BOSTON—“Can I get a ‘Boston Strong?’” John Howard shouted to his hometown fans in Faneuil Hall ahead of his UFC Fight Night bout with Lorenz Larkin on Sunday.
The Boston Marathon Bombing still resonates with the welterweight not only because the bombers hit the city where he was born, grew up, and fights out of, but because one of the bombers hit him—literally. John Howard, of course, hit Tamerlan Tsarnaev back—in a boxing ring and harder than he got hit. The fact that Howard did what even many Proper Bostonians dreamt of doing—punch a terrorist in the face—makes him a definite hometown hero going into Sunday night’s fight in the TD Garden.
“He was a little cocky and he tested me out,” Howard explained to Breitbart Sports of his training session with Tamerlan Tsarnaev several years before 2013’s attacks. “The sparring became a live fight. In the live fight, we exchanged some punches and I got the better of the exchanges. Hit him with the left hook—I broke his nose. And I dropped him with a body shot.”
Howard believes the boxer’s desire to show up a mixed-martial artist may have led to a friendly sparring session becoming a free-swinging fight at Allston’s Wai Kru gym, where victims of a September 11, 2011 triple murder worked out with Tsarnaev. The mixed-martial artist emphasizes, “I did break that kid’s nose.”
Howard’s story recalls a similar one relayed to Breitbart Sports by light heavyweight boxer Edwin Rodriguez and the crew at Camp Get-Right in Worcester, Massachusetts. Like Howard, Rodriguez found his strange sparring partner “cocky.”
“He wasn’t disrespectful,” Rodriguez recalled of his Close Encounter of the Tsarnaev Kind. “He was cocky before the sparring. After, he was humble. He said something about, ‘I have to go back to the drawing board.’ He was a little arrogant and cocky. I was a lot lighter than him.”
The Bomber weirded out La Bomba by arriving without a trainer, refusing to wear headgear, and insisting on sparring sans mouthpiece until the staff at Camp Get-Right procured him one, and even then he resisted. Unlike Howard’s session, Rodriguez’s sparring didn’t degenerate into a full-on fight. The lighter professional, undefeated at that point, merely outclassed the accomplished amateur, and, like Howard, hurt him with a body shot that forced him to step out of the sparring.
Does Rodriguez, who went the distance against super-middleweight champion Andre Ward in 2013, wish he had teed off on the boxer-turned-bomber? “I’m not going to comment,” he told Breitbart Sports.
No such reticence characterizes Howard’s take on his scrap with the 2010 New England Golden Gloves champion.
“At the time, I felt bad about it,” Howard remembers. “But now that knowing what he did and everything that he represented, I feel great about it. I’m really proud of myself for doing what I did to him.”