Richardson Hitchins couldn’t have asked for anything more.
The Brooklyn native was in the ring for the first time as a pro, right in his hometown, and right at home at Barclays Center.
“A dream come true,” he called it.
Hitchins actually wasn’t out there very long. It took the 2016 Olympian less than two minutes to dispatch Mario Perez in a matchup of young welterweights.
“I established my jab,” said Hitchins. “I’m an accurate puncher. I knew as soon as that right hand landed, I was going to see where he’s at; if he’s going to take it, if it’s going to be a long night. I saw him trying to step back and get away. He went on survival mode. I tried to rush it a little bit, but I tried to stay composed.
“I caught him and it was done. I expected him to get up.”
Hitchins finished off Perez before the biggest boxing crowd in Barclays Center history had finished filling the seats for the main event, the welterweight unification title bout between Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman.
But he offered the latest reminder that the thrill of BROOKLYN BOXING is about more than the headliners. Over the last five years, up-and-coming boxers have taken huge steps toward stardom in the Barclays Center ring.
The Thurman-Garcia crowd saw another rising star back in March in super welterweight Erickson Lubin. ESPN’s 2016 Prospect of the Year set himself up for a title shot with a fourth-round TKO of Jorge Cota, punishing the veteran from start to finish. Lubin is just three-and-a-half years into his career with an 18-0 record. Just 21 years old, if he gets his title shot this year and triumphs, he’ll be the boxing’s youngest world champion.
Currently, that distinction belongs to Gervonta Davis. In January, the 22-year-old took the IBF world super featherweight title with a seventh-round TKO of Jose Pedraza at Barclays Center.
From the start, BROOKLYN BOXING has offered a spotlight to young fighters, particularly local boxers like Hitchins. Staten Island’s Marcus Browne made his first Barclays Center appearance on the arena’s second fight night in March 2013, an event that also featured the future unified welterweight champ Thurman on the undercard.
It was Browne’s second pro fight after he represented the United States at the 2012 Olympics, and he fought 11 times at Barclays Center over a three-year span while running his pro record to 20-0.
Browne is just one of the 2012 Olympians who have emerged as title contenders since turning pro. Another is Errol Spence Jr., who fought twice in Brooklyn in 2016.
At Barclays Center last April, Spence took on former WBO world super lightweight champion Chris Algieri, who had gone the distance with Manny Pacquiao and Amir Khan. In August on Coney Island, Spence headlined his first bout card against another experienced fighter, Leonard Bundu.
Spence put the tough-as-nails Algieri on the mat three times on the way to a fifth-round TKO, with the referee waving off the bout without a count on the third knockdown. Four months later, Spence knocked out Bundu in the fifth.
“Chris Algieri, he fought Manny Pacqiauo and went the distance,” said Spence. “You have Bundu who went the distance with Keith Thurman, marked up Keith Thurman pretty good. It was kind of a range-finder to see where my skills were at, how I do under pressure, and I thought I did great.”
The two wins in Brooklyn propelled Spence to his first title shot, coming up next month against IBF welterweight champ Kell Brook in England. Spence plans on bringing the belt back to the United States. And he’d like to be back in the ring at Barclays Center, this time as champion.
“I’ve got great memories in Brooklyn,” Spence said while at the arena for the Thurman-Garcia fight. “All knockouts.
“I’ll definitely come back here.”
That’s the path Richardson Hitchins wants to follow. Originally from Crown Heights, the 19-year-old moved to Flatbush when he was five. That’s where he found the Atlas Cops & Kids Boxing Program at a neighborhood PAL gym six years ago. He won two Golden Gloves titles at Barclays Center before signing with Mayweather Promotions and turning pro. He’s back here tonight for his second pro fight.
“I want to make Barclays Center my home,” said Hitchins, “fighting big cards and targeting that world title shot.”