“I Came from the Bottom”: Tevin Farmer Ready for Tennyson and the Future

3rd August 2018, Technology Park, Sydney, Australia; IBF World Super Featherweight Title Fight, Tevin Farmer versus Billy Dib; Tevin Farmer follows through after landing an overhand right punch on Billy Dib. Image credit: photo by Nigel Owen/Action Plus via Getty Images
Tevin Farmer follows through after hitting Billy Dib with an overhand right during their IBF super featherweight title fight on August 3, 2018 at Technology Park, Sydney, Australia. Image credit: Nigel Owen/Action Plus via Getty Images.

“Yeah, I always knew I would get here,” Tevin Farmer said casually in a recent phone call. “I worked hard for this, so it’s no surprise. It’s what I deserved. I’ve been taking chump change for years.”

That Farmer always knew he was going to become world champion someday might strike some as revisionist grandstanding. After all, the slick southpaw out of Philadelphia did not exactly have the kind of auspicious start that typically characterizes the elite in the sport. For starters, future world champions rarely lose in their professional debut, especially against a fellow newcomer. Nor do they rack up losses in their fourth and eighth fights and get stopped via TKO in their twelfth. Rarely does boxing offer a fighter sporting a 7-4-1 record through twelve bouts a path other than that of a journeyman—called on occasionally, always at the last minute, to serve as a test or tune-up for a so-and-so promoter’s latest future great. Then again, boxing so often attracts those with fanatical self-belief. How else do you persevere in a fundamentally irrational, amoral, and often-downgrading sport, without a touch of the unhinged? Since his last official loss in 2012, against current lightweight titleholder Jose Pedraza, Farmer has reeled off nineteen straight wins, the latest of which came against Billy Dib in Australia for the vacant IBF super featherweight title.

“Like I said, I never doubted it, not for a moment,” Farmer insisted. “Never, never.”

Farmer has a few theories on why his career took a while to get going. “There were two things going against me,” said Farmer. “I wasn’t taking boxing serious and I didn’t have the big people behind me. Once I realized I wanted to take boxing seriously, I had already had four losses.”

“Part-time prizefighter” is an oxymoron, and for a while Farmer was a prime example of the phrase, attending a nursing program in the Philadelphia area. But the string of losses only emboldened his resolve to succeed in the sport. In 2012, he quit school to focus on boxing. As a fighter without proper backing, Farmer was aware he needed to be in top shape more often than his more connected peers. “Most of the fights I got called on short notice and I was fighting fights I shouldn’t have been fighting,” Farmer recalled. “I had no choice but to go out and fight and hope that someone would see me and go, ‘Damn, he’s got talent. Let’s works with him.’ I knew I would get to this point I just needed the right people behind me. I never had the losing mentality.”

Right people, indeed. No sooner had he become world champion than Farmer inked a multifight deal with gung-ho promoter Eddie Hearn to appear exclusively on the much-ballyhooed streaming app, DAZN. His first appearance on the platform will come against James Tennyson on October 20 in Boston on the undercard of Demetrius Andrade-Walter Kautondokwa at the TD Garden. At the time of the announcement, Farmer’s promoter Lou DiBella called the deal “life-changing for Tevin,” while adding, “it was one of the easiest deals I’ve ever made.” “I can’t say what I would be paid,” said Farmer, chuckling, “but just know that it would be more money than a boxer would usually get for this kind of fight, definitely more money than a fighter would get for a second or third defense.”

Still, dedication does not entirely describe the ascent of someone whose past year and a half resembled the harrowing ten plagues in the Book of Exodus. Farmer’s travails began with a near-drowning experience inside a dark cave in Puerto Rico while he was on vacation. Then he tore his right biceps in a win against Arturo Santos Reyes for which he ended up needing extensive surgery. A couple of months later, at a niece’s birthday party, he was shot in the right hand trying to protect a family member. “I’mma keep it real, I hate talking about that,” Farmer said, looking back. “Just note that I was shot in the hand at my niece’s birthday party. Was it an accident? I don’t know how to describe it. I’m not sure if it was an accident or not. It’s not a good look.” The doctor told Farmer it was not likely he would ever box again and yet he was back in the ring in December—on an HBO-televised card, no less—against an opponent he was largely expected to beat in Kenichi Ogawa. Two of the judges, however, scored the fight inexplicably for Ogawa, eliciting cries of robbery. Fortunately for Farmer, the fight would later be changed to a no-contest after Ogawa tested positive for a banned substance. “I was used to it. I’m used to grinding,” Farmer noted. “But like I said, I just always knew I was gonna be world champion.”

While pairing up with Lou DiBella in 2014 was a significant milestone in Farmer’s career, it was not until a deal was arranged with Hearn that Farmer has seen his fortune grow—literally. Hearn’s newfangled streaming platform gives him perhaps the biggest war chest in boxing and the ability to overpay fighters in an attempt to lure them away from competitors. So far, Hearn has had mixed results. Not that Farmer much cares. One source with knowledge of negotiations said that Farmer would be making roughly ten times more in his DAZN appearance against Tennyson than what he received in the Ogawa fight, which, according to Farmer, was $70,000.

Farmer’s newfound foothold means that there will be a necessary change in his comportment; that is, there are certain things he’ll no longer be open to entertaining. For example, calling out Gervonta “Tank” Davis, the WBA super featherweight champion. Between the gibes and japes on social media and the occasional head-to-head scuffle in casino lobbies, the two fighters at one point seemed primed to meet in the ring someday. “Honestly, I don’t even give a shit about that fight anymore,” Farmer said tersely. Asked earlier in the conversation about how he felt he measured up against the top contenders and champions in the super featherweight division, Farmer had a simple, uniform answer. Alberto Machado? “Easy.” Miguel Berchelt? “Easy.” Masayuki Ito? “Easy.” Davis is “easy,” too, Farmer pointed out, but even animosity has a shelf life. “It’s been happening [the trash talk with Davis] for too long,” Farmer lamented. “I don’t have the energy for that anymore. I just have to rack up some money and rack up some belts. That’s it. I’m tired of talking about another man, let’s talk about some females and stuff, I ain’t gonna keep talking about another man.”

“Plus,” he added, “I’m a champion now,” the implication being that he no longer needs to grovel at the foot of other champions to give him a chance.

Asked if that means he intended to fight stiffs and no-hopers, Farmer retorted, “The question should be, Do the other titleholders want to fight me? That’s the big question. Boxing’s a business and you know how these guys get when they got their belts. I’ve got enough of that for a lot of years. Now, I’m in the position. That shit is dead. I ain’t letting anyone dictate my peace and I have every right to feel like this.”

In other words, Farmer wants to be able to call his own shots for once. After years of toiling as the B-side in small-time Philly club shows and skirting by death, at family barbeques and inside oceanfront caves alike, this does not seem so outrageous a request. Maybe the Davis fight will happen, Farmer concedes, but it won’t happen with his hat in hand.

“Listen,” Farmer said, trying to clarify himself, “whoever [my handlers] present in front of me is who I’m going to fight. I’m a champion, why should I have to beg for the top fighters, why can’t they come and ask me? Everybody’s been dictating this and that. But here’s how I feel. I came from the bottom. I don’t care about top guys. I’m the top guy. I got a belt.”