New York amateur star Donte Layne begins new journey in the pro ranks

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After a decade of amateur boxing, there wasn’t much else for Donte Layne to accomplish. The New York native southpaw had won the U.S. Nationals four times, swept every round at the 2022 National Golden Gloves and represented his country internationally at tournaments in Mexico, Colombia and Serbia.

The only achievement which had eluded the 20-year-old was making the Olympic team, which is the dream of every amateur boxer. Layne looked to be on his way to making that dream come true after reaching the no. 1 ranking in the country at 165 pounds, but that dream came crashing down when the weight class was removed from the 2024 Olympics.

Kenyatta Harris, who has trained Layne for the past eight years out of his Rockaway Ropes gym in Queens, N.Y., said the writing was on the wall for years, after he wasn’t invited to national team camps despite winning national titles. When he was invited to training camps, he says it was only to serve as sparring partner for those already on the team.

“Being on the USA team, the way they got it now, you’re not certain that you’re gonna be competing internationally or at the Olympics. They’ve got their favorites who they want. You’re really just boxing for them to help out their fighters get ready for the Olympics,” said the 6’1″ Layne.

Now Layne turns his attentions to the professional ranks, beginning this Friday when he faces Nathan Mitchell (0-1-1) in a four-round super middleweight bout at the Overtime Elite Arena in Atlanta on the final installment of the Overtime Boxing (OTX) Summertime Series on DAZN. Mitchell, a 31-year-old from Senatobia, Mississippi who also holds a 0-4 record as a bare knuckle fighter, is likely a step down from Layne’s six year run in the talent-rich 165-pound division as an amateur.

It was in those national tournaments, fighting up to five times in a week against some of the best amateurs in the country, where Layne first impressed his manager, David McWater of Split-T Management.

“One of the things that means the most in your amateur record in terms of predicting how well you’re going to do is how well you do against the other top fighters. His record against those guys is excellent,” said McWater, whose company also represents Teofimo Lopez, Khalil Coe and Giovanni Marquez.

If Layne looks like a natural in the ring, it’s because he’s been accustomed to mixing it up from a young age.

Born in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, Layne’s family settled in the Elmont section of Long Island when he was three. Donte was the youngest in his house with three sisters and a brother, plus numerous cousins who would double as wrestling opponents to make each other tough. Layne picked up boxing at the age of 8, and still remembers the day, after a year of training, when boxing started to click for him.

“I was still lazy and wanted to eat junk food like kids do. But one day I was sparring and I got the best of the dude and my coach was like ‘See, this is what I was trying to tell you the whole time, it’s so simple when you listen,’” remembered Layne.

He had his first fight at ten years old and won that. He fought in his first tournament at age 12, the 2015 USA Junior Olympics, and won that as well.

“Greatest achievement was making the national team the first time [in 2019] because it was like a gate opening for me. Once I did that, it opened up a whole new chapter of my career,” said Layne.

Harris says the process of adjusting Layne’s boxing approach to the professional style began when he first started working with him as a middle school student, when he switched him from being a shoe-shine flurry puncher into a more dynamic boxer-puncher.

“The pro style is just taking your time and not rushing out there like the amateurs to get a whole bunch of points. That all comes from the way we train. We’re gonna punch with authority to the head and body,” said Harris, who trains him alongside Anthony Santiago.

McWater says that Layne checks a lot of the boxes he looks for in a prospect, including punching power, speed, skill and athletic ability. One of the traits that impresses him is Layne’s intelligence, which he says is essential to succeeding at the top level. He says the he hopes to get Layne up to five or six bouts within his first year as a pro, and will assess his progress to adjust how quickly up the ladder he can be moved.

“I feel confident that we’ll have a full-time promoter pretty soon,” said McWater. “I wanted to put him on this OTX card because I’m just excited about this program and there could be a lot of positives for him outside of boxing because their social media platform is so big.”

Layne lists his favorite current boxers as Terence Crawford, Shakur Stevenson and Gervonta Davis, with James Toney, Aaron Pryor and Pernell Whitaker as his favorites of the past. As another chapter in his boxing journey opens, Layne never forgets who first brought out the toughness in him.

“Everybody in my family depends on me to do something, to make my name a household name. My cousin told me one day, ‘If you ever stopped boxing I think I would sit here and cry…because we believe in you, we tell everybody about you and you just gotta keep going,’” said Layne.

“I think it’s only right, not just for them but for myself to make a living out of this sport and become undisputed world champion at this weight class and then in another couple years, at 175 pounds, too.”

Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].