LOWELL -- For a long time, UMass Lowell freshman Tommy Curtis had designs on becoming a professional video game competitor.
He started gaming when he was 9 years old and continued through his years at Methuen High School. Curtis said the whole thing "was going pretty good" and then it just kind of fizzled out. That was partly a result of his own doing, when he realized his social life was lacking and he grew sick of wasting away his hours sitting inside.
One day while surfing YouTube, Curtis came across videos of mixed martial artist Conor McGregor. That's what inspired him to give combat sports a try, particularly boxing. He began training at Haverhill Downtown Boxing under trainer Brendon Simonds and enjoyed it immediately.
On Thursday night at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, the 19-year-old Curtis scored his biggest boxing victory yet by defeating Lowell's Kimhong Chae (West End Gym) by a 3-2 decision in a 114-pound Novice Division semifinal in the Greater Lowell/Central New England Golden Gloves. Curtis improved to 2-1 in his young career. It was Chae's first fight.
"I felt like I had the experience advantage," said Curtis. "I'm not in the best shape right now so I felt like I got a little gassed at the end."
Curtis admitted he took a bit of a break from training during the fall semester at UMass Lowell. The business student, who lives on campus, was prioritizing his academics.
Curtis is a southpaw, which worked to his benefit.
He routinely surprised Chae with lefty punches and often got the less experienced boxer trapped in the corners.
"I noticed keeping him busy with the right jab really set up my left hand and helped me land a bunch," said Curtis. "That slowed him down.
Curtis did the bulk of his damage in the first two rounds, holding off a late flurry from Chae that made the decision closer than it once seemed it would be.
Curtis doesn't have a car on campus, so training in Haverhill while school was in session was all the more difficult. He supplemented in training sessions at the UML rec center, which has a bag and some other traditional boxing equipment. The workouts, however, weren't as valuable as they would've been in Haverhill.
Simonds credits Curtis for progressing well in the sport.
"He's coming along awesome, and has from the get-go," Simonds said. "He didn't have a ton of time at the gym last year when he started. He's a tough kid who listens. He wasn't in great shape for this but he toughed it out and did what he had to do to get the win.
"Being a lefty can be a real advantage if you know how to use it. He's got the boxing thing down. He just needs to work on little things like getting his hands up when he's tired."
Curtis will now move on to the Novice Division final.
Other local boxers had a tough night on Thursday.
Dracut's Gabriel Morales dropped a decision to South Boston's Anthony Cefalo in a 141-pound Novice semifinal. Chelmsford's Brandon Higgins lost a 4-1 decision to Christian Otero, of Manchester, N.H., in a 141-pound Open Division bout. Lowell's Jayson Colon fell in a 3-2 decision to Lynn's Erick Fonge in a 165-pound Novice bout.
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