At 16, `teddy bear' is a grizzly in ring

Boxing: Dundalk's Mike Dietrich thinks he can win the heavyweight title before he's 20. He has a big punch to back up the big words.

February 15, 2000|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

There is much that is contradictory about Dundalk boxer Mike Dietrich, a crowd favorite at local amateur shows.

His trainer calls him "a man-child," referring to the 16-year-old's youthful features but generally mature demeanor. His former wrestling coach, Dave Ingle, called him "a big teddy bear" socially, but "a monster" in the ring.

And in the basement of his Dundalk home, right next to the heavy bag that he pounds nightly, hangs a sweatshirt that reads "Boxing Mom," with a rose between the words.

It is a memento of his mother, Sally Dietrich, who died of cancer in December. On fight nights, Sally Dietrich's spirit is a primary source of motivation for her youngest son.

"In my head, I make it as if that guy did something to hurt my mom," said Dietrich, a junior at Patapsco High.

"Sometimes, I get so mad, there's tears in my eyes and my heart starts racing. Then I'm this whole different person and I can turn it up a couple of notches.

"That's the difference between me and the other guy in the ring," Dietrich said. "He's not going to be badder or more determined than I am, because I've just got so much energy inside me, ready to release on this boy.

"And the other guy, he's just coming to fight. He has no idea what he's getting into. Even if it's a dead-even fight between two guys with similar abilities, I've got more courage, more power and I have more will to win."

Dietrich, a left-hander who is a USA Boxing national amateur champ, will take his 17-0 record into the ring again tonight at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie.

Dietrich, 5 feet 11, 201 pounds, will again be the fan favorite as he goes after his 13th knockout. His opponent is Scott Meehan, a 20-year-old, 6-1, 195-pound boxer who is unbeaten in five bouts.

"My long-range goals are to turn pro as soon as I'm 18, then become the youngest heavyweight champion," Dietrich said.

"Mike Tyson did it when he was 20. I think I can do it sooner. It's not a goal; it's a priority."

In order to accomplish his goal, the next seven months will be critical. When Dietrich turns 17 on Aug. 21, he moves out of the junior category into the open class, for ages 17 to 34.

His quest begins with the Maryland-Washington, D.C., Golden Gloves tournament March 18 to April 14. The competition will open at Sugar Ray Leonard's Gym in Landover and will finish in Waldorf.

Next up would be the Maryland-Virginia regionals on April 22, in Baltimore at a site to be determined, followed by the National Golden Gloves tournament in Detroit, May 1 to 7, which could lead to international exposure.

So focused is Dietrich on occasion, however, that even his trainer, Danny Kistner, says he has to "remind myself I'm dealing with a 16-year-old who just lost his mother."

"If you're in a fight with him, and he hits you a good one, you're going to go," said Kistner, Dietrich's handler since July and his trainer, along with local boxing guru Josh Hall, at the Brooklyn Boxing Club.

"I don't care who you are, how big or how old you are or how many titles you hold."

Dietrich normally fights in the heavyweight class (178 to 201 pounds). But fighting as a super heavyweight (over 201 pounds) in February 1998, he also captured one of his two silver gloves crowns by decisioning Oregon's 235-pound Mike Wilson.

"When I was younger, I always looked older, bigger, got a lot of attention because with a lot of people, it was like they couldn't believe how old I was," Dietrich said.

On Aug. 21, 1999 -- his 16th birthday -- at Los Angeles' Olympic Auditorium, Dietrich gave himself an ultimate gift: a first-round knockout for the national Golden Gloves title as a heavyweight.

That's where Dietrich earned the nickname "Beast from the East," Kistner said, from a ringside judge who witnessed his power and intensity.

"Guys I've been in with, the best feeling is when I look across the ring and I can feel he's scared," Dietrich said. "I know he's scared -- that's a big bonus."

But as Dietrich moves from being a man among boys to a boy among men, the intimidation factor probably won't exist.

More importantly, he will need to master "ring generalship," said Hall. Kistner added: "Plus, Mike's work ethic has to improve. And if it does, his potential is unlimited."

For now, Dietrich lives rent-free in a basement-level apartment of the house owned by his brother, Buddy, 24.

"I moved here about eight months ago when my brother bought it. I've got a TV, a kitchen, this couch, carpeting," Dietrich said while sitting in his living room. "The only conditions are that I go to school, do the best I can, keep it clean, stay out of trouble."

In the basement are his heavy bag and free weights. A poster of Muhammad Ali greets him at his bedroom's entrance. The tallest of several trophies represents "the punch of the night," one of Dietrich's 12 KOs.

In the living room are several framed photos of family members.

Dietrich laughed at those of himself with his dog. But the one of him and his mother, who died at age 48 in December, brought tears to his eyes.

"That was the night of a fight when I knocked out this guy in the first round at the Pikesville Armory. The boy was 6-6, 280," recalled Dietrich, whose arm is around his mother's shoulder in the photo. She is smiling.

"When I came out for the fight, my mom hugged me and said: `This guy's a monster.' But my mom would have been worried if I was fighting a girl.

"When I knocked him out, I heard, like 400 or 500 people hooting, hollering, screaming my name," Dietrich said, "She was smiling, just like she is right there."

Boxing card

What: 10-fight amateur boxing card.

Where: Michael's Eighth Avenue, Glen Burnie.

When: Tonight. Doors open at 7; first bout at 8.

Featured fight: Mike Dietrich, Dundalk (17-0, 12 knockouts), vs. Scott Meehan, Lancaster, Pa. (5-0, four knockouts).

Tickets: $20 at the door or by calling 410-354-9360.

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