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Dead Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev had boxing aspirations

Kevin Iole
Boxing

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect who died early Friday following a shootout with police, was an amateur boxer of some note who had considered turning pro.

He won the New England Golden Gloves tournament in 2009 and 2010, though he only competed in the National Golden Gloves finals in Salt Lake City in 2009.

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Tamerlan Tsarnaev (L) fights in the 2009 Golden Gloves (Getty Images)

Edwin Rodriguez, a highly-rated professional super middleweight, sparred with Tsarnaev in 2010 and said he broke Tsarnaev’s rib.

“We had a baby [Evan] born on Monday, which was April 15, and we were in the hospital that day, watching the news about the bombing at the marathon,” Rodriguez told Yahoo! Sports. “It’s a strange feeling to know I sparred with this guy and knew him and talked with him. It’s not like we were friends, but we talked and had conversations. It is strange. It’s hard now, knowing what this coward did, to even think about it. He affected so many people, so many families. My heart just goes out to them.”

Rodriguez, who is ranked No. 2 at 168 pounds by the WBC and No. 3 by both the IBF and the WBA, was preparing for a fight in 2010 and was looking for quality sparring partner near his Worcester, Mass., home.

[Related: Massive manhunt ends with capture of Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev]

There are a lot of amateurs in the area, but not many pros. The majority of amateurs aren’t qualified to give a top professional prospect like Rodriguez high-level work.

Rodriguez said his friend, Brian Daniels, recommended Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev had beaten Daniels in the 2010 New England Golden Gloves and Daniels felt that Tsarnaev would be able to give Rodriguez the kind of work he needed.

Tsarnaev drove from Boston to Worcester, Mass. to train with him. When he arrived, Rodriguez thought Tsarnaev was acting oddly. All he brought with him for the training session was a pair of boxing gloves. No one traveled with him and he didn’t bring a mouth guard, a protective cup or head gear.

“He had a little bit of a swagger to him, a real cocky kind of attitude, and he was dressed in a little of what I’d call a military look,” Rodriguez said. “He wasn’t wearing military clothing, but he had the high boots and the pants tucked in and it looked like a military style.

[Slideshow: Images from the manhunt, capture of Boston bombing suspect]

“We were asking him where his equipment was. He said he never wore a head gear or a mouth guard when he sparred. One of my coaches told him, ‘This guy is pretty good; you need to put on some head gear.’ I think he was thinking because I was smaller it would be easy for him. But we got him a head gear on and then we sparred."

When Rodriguez competed in the Golden Gloves, he was trained by a Watertown, Mass. boxing coach named John Curran. Ironically, Curran also trained Tsarnaev until 2010.

Curran told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that Tsarnaev was "a nice guy."

If I was asked two days before the bombing what I thought of this young man, I would have said he was a fine young man. Very good athlete. Very courteous. Quiet, and just a nice guy. I’m shocked beyond belief that he’s involved, or that he was involved, in this.

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Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2009 in Salt Lake City (Getty Images)

Rodriguez said he found Tsarnaev to be a hard puncher, but said he did not have the competitiveness to match his attitude.

He said he hit Tsarnaev in the body and Tsarnaev immediately complained of stomach pain. Rodriguez said he didn’t go hard on him after that because in sparring, the intent is not to finish or hurt the opponent like it is in a real match.

“In the first round, I hit him with some pretty good body shots,” said Rodriguez, who is 23-0 with 15 knockouts. “He was bleeding from the mouth, which is pretty common if you’re not wearing a mouth guard. It’s easy to get cut, and he was spitting out blood and was complaining about pain in his stomach.

“In the second round, he started complaining more and was grabbing his ribs. I carried him. You’re sparring, the guy’s hurt, you don’t try to kill him. But he was a coward. He had this arrogant attitude, but I felt he should have stepped it up.”

Tsarnaev won the New England Golden Gloves heavyweight title in 2009 in Lowell, Mass., qualifying him for a trip to the national tournament, which that year was in Salt Lake City. Tsarnaev was awarded the Rocky Marciano Trophy, given annually to New England's heavyweight Golden Gloves champion.

[Related: Mets fans celebrate announcement of capture of bombing suspect]

He competed in the national finals in the 201-pound weight class, but lost a first-round decision to Lamar Fenner of Chicago. Fenner went on to reach the finals, where he lost to Jordan Shimmell of Michigan.

Fenner died on Dec. 13 at 29 years old at his home in Chicago of an enlarged heart, said his boxing coach, Mike Joyce. Joyce said he did not go to Salt Lake City with Fenner for the Golden Gloves finals in 2009, but said he worked on the game plan for Tsarnaev and spoke to Fenner on the phone after the bout.

Tsarnaev landed a good shot on Fenner early in the bout, Joyce said, forcing the referee to give him a standing eight-count. Fenner, though, rallied to win.

"[Tsarnaev] had the typical Eastern European standup style," Joyce told Yahoo! Sports. "We worked the game plan and we told Lamar that he had to get inside. In the first round, the guy tagged Lamar with a right hand and he took a standing eight count. After that, he was able to get inside. He roughed him up and handled him pretty good."

Tsarnaev trained at the Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts in Boston. According to the Wai Kru web site, former UFC fighters John "Doomsday" Howard and Sean Gannon train there.

Howard recorded a video that he sent to Yahoo! Sports in which he confirmed that Tsarnaev trained at Wai Kru. Howard was emotional in the video and offered thoughts and prayers to the victims, as well as thanks and praise to the police.

He said he wanted to clear the gym’s name, because “even though he trained with us, we had nothing to do with that terrorist. We’re not associated with that.”

Like Rodriguez, Howard said he knocked Tsarnaev down in a sparring session.

“It’s weird, but I used to spar with this guy,” Howard said in the video. “In one sparring session, I broke his nose and dropped him with a body shot. I must have apologized to him 20 or 30 times. Now that I think of it, I wish I kept hitting him because what happened to those people was unfair and wasn’t right. But the chaos is over for now. His brother is in custody and he’s dead.

“I just wanted to clear the Wai Kru name. We’re just an MMA guy who trains people. That’s it. God bless all of you out there. Thank you to the Boston police, state police, [and] all government officials out there. Thank you so much.”

The Associated Press reported that another trainer, Bob Covino, who co-founded the Somerville Boxing Club, said Tsarnaev also trained at his gym several years ago. Covino also told the AP that the MIT officer slain by the bombing suspects, Sean Collier, began volunteering with Covino at a different gym less than a year ago.

Covino told the AP that he doubts Tsarnaev and Collier knew each other in boxing circles.

Tsarnaev's brother, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, was captured alive Friday in Watertown, Mass., concluding a massive manhunt.

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