Webster defied the odds to emerge as a fast rising prospect in the sport of boxing (Photo courtesy of Derrick Webster).
Editorial Feature by John Archibald
Long before middleweight Derrick Webster (6-0, 4 KOs) got the chance to step into the boxing ring and work his lightning fast jab, the New Jersey southpaw had to first overcome some of the most devastating blows that life could throw in his direction. After never having the opportunity to meet his father, who was a victim of homicide, Webster saw a budding music career come to a screeching halt when he was forced to deal with the tragic loss of his manager. With street life breathing a heavy dark cloud down his back, Webster did what so many are never able to do. He persevered and overcame those obstacles. And now his internal strength and faith is on display, turning any pain life has caused him into the foundation of a quickly rising career in the world of professional boxing.
“When I was a kid, I can remember my neighbors and me going outside with socks on our hands to box in the backyard,” Webster laughed when asked about what got him started in the sport. “I remember that I always had a nice jab, and I always busted everybody’s lip. I guess I always had fast hands.”
But before the lure of the ring had the Glassboro, New Jersey, native strapping up his hands for real, it was an entirely different industry that originally sparked his interest.
“Ironically, I used to sing R&B music before I was boxing,” Webster reflected. “I was singing by age four, I would say. My mom’s boyfriend used to always turn down the radio every time we were in the car and make me sing a song. I used to sit in my room, rehearsing with Bryan McKnight and Boys II Men. The way they would sing certain songs - I would pause and rewind it, just to repeat it how they did it. Come to find out, my father used to sing. My grandmother used to sing. So it was in the family. God just happened to bless me with the gift as well.”
Unfortunately for Webster, the man who was managing him, William Smith, passed away before he had the chance to catch his break in the music industry.
“When my manager passed away, I just wanted to try something else, so I went to boxing,” Webster recollected. “I think the majority of boxing was natural for me – the foot movement, my hand speed, defense and my jab – a lot of it was just natural for me.”
A gifted athlete in other sports, Webster says that the transition came rather easily for him. He possesses a strong faith within him, and that faith is what he feels led him into the ring.
“Honestly, I just think God is on my side. God has blessed me,” he commented. “Not trying to sound too cocky, but I am a person who, really, there’s not anything I can’t do. Any sport I played – football, basketball – anything I do sports-wise, I’m just a natural athlete.”
While it is just the beginning for Webster in his professional boxing career, more heads are starting to look in his direction, and that is something he uses as motivation.
“It makes me train extremely hard, and it keeps my determination very high,” he said of receiving recognition. “It makes me want to train even harder for a number of reasons.”
And those reasons? While they may be related to the many hardships he has faced, Webster does not use them as a direct reference. The humble and inspiring 28-year-old does not focus on the negatives in life. He is much more concerned about turning them into positives.
“The streets raised me,” Webster stated. “My father was murdered before I got a chance to meet him. My mother and I may not have the best relationship - she did what she could, I’ll put it that way, but the streets raised me. Going from hustling in the streets and being a fool in the streets growing up, and now I’m seeing people adapting to me in a positive manner, and I’m reading write-ups about me in a positive manner. All of that is like ‘Wow, I’ve really changed my life around.’ Last fight (a unanimous decision over William Chouloute), a kid told me he wanted to be just like me. That touched me in a way like ‘You know what? I want to stay exactly where I am but also build.’”
That desire to stay on a positive path is not anything new to Webster, who, even in hard times, was still focused on growing as a human being.
“I’ve always been a person who wanted to build on things, who always wanted more for myself,” he confirmed. “I’m not a stagnant person and someone who will plateau. I don’t think I’ll ever be that person. I’ve always wanted to get more. Even back in the day when I was doing nonsense, I still got a college degree (in Juvenile Criminal Justice). I always had that part of me that knew who I truly was. Some people just have to take certain roads to make it where they want to go.”
While he is continually developing as a fighter and a man, Webster insists he still has much more growth to do in both aspects.
“I’m still a student in a lot of ways,” he remarked. “I go to my trainers for different ways to maneuver because I know my team has my best interest in mind. I go to them for different ways to be a better person and how to be a mentor to the kids and fighters younger than me and coming up. All of that there – just to see how my life has transitioned – makes me want to run that extra mile, do that extra round, you know what I mean? Push a little harder.”
With three girls and two boys, this father of five is significantly focused on continuing his status as a role model. He also hopes that his transition is something that others with similar backgrounds can use to make a conversion themselves.
“The way I look at things is if I can change, anybody can change,” Webster insisted. “I want to be a role model, especially since I have custody of my youngest son. He watches everything I do, so I try to be at my best mannerisms in front of him – the way I treat ladies in front of him, the way I treat my mother in front of him, and also with the way I deal with him. I want to be the best example I can possibly be because I know when I was growing up, I had a lot of pain. Even at 28-years-old, there’s still a lot of pain and unanswered questions in my heart that I still have no knowledge about. I don’t want my son or any of my kids to grow up the same way. And if I can help any other kids, it will be the same thing. I got Father of the Year at my son’s school last year, and I had a lot of kids giving me hugs and wanting pictures with me. It’s a matter of being an example for those who are watching.”
By starting 2011 with an immediate win, Webster expects to have a much better year than he did in 2010, which saw many planned bouts never come to fruition. After wins in January and February, he was forced into a 10-month layoff the rest of the year.
“My first and primary goal this year is to improve every fight. I want that to be the first thing,” he commented. “I also want to move as much as I possibly can because 2010 was a bad year for me. We were always scheduled to fight, but I couldn’t get anybody to actually fight me. So this year, I want to move as much as possible. I want to improve, sharpen up on all weaknesses. And hopefully by the end of the year, I can get myself a small title and really just continue to be a student of boxing. I want to continue to grow and mature in this sport.
“I want to be a fighter who no one can train for,” he concluded. “I know that I am truly blessed with an ability to compete in this sport. And anything God gives you cannot be taken away from you.”
The odds have seemingly been stacked against Webster ever since he first entered the world, from the loss of his father and then his manager, to the lure of a street life that so desperately wanted to take him down. However, he persevered through it all, against all odds. And now this multi-talented athlete strides forward with the intent focus of motivating those around him.
If you happen to catch Webster outside of the ring, perhaps he will reveal to you a voice that could serenade you to sleep with a lullaby. And if you happen to deal with him in the ring, you could likely get the same result. Only difference is his hands will do the singing.