "I had to be father and mother and I learned from scratch. In the beginning I'd be half asleep at night and put his diapers on backward -- My mother told me I slept too wild, that I couldn't keep him with me, so I put him in the dresser drawer next to the bed. That was his crib. When I went shopping, I put him in one shopping bag, the groceries in the other.
"We had a big Doberman -- called him Mud Duck -- and he'd carry the boy around by his Pampers. One time I had a friend baby-sit, but from 11a.m. to 6 p.m. he was stuck in the corner, scared to move. The dog wouldn't let him budge. Meantime, Face tore the place up."
Siler Sr. said he figured his boy had boxing tendencies because "from the time he was a baby, he slept like this."
With that, he showed a fists-along-the-side-of-the-face fight pose. The memory brought a smile, then reflection: "My son turned my life around. If it wasn't for him, I'd be in the penitentiary or dead. But I spent all my time with him. When I washed dishes in a Korean restaurant, I'd bring him along and he'd play in the corner."
By the time Siler was 8, he and his dad were drawn to the fight game.
"We used to watch boxing on TV and we turned the living room into a gym," the elder Siler said. "Got rid of the couch and TV, so all we had was a heavy bag."
His boy grinned: "Yeah, my sister Quianna was my sparring partner. She's a year younger, but she's tough. A southpaw -- She ended up boxing amateur. Went 30-0 before she quit."
By the time he was 18, Siler had won a Junior Olympics national title and the first of his three PAL crowns. But it was during this time that he went against his dad's wishes and got his two front teeth capped in gold.
"I tried to tell him people would make the wrong assumptions with those teeth," the elder Siler said, "and that's what happened."
First, though, came the 2000 Olympic Trials in Tampa, Fla. Siler qualified a month early, but said he mistakenly "sat on my invitation instead of fighting other tournaments to learn everybody's style."
In the semifinals, he met Glenn Donaire -- a fighter he didn't know -- and lost a decision. "I didn't understand the big picture then," he said. "I didn't realize what I'd done until I watched the (Sydney) Olympics. You win an Olympic medal, it changes your life. I'd be able to take care of my family and it'd help me as a pro. Instead of making $500 a round, you can make $100,000 in a fight."
He vowed to do things differently this time and did so in the ring, winning the Goodwill Games and several national tournaments. He and his dad now live above the Shamrock Boxing Gym in Covington, Ky., where they are assisted by owner Terry O'Brien and his partner, Ray Acri. As for Siler's personal life, it wasn't by the book. He has four sons ages 4 and younger and he said he spends most of his free time with them.
Three of them were at Tuesday's fights, with 2-year-old Alerion constantly yelling for his dad to "go to the body."
Family ties and the fight game were jeopardized, Siler said, with the Over-the-Rhine incident. He said he was in his boxing gear on the way to a workout when he became embroiled in the situation. Although he said he was an innocent bystander, he ran from police and was identified.
"Part of it was the gold teeth," he said. "It's like my dad said: You get stereotyped. When I fought in London, police (there) told me only drug dealers have teeth like this. That's why I'm ready to get rid of them. I'd rather have a gold medal instead of gold teeth.
"That's my dream, to be standing on the podium with a gold medal around my neck and hearing the national anthem. To get that, I'm going to do whatever I have to do."
That simply means doing the one thing he's done since the very moment her was born: Swing.