The emptiness is tough to conquer. Swallowing consciously, thinking through every heavy, disappointing breath and battling to save face in the midst of heartbreak. Shawn Simpson knows all about it.

“When I lost to Rau’shee in 2011, I was only 17 years old. It hurt at first because of how close I was to going to the Olympics. But, at the end of the day, God had other plans for me.”

Chicago’s undefeated prospect spoke to me openly about his disappointment in 2012. Beaten by then-Olympian and former World champion Rau’shee Warren, he made sure to use his experience constructively. He has built an impressive record of 6-0, 2KOs thus far and continues to improve with every contest. 

I wanted to understand his love for the sport and gain some insight into the upbringing of a celebrated national amateur. That experience has enhanced his reputation and his record of 177-20 in the unpaid ranks shows the education learnt in the squared circle.

“I’m from Chicago. I’m the youngest of 4, all boys. So, I was always fighting growing up but at the same time always a good respectable kid towards adults. I played a few different sports; basketball, football, wrestling and boxing. As I got older I knew I was too small for the other sports so I just stayed with boxing.”

The Windy City hasn’t produced as many elite-level fighters as its rival mega-cities with names such as Barney Ross and Tony Zale a distant memory for local fight fans. Simpson is looking to establish himself on the World scene imminently and shared his plans with me for the near future.

“You know, I wish I had more KO’s but I’m not rushing anything or going out looking for them. I’m going to let it come naturally. I feel everything is going great and with my skills, I’ll be ready for a big fight if not a World title fight by next year.”

I asked Shawn what a good year would look like if we sat down with one another after those twelve months had passed? 

His vision extends further than that, already with his eyes fixed on a legacy.

“I see myself having a big fight with any of the Top 10/15 guys or fighting for the World title. Rau’shee became World champion and I feel I’m right there with him. I’m confident I will win a World championship before I’ve retired from boxing.”

An increase in the number of professionals turning over with minimal amateur experience poses the question over the financial security of the sport at grass-roots. The extensive records of a Rau’shee Warren or a Shawn Simpson are becoming less prevalent. 

The lack of money in the sport at an amateur level has been highlighted in previous footage from various documentaries (T-Rex, for example, following Claressa Shields). I wondered why Simpson stuck with the program and how he thought it was impacting America’s next crop of champions?

“It’s good being a successful amateur but I see why everyone wants to turn professional. Financial gain isn’t in USA Boxing and you have to eat and feed your family. People get jobs and turn pro because it’s hard boxing with no income.”

Although Simpson has found his own way in the professional ranks, his defeat to Warren is still something that plays on his mind. He’s respectful and full of class. But, he knows the fight would be his opportunity at redemption.

“I have a lot of respect for him but if the opportunity was presented, I would love to have one more fight with him as a pro. I feel like we have unfinished business and that’s a fight everyone would like to see.”

That fight may be a few further down the line. Other tests will be in the Olympic alternate’s path before then and he must pass those with flying colours. 

The issue with being 6-0 or 7-0 is that unless you are Vasyl Lomachenko, you will be matched appropriately with fighters who are merely building blocks. Approaching the 10th bout is normally an indication of stepping up in levels and we keep our eyes firmly on the progress of Illinois’ most exciting up-and-comer.

As he settles himself into life as a professional and enhances his reputation with every outing, Simpson hasn’t forgotten his reason for hitting the gym every day. It’s easy to become lost in the jewellery, the media and the crowd. But the thing most important to him has always been constant.

“What keeps me motivated? My family. I work hard for them and myself to make sure we don’t have to worry about how we’re going to eat everyday and pay the bills. It’s also for the love, I love to win. There’s no better feeling than getting your hand raised at the end of a fight.”

The priorities are firmly in place. It’s hard to argue with his hunger for success and as he moves towards a 7th bout it seems Simpson is in as good a place as he’s been. 

He has been touted as a future World champion from promoters and media outlets alike. The ball is in his court and his future, in his own hands. He is aged 23 and unbeaten with a sensational amateur record. He has experienced the bitter, hollow taste of defeat when victory mattered most. 

Now, he has to make sure that when victory matters most again, he eradicates that memory.

Written by Craig Scott