McKees Rocks boxer ‘Sonny’ Taylor trains for Olympics
Photos by Mike Longo Jr.
Boxing Champion Delbert “Sonny” Taylor lands a punch during a recent workout at the 3rd Avenue Gym.
By Elizabeth Perry
McKees Rocks boxer Delbert “Sonny” Taylor, 20, has been accepted into the U.S. Air Force Olympic Training Program in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Taylor got the call on June 15 taking him another step closer to competing at the Olympics in Paris 2024.
“This is a one-in-a-million opportunity,” James Hoy, coach for USA Boxing said.
Hoy said Taylor is the only Pittsburgh native to have been accepted into the Colorado Springs program.
At 176 pounds, Taylor just fits into the Cruiserweight category. Out of all the amateur boxers in the country, Taylor is ranked fourth in his weight class. His record is 31-6. Watching him spar, he’s incredibly fast.
Taylor’s first top title came via the Carolina Gloves Boxing Championship Belt Tournament in 2021.
Then came gold in the National Junior Olympics and Summer Festival. In 2021 he took the bronze medal at the national championship, which Taylor described as a minor setback. Before taking the top prize at the Sugar Bert Boxing WBC Greenbelt Tournament Series.
Taylor trains at the 3rd Avenue Boxing Gym in downtown Pittsburgh. The gym is leased under the auspices of the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League and was once run by the late Jimmy Cvetic, a former Allegheny County police officer.
Cvetic was a local activist known for his poetry, his work as a boxing coach and his friendship with actor Nick Nolte.
“When Jimmy died, he asked Coach Jim Hoy to take over coaching at the gym. We formed a new nonprofit and are continuing his vision,” Lisa Lenihan, board chair said.
Lenihan, a certified USA boxing coach and federal judge, started Team 412 in October 2020.
The program teaches underserved youth to box and compete nationally. Through 412, Taylor has trained with a lot of talented coaches, including local boxing legend Paul Spadafora.
“All the fights that Sonny has fought in, we paid for that,” Lenihan said. “Sonny is amazing. He not only fights, but he also trains and mentors and supervises the younger kids. He’s incredible.”
Taylor works out three times a day and was trying to hold down a job. With the opportunity to go to Colorado Springs, he will not have to worry about that.
“They will fund him when he’s training and then he’ll also have a career opportunity,” Lenihan said.
Taylor graduated from City Charter High School and attended middle school at Sto-Rox. During eleventh and twelfth grade, Taylor said he was “engaging in wrong things.”
“I didn’t exactly fit with the people I was trying to run with,” Taylor said.
During a trip to New York City, Taylor got into a fight with another kid. Afterward, he was approached by boxing coach Anthony Ziggerelli, who asked him if he wanted to fight in a boxing ring instead of in a way that could get him in trouble.
An incident where Taylor got jumped by seven or eight people at the Wood Street T-Station convinced him to dedicate himself to boxing. Training was initially tough.
“I had to figure it out on the fly,” Taylor said.
At first, his mom, Carmela Taylor, didn’t want him to box, because she was worried he’d get hurt.
Taylor said his dad convinced her, but Mrs. Taylor said her son’s dedication to the sport was what changed her mind.
Mrs. Taylor said her son sustained a broken wrist. He taught himself to box southpaw, even though he was right-handed to compensate for the injury.
“A few months later, I signed off because (he was) determined to do it, the doctors took the pins and everything out,” Mrs. Taylor said.
The tattoo on his arm of a sun and moon is dedicated to his mom. The body art’s accompanying text reads, “The sun loved the moon so much she died every night to let him breathe.”
It’s a metaphor for all her struggles trying to keep her four kids safe and provided for, Taylor explained.
“She gave up so much,” Taylor said.
“Sonny” got the tattoo when he was only 16, though, and when his mom found out she was not thrilled. When she tried to get a better look at the tattoo, he pretended it wasn’t real and tried to wipe it off.
Mrs. Taylor explained that when her marriage ended during “Sonny’s” junior year of high school, she had to switch careers from something she loved to get a work-from-home job. She also set a standard for all her children.
Her oldest son attended college, where he obtained two degrees.
“He set the standard for the boys. I always told Delbert, now you have to supercede what your brother [has done],” said Mrs. Taylor, who added that her youngest son has an even higher standard to meet now with her second eldest son’s success in the boxing ring.
He is still surprising her every day. Taylor works hard to hone his talent but credits his family and coaches for their help.
“I really appreciate everybody’s support,” Taylor said.
Mrs. Taylor said her family supports her son’s boxing career, but her late father was especially important in her son’s life. They lost her father to COVID-19 last year.
“Sonny had put a pair of his boxing gloves in the casket, that was a remarkable thing, and I told him, Grandad's with you, he's cheering you on, because he was so proud you were boxing,” Mrs. Taylor said.
When her son goes abroad to box, she can’t travel due to her work schedule, but Mrs. Taylor said she always tries to get links online to watch him. When he’s fighting locally, she’s there.
“My favorite words to him when he has local events are, ‘handle that,’” she said. “Those are the words I scream to him. ‘Handle that!’”