If it weren’t for boxing, Michael Christopher might be dead.
The sport transformed the life of this self-described punk teenager from suburban Buffalo who often settled disputes with his fists rather than words. Had that trend continued, he may well have ended up in prison or worse. Instead, Christopher’s story is one of overcoming the obstacles of a tough childhood to become a champion. And he's not finished yet.
Christopher is one of many athletes, past and present, whom Coach Dean loves to talk about with anyone willing to listen. Their stories are remarkable and for the most part they haven’t been told.
Christopher, a the former street fighter, is one such kid. “It was a mixture of anger, fun and the people surrounding me,” he explains, pointing out that most times, he was not the instigator. “I still have scars from fights that started with throwing rocks as a kid. I remember knocking a kid out cold with a left hook once when he tried pulling a knife on me.”
Christopher grew up in Kenmore, a suburb of Buffalo. When he was 13, he watched the “Rocky” films, which sparked an interest in boxing. His parents signed him up to train with Coach Dean but he quit after about a year and a half. When he was 16 his family moved farther out to Wheatfield and that’s when the trouble really began. He was still getting into fights. He crashed a friend’s car while driving without a license. He dropped out of high school. “I just never liked getting up in the morning because I would be up too late the night before,” he says.
By chance, he reconnected with Coach Dean at 18 when he moved into an apartment with his girlfriend at the time; the place happened to be owned by Coach Dean's sister. “Once I got back into boxing, everything just fell into place,” Christopher says. “Boxing made me a more disciplined person.”
At 19, he obtained his GED so he could attend Erie Community College. After receiving his Associate degree, he enrolled in ECC’s School of Dental Hygiene where he was awarded a scholarship for students who “beat the odds.” He graduated with a second Associate degree as class president and a recipient of a prestigious SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. He gave the commencement speech. Coach Dean was there. “Dean’s like a father to me. Nobody, including my own parents, believes in me more than he does.”