GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Like every other boxer, Joe Hicks has experienced failure. He doesn’t mind so much.
“Failure is the greatest teacher,” he said.
He’s learned plenty — enough to turn his life around.
“Growing up, I was part of a gang. They were like brothers to me. Still look at them as brothers,” he said. “But you can’t be doing things full street. At the end of the day, that street don’t love you.”
It sure didn’t love his father, who was murdered when Hicks was 2.
“The incident, it was someone close to him that killed him while he was asleep,” Hicks recalled. “A lot of people tell me he was a street legend, so I want to make a name for myself like he had. But in a different way.”
When Hicks, a Godwin Heights graduate, was old enough to sign a waiver, he started boxing. It was going to be his way out.
“I always wanted to box, but my mom didn’t allow me to box because it was a violent sport,” he said.
He didn’t anticipate his first lesson in the ring.
“You learn that street fighting and boxing is two different things,” he said. “In a street fight, you’re just throwing punches. You get in a boxing match, if you come in and try to throw punches, somebody going to step out of the way and put you on your butt.”
Hicks was a quick learner, though, and he managed to stay on his feet. With coaches Wayne Easley and Steve Maniaci in his corner, he has won the Michigan Golden Gloves Tournament five times and a national championship.
In December, he was named to the U.S. Olympic team.
“It was a dream come true. It meant everything,” Hicks said. “It means all the hard work and all the dedication and sacrifices paid off.”
Those sacrifices include time away from his wife Zoe and daughter Ariel, 4.
When he trains at The Glass House in Lansing, they’re by his side, motivating him to be the best version of himself.
“I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t feel like working out today.’ She’s like, ‘Well, somebody else is doing it. The other person is doing it.’ I’ll be like, ‘You’re right,'” Hicks said. “I roll my eyes, but she reminds me that somebody wants to be where I am, and there’s always that kid that’s working.”
The hunger helped get him on Team USA, but doing so didn’t guarantee him a trip to the Tokyo Games. The qualifying tournament for boxers from the Americas was scheduled to be held Argentina this month, but it was been postponed due to the coronavirus. It’s unclear what will happen moving forward.
“I’m probably one of the first people in my family to follow their dreams and make them come true,” Hicks said.
Moving forward, the student says he wants to become the teacher.
“I fight for people who was in the situation I was. They have no goals. They feel like nothing can be done in life and they want to go to the streets,” Hicks said. “I fight to show them there is a way. Somebody you know is doing it. If I can do it, anybody can do it. I want to help motivate the younger people that’s going the wrong way and show them, there’s always another option.”
Fighting also brings him closer to the man he never got to know. He has a tattoo on his chest of his father’s street name, Sug. To Hicks, it’s an acronym for ‘success under God.’
“I just wanted to make his name mean something, put a meaning behind his name, a positive meaning,” he said.
“I look at it as his life was a sacrifice for me to have a better life, for me to go down the road and go the positive way. The way I’m choosing to go now, I feel like it’s paying off,” Hicks said. “So a lot of my motivation comes from his death. A lot of my strive, it comes from his death. It all started with wanting to get closer to my father.”