He was in the next room, talking to the man he called “Grandpa,” — 76-year-old Richard Copper, a former U.S. Marine who’d won a Purple Heart — and everything seemed normal.
Grandpa was where he always sat, not far from the table near the door where he had his Purple Heart paperwork on display. He kept some of his hats there, too. And arranged around all that on the table were several of the ribbons, medals, and trophies Zammit had won as an amateur boxer of note.
“Even if I wasn’t his blood relative, he looked at me like a grandson and I knew he was proud of me,” the 25-year-old Zammit recalled the other evening. “I heard when he’d visit his sister, he’d brag on me sometimes.
“He meant everything to me. He was my inspiration. He believed in me when so many other people did not.”
Zammit said Copper had taken him in when he had been homeless and had provided some sense of stability.
Those efforts of kindness and concern have paid big dividends. Zammit has become one of the best amateur boxers this area has had in decades.
And that day after his workout last August, nothing seemed amiss to Zammit when he first began recounting his efforts to his grandpa.
“I saw him sitting in there, but then I wasn’t getting a response, so I walked in to see what was going on,” he said. “He’d had multiple heart attacks before and a stroke, too, and now he wasn’t responsive.
“He was sitting there and he couldn’t say anything, but I could kind of see panic in his eyes. I didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there like that — nobody had been home for hours — and I called 9-1-1 right away and they rushed him to the hospital.
“He’d had another stroke. He was in the hospital about a week and then they moved him to hospice.”
Richard Copper died Aug. 22.
Zammit coped the only way he knew how. He stayed busy — he also has a job at Planet Fitness —and worked out every day at his fistic home, DMC Boxing Academy in Centerville, where he’s trained by gym owner, Daniel Meza-Cuadra.
He said he dedicated his efforts at the Last Chance Qualifier to his grandpa.
Although he’d moved up in weight to fight at 165 pounds — rather than his normal 156 — to accommodate a teammate who went with him and also fought at 156 — Zammit was not one of the top seeded fighters in his division and didn’t have near the lengthy resume or trumpeted hype that some of the other boxers had in his weight class.
And yet, he became the talk of the tournament.
He didn’t just win four bouts in four days —he demolished most of his opposition — to win the 165-pound division and get the berth in the Olympic Trials, which begin Dec. 4 at the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana. This time he’ll fight at 156 pounds.
“Because life has been very hard for me and I’ve constantly been knocked down outside of the ring, I have such a chip on my shoulder,” Zammit said. “But boxing is the place where I’ve found I can use that to my advantage.
“All the talk about other boxers, their rankings, their size, all that doesn’t matter to me. I believe no matter who it is, if I hit them, I can knock them out.”
While most people knew little of Zammit when he got to Colorado, they could have found plenty on the DMC Facebook page where a compilation video of his knockouts showed some opponents crumpling into a heap on the canvas; another falling face first and not moving; two more flying through the ropes and one of them tumbling out of the ring altogether.
Maybe that’s what happened to his first opponent at the Last Chance, a Maryland fighter who pulled out of the bout before it began.
Zammit dropped his second challenger, Lorenzo Rankin of Drexel Hill, Pa., twice before the referee stopped the contest at 1:47 of round two.
The third opponent, Jaquan McEloy of Flint, Michigan, dropped face first to the canvas from an Zammit right hand and he did not move, the KO coming at 1:06 of round two.
In the 165-pound final, Zammit battered Damion Munoz of Levelland, Texas throughout the bout, forcing him into a couple of 8-counts and winning the 5-0 decision.
The Last Chance title put Zammit in the Olympic Trials, something only Michael Evans and Chris Pearson have achieved here in recent times.
“Before my grandpa passed away, I’d promised him I’d win a medal for him,” Zammit said.
“And when I did, I brought it home and put it on his chair and said, ‘Grandpa, I did it!’”
‘Boxing saved my life’
“I know every boxer says it, but I really can say, ‘Boxing saved my life,’” Zammit said.
“Most people I know from before didn’t end up very good. They’re either dead or locked up or strung out on something. And even those that aren’t, at best most are hardly getting by and probably not enjoying a life like they dreamed they’d have.”
It wasn’t that long ago that it seemed as if Zammit’s plight would be the same.
He said he doesn’t know his dad and has, at times, been estranged from his mom. He lived in three states and attended four different high schools, including Hamilton, Miamisburg, and Dixie. He was briefly at Wayne State University, as well.
For a while he said he was homeless.
“From the way I grew up, I trusted no one,” he admitted.
Eventually though he found people who had his best interests at heart. He said a family in Lewisburg has looked out for him and then Copper took him into his Miamisburg home.
He really started to blossom when he walked into the DMC gym and met Meza-Cuadra, though at first their relationship was thorny.
“I thought I knew everything,” Zammit once explained.
He chafed at Meza-Cuadra’s early directives but got a quick readjustment when the trainer put him in the ring with former WBA featherweight champ Carlos Zambrano, who was 27-2 as a pro and had had a 288-6 amateur record.
“When you first get into the boxing ring, you find out you don’t know anything,” Zammit said. “Zambrano hit me quite a bit. I was bigger than him, but he was a world champion and knew what to do. He showed me enough, but he didn’t try to take me out.”
Eventually, Zammit saw Meza-Cuadra knew what he was talking about and could really help him.
“At first, I didn’t have that trust with him, but after a while I realized ‘This guy really cares about me. He just wants the best for me.’
“Now, he’s like a father figure to me.”
Meza-Cuadra feels the same: “We’re family. I love him like he’s my own kid.”
In the process, Zammit has become the star of the gym and DMC’s first homegrown talent to make a splash on the national stage.
‘I feel I can win against anyone’
On Sunday, Meza-Cuadra is putting on a fund-raising boxing show at his DMC gym (74 Marco Lane, Centerville) to help finance Zammit’s trip to Louisiana, which comes some 2 ½ months after the Last Chance Qualifier in Colorado.
The 12-bout card, which features DMC boxers — like 17-year-old Lennox Torres a 135 pounder from El Salvador; Jose Jacinto, a 165 pounder from Mexico; and 15-year-old Mia Miller, a Miamisburg High ninth grader making her boxing debut — and opponents from other gyms. It begins at 3 p.m.
Zammit will be the show’s headliner.
Doors open at 2. Tickets range from $25 to $50.
To find out more about Zammit or help fund his attempt to make the U.S. Olympic team for the 2024 Games in Paris, visit the DMC Boxing Facebook page at: Facebook.com/CentervilleFitnessBoxing/ or contact Meza Cuadra at email@example.com or 513-450-6660. To get tickets to the fight show or donate go to http://dmcboxing.eventbrite.com.
Zammit said in these last couple of weeks of training he’s just “trying to get in perfect shape and get rid of any flaws.”
As for who he may fight, he said it doesn’t matter: “I don’t worry about something I can’t control. If you start thinking, ‘Oh, this guy is tall’ or ‘that guy looks strong’ or this and that, it’s too much and takes you away from what matters most.
“The real battle is you versus you – just doing what you do best. And when I do that, I feel I can win against anyone.”
And that leaves him with just one other task before he leaves for the Trials.
He has to make sure the seat on his grandpa’s chair is cleared off again.
When he gets back home from Louisiana, he’ll want to put his new medal there.