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J'Leon Love rises from difficult past to care for brother's 10 children

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
J'Leon Love
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J'Leon Love. (Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – J'Leon Love has a warm, easy smile and the good looks that once led him to a photo shoot with supermodel Kate Moss.

He looks like a financier when he's in a business suit and he carries himself with the confidence of a high-level professional athlete who knows great things are bound to happen for him.

Love (17-0, 10 KOs) will face Marco Antonio Periban in a super middleweight bout on May 3 at the MGM Grand Garden that will, for the second year in a row, open the pay-per-view show of a Floyd Mayweather card.

It's an important fight for the unbeaten Love in so many ways, but mostly because of events far out of his control.

He failed a postfight drug test when he was in the same position last year, opening the Mayweather-Robert Guerrero card on May 4, 2013, against Gabe Rosado.

Rosado is a powerful, strong-willed fighter who isn't easily dismissed. Yet Love's training camp for that fight was a disaster and he took a diuretic not long before the match to help him cut weight.

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J'Leon Love will fight Marco Antonio Periban on May 3. (USA Today)

The Nevada Athletic Commission had mercy on him at a disciplinary hearing after listening to him calmly recount the events that led to him taking hydrochlorothiazide.

As he's done so much since being suspended for six months – instead of the usual nine – for his failed test, Love is walking through the circumstances that led him in desperation to take an illegal substance before a fight.

He's sitting at a folding table in the vestibule of the Mayweather Boxing Club on media day, explaining the tragic events of his life in the same reasoned, matter-of-fact way he spoke to the commission.

He's another of the many who was saved by boxing, snatched from the streets before it was too late.

His brother, Gerald, wasn't as lucky. Gerald was eight years older and had served as J'Leon's father figure because their father was absent from their lives.

That all ended with the crack of a gun on the hard streets of Inkster, Mich., on March 26, 2013, when Gerald Love was shot to death at 33. A $2,500 reward has been offered for information on the shooting.

Instantly, J'Leon was transformed from a carefree single guy with few worries and responsibilities other than his burgeoning boxing career into the surrogate father for 10 young children.

Gerald Love, known on the streets where he was king as "Little Jerry," had 10 children.

"They're like stairs," J'Leon said when asked the ages of his nieces and nephews. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten."

At 25, J'Leon assumed financial responsibility for his brother's children since he was the highest earner in the family.

He happily accepted the daunting and awesome responsibility.

"I'm blessed to be in the position I'm in," he said. "With Mayweather Promotions and the money that I'm making, actually, it's not as bad as I thought it might be. I make good money. Supporting 11 people is what I'd do in any other case if I had to, but I'm in a better [position] to do so now. I'm happy with it, and it's OK.

"I really don't even think about it too much. When I get a call, whether they need diapers or formula or an iPad or a MacBook, I'm there."

Love understands his good fortune, and realizes how close he came to being in the same spot as his brother.

He said he was a drug dealer, too, and admits to plenty of wrongdoing.

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J'Leon Love (right) tested positive for a diuretic after his fight with Gabe Rosado. (USA Today)

"Getting a job was never in the process, you know?" he said. "It was never in the plan. I knew I could make quick money on the street and it was helping my mom, so that's what I did. It was quick, fast. It wasn't the right thing to do, but we don't think of that, a lot of these young guys don't think of that, during the time."

Love is an exceptionally perceptive and aware young man, but he never considered the possibility of winding up in jail or – as happened to his brother and scores of friends – dead at an early age.

Whether he was doing a drug deal or simply shooting the breeze with his friends, Love was off and running whenever he saw a police officer.

"Jail was just never in the picture," he said. "I wasn't going to jail."

Love trained at the legendary Kronk Gym in Detroit, which was owned by the late Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward.

When Love was in the amateurs, Steward promised to bring him to big fights if he did well. It turned out that those trips not only turned around his life, but also likely saved it.

"Emanuel Steward brought me to Vegas to some Floyd fights to see those things inside the MGM," Love said. "Those are things he did for me. I would go and win a national or place good in a tournament and those were the benefits of that. He'd take me to see a Floyd fight or go to a [Wladimir] Klitschko camp. I knew there were things outside of the streets.

"I got a little taste of it, and I wanted much more of it. It drew me more on this side of the fence, where I was doing more with boxing than in the streets."

He's left his old ways behind, and has settled for making an honest living in boxing.

He hasn't cut himself off from his old friends entirely, but said he's careful with whom he interacts. And he knows he can't spend time in his old stomping grounds, which he says "is way rougher than Detroit," because only bad will come of it.

"People know that I'm making money," Love said. "If I go back into my neighborhood, there's a great chance that I'll be getting robbed, shot, something stupid. It's all about the decisions you make and the choices you make."

He's finally making better choices the dalliance with hydrochlorothiazide notwithstanding than he did for much of his life.

When he was dealing drugs and doing other less-than-savory things, he had no plan, no thought, no hope for the future.

"I didn't, honestly," he said. "I did not. I had so many friends get killed at 15, 16, 17. That was like the age, you know what I mean? I knew. I used to tell my mom, 'Yo, get life insurance because I don't know if I'm going to come home.' My mom used to be hopping out of her sleep. 'Yo, come get me.' I was always into something, you know what I mean?

"I done been in shootouts, been shot at, all types of things. I got to be on this Earth for something, right?"

His life, he said, is different now and will stay that way. The days of robbing, stealing cars and selling drugs are behind him, pained memories of a past he can't forget.

He's hopeful of becoming a world champion and doing great things. He gladly took on the financial responsibility of raising his nieces and nephews – "I get a lot of joy out of it, actually," he said – as a tribute to his mother, Venita.

She believed in him and knew he could become great. Now that he's on the verge of fulfilling her dreams, he's not about to stop.

"My mom has been through it all … " Love said. "She never once hesitated or ever thought about giving up on us, on my sisters and my brother and me. Why would I ever not do the same?"

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