By Stephen Elliott
The young man is polite and quiet as he enters the Rock Island Boxing Club on a recent evening to train.
Vershaun Lee, 21, of Rock Island, has a finesse about him as he steps inside the ring. Not a restless energy so much as a familiarity with his place here inside the ropes as he shadowboxes. The feet are light and swift, moving and positioning as natural as if he were taking a walk outside.
Since the age of five, Lee has found a second home inside a boxing ring, in gyms big and small with heavy and speed bags, jumping ropes and punching mitts, in backyards or anyplace that he could apply his discipline.
Today, and some 300 amateur bouts later, Lee is one of the world’s top amateurs. He hopes to compete for a position on the U.S. Olympic Team at the Paris 2024 Games.
It all started here in Rock Island, in the back yard of his grandfather, who had a nearby grocery store.
“My grandpa (Melvin Quick) got my brother and I boxing so we could protect ourselves,” Lee says. “We started off training for a little bit.”
Lee took to boxing, meeting what would be his future and current coach in his uncle Ramsey Vesey, of Rock Island. Vesey started training Lee along with Vesey’s son Ramsey Vesey Jr. In recent years, they’ve been here at the gym on Third Avenue.
It has been a lifetime journey for Lee, who burst on the national scene in 2021 with a 2nd place finish at the USA Boxing Elite National Championships in Shreveport, La.
He took first place at the 2021 National Golden Gloves in Tulsa in August. Recently, he fought for Team USA at the AIBA World Boxing Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, winning his first bout before losing a close decision to 2020 Olympic Champion Andy Cruz of Cuba.
Some may have been surprised by his excellent performance on the world stage, but Lee wasn’t. He is humble, but he believes in his abilities.
Lee doesn’t prowl in the ring so much as he controls it. Nice jab, slick counterpuncher. At 6-ft., he is a tall junior welterweight, but strong. He rehearses what he does in his bouts during his training, using that long jab to set up his combinations.
“I work on conditioning,” Lee says.
He credits his grandfather and coach Vesey among others for helping guide his career thus far.
“Ramsey is probably the main reason we’re where we’re at right now,” Lee says. “He has taken us out of town to get the best sparring, going to different places where everybody’s the top guy. We’ve had good sparring through the years.”
As Lee speaks outside the ring, coach Vesey is inside the ring working with his son, Ramsey Jr., and a few small boys who are just learning to throw some punches.
“That’s it!” Vesey says as he holds the mitts for the small boys. “Come on! Never say you can’t.”
The coach is humble, and he’s a grinder. He’s put hours in with his kids, some for years, others for however long they decided to venture into his gym. Vesey does a lot of the little things not noticeable from the outside – driving his boxers to tournaments in different cities and states, mentoring them back home, before heading off to his own job.
They are a team here, a bond formed through years of shared experiences. Vesey said Lee has received some decent offers to turn professional from promoters. But, their goal now is the 2024 Olympic Games.
“I feel like Vershaun is still young,” Vesey says. “He still has time to grow. I don’t want to rush, even though I believe he’s on that level (professional). I think he will be a better fighter that way.”
Lee also receives advice from his cousin, the former world middleweight champion and Davenport native Michael Nunn.
“He gives me some guidance and tips on what to do,” Lee says.
Vesey has also brought in longtime Quad-Cities boxing coach Jeff Perez to strengthen the team. Another assistant coach is Ernest Upchurch.
“Vershaun has the whole world out there in front of him,” Perez says. “He has a tremendous work ethic. He’s easy to coach. It’s like Ramsey gave me a new Maserati and said, ‘put gas in it and clean the windows.’
“Ramsey has been working with the kid since he was five years old. I feel blessed to be a part of it.”
The QC has a rich history of boxing from both the amateur and professional ranks. Lee is keeping the tradition alive.
“There’s a lot more to be done,” Lee says.