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Douglin doesn’t deny he’s ‘Da Momma’s Boy’

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Douglin doesn’t deny he’s ‘Da Momma’s Boy’
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Denis Douglin is an undefeated boxer, but he won't get mad if you call him a mama's boy

Saphya Douglin is just an ordinary American working mom with a not-so-ordinary second job. After a long day at her primary job as an accountant, she's home for only a half hour before she's out the door again and on the way to job No. 2.

There are many women who need to work two jobs these days in order to help support their families. But Douglin may be the only one who puts down the books and picks up the mitts.

She is the lead boxing trainer for her 22-year-old son, Denis, a promising middleweight contender who is 11-0 with seven knockouts and world championship dreams.

Douglin, who fights Matt Berkshire on Friday at the Doubletree Hotel in Monroeville, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh, opted to use his mother as his primary trainer when he felt he was learning more from her than he was from his other coaches.

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He would train in the fabled Gleason's Gym in New York, where he more than held his own, but thought his mother's teachings in the time they'd work in the family basement together were making the most sense.

He was a teen-ager, at a stage of his life when many young men aren't too eager to be seen out with their mother. Though there were some awkward moments at first, it didn't take long before he felt he made the right decision.

It's one he's comfortable with today, and one he proudly announces on the waistband of his trunks. He's known as "Da Momma's Boy," and said he's truly a product of her teaching.

"When I first began, it was really awkward because I really didn't want to listen to her in the gym," he said. "It was like, 'You're my Mom. Stay at home. Stay away. Whatever.' But as I got older and I began to mature, I started to respect her knowledge of the game more and more. She was teaching me the right things. She's a good coach just like anyone else, but she just happened to be my mom."

Saphya Douglin sent her son to the gym to learn to box when he was 8, because he got into a fight at school and was beaten up. Like any mother, she simply wanted her son to be able to defend himself against bullies, so she suggested he learn how to box.

Saphya was going to the Rivera Boxing Gym in New York each day with the hope of becoming a boxer herself. She got injured and was unable to turn pro, but was fascinated by the sport and began to immerse herself in it. Trainer Freddie Rivera, the gym owner, noticed her passion and began to teach her the nuances of boxing.

She loved it so much that she became a certified amateur coach and continued to study and learn.

The evidence of that is the steady improvement Denis made.

"People kept saying I couldn't take Denis to the next level, but those kinds of people are always going to be out there," Saphya Douglin said. "I feel I've taught him well. If I felt I was a problem and I was keeping him from going as far as he's capable of going in boxing, of course, I'd step aside and bring someone in to work with him. But your fighters speak for themselves and people who know boxing know if they're being taught the right way."

Denis could have made it difficult by resisting his mother's teachings. The two had always been close and after Denis got over the embarrassment of telling people he was taught to box by his mother, things went more smoothly.

Their relationship then turned out to be a positive. They communicated well and Denis seemed to instinctively sense the point Saphya was trying to make.

"We pretty much have a great relationship," Denis said. "Whatever she tells me, I do. She's my mom, but when we're in the gym, she's just my trainer. I don't see her then as my mom. She treats me like a client, like one of her boxers. She doesn't treat me like her son. I don't even call her Mom in the gym. Mostly, I just call her Coach. We keep business and personal separate.

"I've always been close with her and she's been like my best friend forever, but in the gym, it is our work time and that's when she's the coach and I'm the student."

Denis won the Golden Gloves national championship at middleweight in 2008 and assorted other amateur tournaments. He's moved slowly as a pro and hasn't faced anyone remotely close to a contender yet.

Saphya Douglin, though, is convinced her son is destined to be a champion. She gets plenty of time to see him, because she not only trains him, they work side-by-side in the family gym. She opened a gym, "New Breed Boxing & Fitness," in Freehold, N.J., and trains aspiring fighters there, with Denis helping her out.

She works as an accountant in Brooklyn, N.Y., and has to leave home at 7 a.m. to be at work on time. She doesn't get home from work until 7 p.m., but then dashes off to be at the gym by 7:30 p.m., where she stays until midnight.

She'd love to give up her day job and concentrate on running her gym and coaching fighters, but it's still not lucrative enough to do so yet.

If Denis happens to hit it big, though, they'd both fulfill a dream.

"His dream is to be a world champion and mine is to be a trainer of a stable of top professional boxers," she said. "This is my passion, and it's his passion, too. It's kind of neat to be able to chase this dream together with my son.

"I really believe if we keep working like we are, this is going to hit for us. We have to believe and keep putting in the effort. The sacrifices we're making now are going to pay off down the line."

No matter how successful he becomes, no matter how many fights or titles he wins, one thing is certain in Denis Douglin's mind: Those three words, "Da Momma's Boy," are never coming off of his trunks.

He just dreams that some day, "Da Momma's Boy," is a champ.