There’s an inner drive somewhere in Quad-Cities’ boxer and Rock Island native Vershaun Lee. You can see it when he trains, jumping rope for several rounds, his feet touching the floor in a steady rhythm.
He hits the mitts with authority or with moderate punches, depending on what he is working on, what combination he might want to try on a given gym workout or before a fight.
Lee, 23, a decorated amateur with over 300 bouts, including the 2021 National Golden Gloves title and runner up in the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 2024 Olympics in France, is making his pro debut Saturday at the Davenport River Center.
Lee has been boxing since he was five years old. His uncle Ramsey Vesey Sr., of Rock Island, has been working with him since he was a kid in neighborhood back yards, taking him and other kids in his Chevy Blazer to tournaments through the years, not really knowing where this was going to end, all these kids and all these fights in towns big and small.
“He’s been there from the beginning,” Lee says after a recent workout at the Rock Island Boxing Club in downtown Rock Island, where Vesey Sr. is head coach. “He sacrificed a lot taking us to tournaments. First, it started out as just learning to protect ourselves.”
Lee went from a little boy, traveling, winning boxing shows, to now training with professional fighters at their training camps, giving as good as he gets, a tall, rangy boxer-puncher at junior welterweight and welterweight. Anywhere from 140 lbs. to 147 lbs., he feels comfortable.
He is scheduled to fight at 145 lbs. Saturday. His ultimate goal is to become a world champion.
“This was never in the picture at first,” Lee says, referring to his current amateur, and now soon-to-be professional status. “We saw that we were good.”
Lee is unwrapping his hands, the wraps and bandages and tape coming off like casts that protect his livelihood.
The gym has noise, boxing noise. A timer buzzing when a round is over.
Bags and mitts are being hit. There are exercise drills – boys and girls of varying ages on this night working out. Vesey Sr. runs the show, but readily admits without the help of assistant coaches, it would be a difficult task, especially as he works a full-time job as well.
He commands respect without intimidation. He is honest with his fighters, no matter their age or ability.
His son, Ramsey Vesey Jr., 23, a winner of the Chicago Golden Gloves, is also working out on a heavy bag on this night. He is planning to turn pro later this year. Vesey Sr. is managing both young men.
“I just want them to be young men that believe in something,” Vesey Sr. says. “Something that you love doing, being successful, and taking care of your family.”
He expresses a cautious optimism. He understands boxing is lined with the obvious dangers inherent in the sport as well as the business side of the sport.
“I don’t want him to sign to a management company that clearly doesn’t have his best interests,” he says. “I don’t want him to be another number, somebody to capitalize on and then build him up and sell him to the highest bidder, then maybe take a cut out of that.
“His (Lee’s) mindset is to train and box, but I want him to know about the rest. I want him to be successful.”
One of the ways Vesey Sr. is helping to build success is by taking on long-time Quad-Cities boxing and mixed martial-arts coach Jeff Perez, founder of the Alley Cat Boxing Club in Moline. Perez has worked the corner with some of Vesey Sr.’s fighters over the years, such as Lee and Vesey Jr.
Perez has trained hundreds of fighters himself, both professional and amateur. He is proud that he worked with UFC Hall of Famers Jens Pulver and Robbie Lawler, among others, and local successful professional boxers such as Limberth Ponce and Ted Muller.
He enjoys his relationship with Lee, wrapping his hands, giving advice sometimes in the corner.
“I see a lot of talent,” Perez says. I’ve seen guys he’s sparred. One was going to defend his world title and Vershaun sparred with him (Jamel Herring). He did great against him.”
Perez says he works well with Vesey Sr. and Lee as a team. Perez hopes his work helps the young prospect in Lee.
“I don’t know what’s inside of him (Lee), but he’s not intimidated by nobody,” Perez says. “It’s a different ball game from amateurs to pros. I’m glad he’s getting his first fight here at home with family to come out and see him.”
Lee says there is no one thing in his arsenal that may stand out. He has an educated left jab and a quick right hand, among other weapons.
“There’s a little bit of everything,” he says. “We just have to be smart, and like chess and checkers, you have to be one step ahead.”