For as long as he could remember, athletics had always been a significant part of Venroy July's life.
He'd competed as a young boy in his native Jamaica. He was a high school athlete in the U.S. He wrestled at the University of North Carolina as he was pursuing an undergraduate degree in political science and economics.
He suffered an injury during his freshman year, so he successfully petitioned the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility while he was in his first year of law school at Duke.
After earning his degree and landing an impressive job with a national law firm in Washington, D.C., at the time, he wasn't ready to give up sports.
"Being an attorney is great, but when you're sitting around reading contracts all day, that's nice, but it's great to have something physical to do," July said. "My entire life had been a balance between sports and school. Even when I was at law school, I was wrestling for Duke.
"I've always been about the balance [and having a workout] is a great way to break up the day and stay healthy. Let's be honest: Lawyers aren't the most healthy people."
So July opted to box to stay in shape. He had a short amateur career and turned professional as a cruiserweight. He wasn't trying to become the next Vitali Klitschko and reach epic heights. When he began to box, he did it primarily to remain in shape and relieve the mental stress that built up during the day.
A funny thing happened, though: He won his first fight, and then his second, and then his third. Suddenly, a lot of highly regarded boxing people were telling him that he had a future in this game.
On April 12 at Patapsco Arena in Baltimore, the 31-year-old July will for the third time promote a show that he'll headline. He meets unbeaten Quantis Graves (9-0-1, 4 KOs) in the eight-round main event.
July is 16-1-1 with six knockouts. He's an aggressive, come-forward fighter who has discovered that he's a lot better at fighting than he ever would have believed.
"Everybody kept telling me that if you turn pro and go 10-0, that's the big break," he said. "They kept telling me that 10-0 is the magic number. I got to 5-0 and I was saying to myself, 'Man, I'm halfway there.' I kept going and I got to 10-0 and the break didn't come."
One of the things July realized as he was on his rise is that he wasn't fighting regularly enough. He didn't have a manager and he didn't have a promoter, and he just took fights as they came.
But as he kept winning and hearing from more and more high-end boxing people about how much potential he had, July decided to take a bold step.
He became a promoter and founded a company, Hardwork Promotions, which would allow him to schedule his own fights.
That, though, presented another fairly major problem: being a promoter is no simple task and requires hours and hours of work a day.
July suddenly found himself with the equivalent of three full-time jobs: He is an attorney at the Baltimore firm of Hogan Lovells, where he concentrates on mergers and acquisition, and finance. He is a boxer who believes he's within two years of fighting for a cruiserweight world title, and he's a promoter who needs to sell tickets.
It's a tall task, but if anyone is up to it, it is July, whose mother is a school teacher and father is an accountant.
His father was a soccer player but really stressed academics to his son. He liked the sports/school balance, but he put academics first.
That was ingrained in July and has remained a part of his life ever since. He ran track – he was the fifth-fastest sprinter on his school team in Jamaica, when there were only four spots – and played soccer, football and wrestled.
When he was a senior at North Carolina, he was so well-respected by the wrestling coaches that they asked him to help with recruiting. He encouraged a heavyweight who was looking to transfer from Michigan State to attend UNC.
The next year, the heavyweight did indeed attend North Carolina. That was July's first year at Duke University School of Law. Because he had shoulder surgery and didn't wrestle as a freshman for the Tar Heels, the wrestling coach at Duke petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility. He was granted it.
He'd wrestled at 197 pounds at North Carolina, but that spot was taken at Duke, so he moved to heavyweight. And there, as fate would have it, he wound up in one of his first matches for Duke wrestling the man he'd recruited for North Carolina.
July lost, but they'd see each other again. July was seeded last in the ACC tournament, and drew the No. 2 seed in the first round. That was none other than his old buddy from North Carolina.
This time, July won and advanced all the way to the ACC finals as a Blue Devil.
July, though, wore his custom-made Carolina blue wrestling shoes throughout the tournament that year.
"I'm a Carolina guy," he says, chuckling.
Once he was done with wrestling, he finished his law degree and took up amateur boxing. He hooked up with Adrian Davis, a highly regarded trainer who worked with notable fighters such as Simon Brown, Sharmba Mitchell and Hasim Rahman, among others.
He kept winning his fights and before long, boxing wasn't just a way to stay in shape. He set the goal of winning the cruiserweight world title.
Fighting at a high level is a risky business at best, but competing on small shows where the money is scarce can be even more dangerous. He knows his future is in law, but he doesn't feel he's putting that at risk despite the fact that so many boxers have suffered brain injuries over the years.
He said because he started when he was in his 20s and not as a young boy, he doesn't face the same risk as others. He hasn't had years and years of trauma to his head.
"My risk profile isn't as high as some others," he said.
But July enjoys it and doesn't think it makes sense not to do something he loves and is good at.
"The way I feel, you can't live life afraid of the potential of something unforeseen happening," he said. "For me, it's like, if I enjoy this and it's something that adds to my life, then I should do it as long as it makes sense.
"I do it because who knows what is going to happen tomorrow? Who knows what is going to happen two years, three years from now? There are people who don't take risks and who don't take chances and don't do things they'd enjoy and when they're walking on the street, they get hit by a car. You never know what is going to happen in the time you're here. You might as well be content and boxing adds to my life."
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