It was just his ninth pro bout, and already he was being featured on ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights,” with famed boxing trainer/commentator/fireman Teddy Atlas opening a hydrant of superlatives on the young fighter before him.
It was July 2010 and Joseph Elegele was making his national TV debut, tearing through Willie Walton like he was constructed of papier–mâché instead of flesh and bone, earning a third-round knockout in the process.
It was Elegele’s ninth bout in as many months since turning pro the year before—this after a decorated amateur run in which the Florida native won all but eight of 77 fights.
Elegele’s career wasn’t just on the fast track, it was barreling down a drag strip of potential in the 147-pound division.
But sometimes the spotlight’s glare can be so blinding that it sends a man careening off his intended path.
“There was so much hype around me at the time,” Elegele recalls. “I didn’t know how to take it in and move forward with it. I kind of let it get to me. It was a great experience, but I don’t think I was ready for that.”
And so after suffering his first loss to Aron Martinez in July 2011, Joseph Elegele (14-2, 10 KOs) fought just three times over the next three years as he struggled to find his footing on the rocky climb to success.
“It was really just me taking some time to find myself, find out who I was, who I am, and move forward,” he explains of his periodic bouts of inactivity.
Now, after a 15-month layoff during which he says he had to deal with some family issues, Elegele is returning to the ring intent on recapturing his once-substantial career momentum.
He’ll get started Sunday night (Bounce TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) at Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee in Immokalee, Florida, against durable Puerto Rican Alex De Jesus (21-1, 13 KOs), a fellow southpaw who comes at his opponents like a blunt object in boxing trunks.
“I see him coming forward, pressing the issue, but honestly, I don’t think he’s on my level, skill-wise,” Elegele says. “I have more of a technical style, and he’s not technical at all to me. I’m going to just pick him apart.”
As he gets set to resume his career, Elegele looks back on his cloud-covered hiatus and sees a silver lining: He says it gave him time to further refine his game, enabling him to exhale, take stock of himself.
“I’m sharper than I ever was, much better now,” he states. “I’m more relaxed, with a much better defense.”
Whether the 31-year-old Elegele is able to recapture his promise as a prospect to watch remains to be seen, but he at least has the pedigree. In 2013, while Floyd Mayweather Jr. was training for his title defense against Robert Guerrero, he recruited Elegele as a sparring partner.
“I learned a lot, just how to carry myself in the ring, how to be more relaxed,” he says of his experience with Mayweather. “I learned a few tricks from him, because he’s such a great fighter. You think you’re getting off [on him], and he checks you.”
Elegele’s also worked with former world champion Andre Berto, whom he's known since he was 12 years old, and spent time in camp with four-division champ Adrien Broner, getting some tutelage from trainer Mike Stafford.
Basically, Elegele has spent his whole life fighting—before he ever stepped foot inside the ring, even.
“I have nine brothers and sisters, so I grew up fighting a lot,” he chuckles.
Familial fisticuffs aside, Elegele says he got truly hooked on boxing when he watched Evander Holyfield dismantle Buster Douglas as a young boy.
“Watching that fight, it did something to me,” he recalls. “From then on, I knew that I wanted to be a fighter.”
That never changed, though the circumstances in his life have.
Still, Elegele’s never stopped fighting—even if at times he was warring with himself. These days, though, he's at peace with where he is—and where he's headed.
“I know who I am now,” he says. “And that’s going to carry me through these fights. I can take on anyone.”
For a closer look at Sunday's PBC on Bounce card, visit our event page.