No Idle Han
El Paso's Abie Han looks to strike it big in Vegas
Story and photos by Chris Cozzone
There’s a thin line between humility and exaggeration. Five minutes talking with undefeated Abraham “Abie” Han, you’ll be asking yourself whether it’s better to believe this kid is the best thing to come out of El Paso since Chico’s Tacos, or if it’s better to second guess yourself that what you saw in the ring was an illusion of talent and raw power.
Backed by 400 amateur bouts split between boxing and kickboxing, and a pro record of 11-0, with nine kayos, Han’s record speaks volumes, suggesting safety in buying into the hype.
But Han says otherwise.
“I was a horrible amateur,” Han will say one minute, followed by something like, “I may end up just another statistic that kickboxers can’t make it in boxing.”
What? What about the usual, “I’m gonna be world champ!”?
You won’t get that from Han. The reason? Humility that has been bred into the 26-year-old junior middleweight from the age of 10 when he first laced up a pair of gloves.
Raised in martial arts by his father, Master Bae Han, who is originally from Korea, Abie laced up at 10 for kickboxing, then 12, for boxing. With around 200 bouts apiece in the two sports, Han won several national kickboxing titles before going pro in 2007, but fell short at the top level of amateur boxing – though he did win his division at the Eastern Olympics Trials one year.
“I had a horrible record as an amateur boxer,” laughs Han. “Something like 80 losses. I fell short.”
With Han, you always have to dig a little deeper. In doing so, you’ll find that most of the losses were early on.
“I hated it at first,” Han admits. “I lost so much, I didn’t want to do it anymore. But I guess you learn from losing – I started to turn it around.”
Though fighting as a world class kickboxer and, at least, a national level competitor in boxing, Han never looked too deep into a pro career.
“That’s why I’m so surprised I’ve gotten to where I am today,” says the 26-year-old El Pasoan. “I never expected to be 11-0. I got lucky.”
Though attributing a big chunk of his success in the ring to mere “luck,” Han credits the rest to those around him: his family, trainers Louie Burke and Moose Gomez, and teammate Austin Trout.
“Louie Burke has really made the difference in my career,” Han says. “I could’ve done much better as an amateur if I had Louie early. I’ve made that much progress with him.”
Under Burke, Han turned pro in December 2007 in Las Cruces, N.M. and has remained undefeated as a pro, the only blemishes being an occasional layoff due to difficulties in obtaining fights.
“The other thing that has made me a better fighter is sparring with Austin Trout,” says Han.
Trout, who is lined up for a title fight against WBA Jr. Middleweight Champ Rigoberto Alvarez on Feb. 5 in Mexico, is a full-time sparring partner for Han. As amateurs, Han and Trout were no strangers, fighting no less than seven times. Han won the first three; Trout swept the last four.
“Austin made that much progress after we fought the first three times,” says Han. “You couldn’t ask for a better sparring partner. When we spar, I go in there to kill him, but trying to hit him is like trying to hit a balloon. He keeps the passion going.”
There is no excuse for lack of passion or motivation for Han, who says he is surrounded by it. If sparmates and trainers aren’t enough, Han looks to his siblings.
Abie is just one of the fighting Han family, which consists of three sisters and a brother. Jennifer is a former national amateur champion, and 1-1-1 as a pro; Stephanie is the No. 1 132-pound female amateur in the country, having recently won the 2010 National Golden Gloves; Heather is a top amateur; and Israel (“Izzy”) is on the rise as an amateur supermiddleweight.
“My sisters were always better than me,” Han admits. “They kick my ass – they have my number. Fighting has always been about not wanting to fall behind.”
With no excuses, for motivation, anyway, Han does admit that the biggest threat to making it as a boxer is his passion for his other sport – kickboxing, that is.
“I’m still split between boxing and kickboxing,” says Han. “But I take it one fight at a time – a lot has to do with getting fights.”
Han says he would welcome the opportunity to focus on just one sport – and he realizes that he’s going to have to do just that if he wants to reach his full potential.
This weekend, he is hoping to show the biggest promoter in boxing his goods, and that could lead to bigger things. On Saturday, Han will go six rounds in a feature bout on the Top Rank bill at the Texas Station in Las Vegas. Han faces Orphius White, 5-2-1, 3 KOs, from Chicago.
“I don’t know much about White, but I know he’s lost two straight fights,” Han says. “On paper, that means I should beat him – but you can’t approach a fight like that. I have to look at him as if he’s 20-0 or 10-0. You take nothing for granted in this sport.”
In fact, if Han had been matched up with a name fighter, 20-0 or 10-0, he would’ve taken the fight regardless. Taking risks, he says, is also what this sport is about – and something that he’s done in the past.
At just 3-0, Han got the call to fight undefeated Ibahiem King, 6-0 at the time, in California. Han won the decision in a fight he calls his toughest to date.
“I fought easy guys before that and I knew that,” admits Han. “King was my toughest – he was a big step but I found out where I was at.
“Since then, I’ve made a lot of progress but I’ve learned, you always keep training. That call can come anytime and you have to be ready.”
At one point, a fight against undefeated Fernando Guerrero was offered – then retracted when Han was considered too much of a wild card.
“I really wanted that fight,” says Han. “That’s what this is all about, finding out where you are. When you get a fight like that, against a name fighter, it’s like winning the lottery.
“Maybe after a couple more fights, I can get an opportunity like that. First things first – Saturday night.”
Hoping that Saturday night’s bout may lead to another fight under Top Rank, Han says he is committing the next one or two years to boxing.
“Kickboxing is dead,” he laments. “But MMA is not. If boxing doesn’t work out for me, I may try that. But hopefully, we’ll keep winning and find the backing I need in boxing. Right now, I’m 100% boxing and I can’t afford the luxury of trying out MMA.
“After this is all over – my career – I don’t want to look back with doubt. I don’t want to say I didn’t get this chance or opportunity. I don’t want to have any regrets.”
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