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Tevin Farmer on growing up in Philadelphia: 'That was my own personal Olympics'

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Tevin Farmer reacts after defeating James Tennyson in a TKO during an IBF super featherweight boxing match in Boston, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Tevin Farmer didn’t know Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and he didn’t follow his career all that closely. But in the 48 hours since the basketball Hall of Famer died with his daughter, Gianna, and seven other people in a tragic helicopter accident in Calabasas, California, he’s read about him plenty.

Like Bryant, Farmer was born in Philadelphia in a city that seems to breed some of the toughest fighters the game has known.

Farmer doesn’t think it’s all that coincidental he shares both a birthplace and a reputation for toughness and steely resolve with the NBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer.

“I do think we produce tougher guys in Philadelphia than you see coming out of other places,” said Farmer, who will defend his IBF super featherweight title against 2012 U.S. Olympian Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, DAZN) in Miami.

“The city we grew up in was rough, and you would get tested a lot. If you make it out of there, you have a chance to be great because of everything you have to overcome.”

Farmer’s challenges went far beyond his environment. He only had 16 fights as an amateur before he turned pro and had no promoter to guide him when he did. He didn’t have a manager to pick the best fights or move him correctly. He fought three weight classes above where he belonged, because he didn’t have a nutritionist to show him the science behind cutting weight and eating for success.

“I took some Ls, but I was learning on the job,” he said. “I didn’t even start fighting until I was 19. There was so much I was doing wrong in those early days, but I didn’t know better. It was just learn as you go and figure it out.”

He was 4-3-1 at one point and then 7-4-1 after a loss to Jose Pedraza. There was an interested observer at that fight, though. Lou DiBella promoted Pedraza and put on that card on Oct. 12, 2012, in Saint Charles, Missouri.

DiBella has one of the best eyes for talent in the business, which is why HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” series is still remembered so fondly by those who watched it regularly. DiBella created the series and bought the fights for the network.

On a card in which he was showcasing the attempted comeback of former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, DiBella spied Farmer.

“I remember watching him and it was clear he was a tremendously gifted boxer,” DiBella said. “He had these losses but it wasn’t because he didn’t have the talent. I said that if I’d grabbed that kid coming out of the amateurs, he’d be undefeated now.”

DiBella grabbed him after the loss to Pedraza, and he’s undefeated since. Farmer has reeled off 24 wins in a row, won a world title and has four successful title defenses.

He’s got a significant fight vs. Diaz, which is being overlooked and on paper looks like the best bout on the show. If he wins, there are a number of significant fights for him.

He told Yahoo Sports that he’d like to fight Gary Russell Jr. if he wins, but DiBella just kind of chuckled at it. It’s not because he doesn’t think Farmer could beat Russell, it’s just the way Russell is.

“Today, he’s saying he wants to fight Gary Russell,” DiBella said. “Yesterday, he wanted to fight Gervonta [Davis]. He wants to fight everybody. He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid and he’s looking for the hardest fights I can give him.”

It’s not that he is looking past Diaz, because he most assuredly is not. They had a war of words on Twitter and Farmer insists he’s primed for a big performance. But he has a desperate need to prove himself and there is no better way to do it in boxing than by facing the elite in a division.

Diaz had an extensive amateur background and won his first bout in the 2012 London Olympics before losing to eventual bronze medalist Lazaro Alvarez of Cuba.

Farmer doesn’t have that kind of experience, but he doesn’t feel he lost out.

“I didn’t get to go to the Olympics but coming out of Philly, fighting some of the toughest guys in the world there, that was my own personal Olympics,” Farmer said. “What I learned there, you can’t learn that anywhere else. 

“He’s a good fighter. You have to give him that. I can’t take anything away from him. But I don’t think he has the ability to withstand what I was able to withstand because he didn’t go through what I did. I don’t believe he can match what I can bring because he hasn’t been in those dark, tough places and come out on the other side like I have done.”

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