WILKES-BARRE, PA -- Naazim Richardson remembers the voice, that squeaky, high-pitched sound coming from the boy who knew everything. In the early 1990's, Richardson's North Philadelphia gym was a proving ground for would-be boxers, where some of a rough city's toughest kids came to learn how to fight. Karl Dargan was one of them, though Richardson's then-7-year-old cousin was little more than a pest.
"He'd be running around telling me, 'Brother Nazim, he's not jabbing right,'" Richardson said. "Or it was, 'He's not moving his feet right.' I said, 'Boy, why don't you get in there and do it.' When he did, you could see the talent. You could see he was special."
With Richardson by his side, Dargan rose through the amateur ranks rapidly. He won U.S. amateur championships in 2004 and 2005 and a gold medal at the U.S. championships in '06. His association with Richardson gave Dargan unfettered access to some of the sports most skilled fighters, including future Hall of Famers Bernard Hopkins and Shane Mosley, two of Richardson's most accomplished charges.
"From Bernard, I've learned discipline," Dargan said. "Most of the people Bernard has fought, a lot of them have been more talented. But Bernard works hard and takes care of his body. Shane, he's a good guy outside the ring, but in the ring he goes into straight beast mode. You have to have that mindset."
As a pro, Dargan, a lightweight, is an unblemished 14-0. He has beaten back anyone his promoter, Main Events, has put in front of him, often by lopsided decision, often leaving little room for doubt. But as many of the members of Dargan's amateur class are fighting on bigger stages --including junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia, junior middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade and welterweight champion Shawn Porter -- Dargan is still fighting on the fringes. On Saturday, he will take on Anthony Flores (11-6-1) at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network). A win will likely result in Dargan's first top-10 rating in his division.
Dargan acknowledges some frustration, but says overall he is happy with his pro career to date.
"There are times we wanted to be more busy, but we weren't under contract with a promoter," Dargan said. "But since I've been with Main Events, we have been moving pretty well."
Added Richardson, "People say we should be here or there; I don't know what to say to them. This is a marathon. It's a race, but it's a marathon, not a sprint. I like the way we are being moved now. I like the opportunities he is getting."
For Dargan, the next step is finishing fights. An oft-mentioned criticism of Dargan is that he doesn't seize opportunities to go for a knockout. Consider: In his last fight, against, Chazz McDowell, Dargan faced an opponent that didn't come to win. McDowell came in nine pounds overweight and spent most of the fight trying to survive. Dargan said McDowell, who was bleeding from the nose during the fight, was spitting blood at him. Richardson said he was leery of pushing Dargan to go after a fighter with such a significant weight advantage.
"You have people sitting on the couch saying he should step on the gas, [but] they are not in the ring," Richardson said. "He's learning where the holes are, how to take advantage of them. The public has to be patient. Let the fighter grow. If the fighter grows, maybe we can keep him around for a while. We understand entertainment value, and we work on that. But at the same time, not at the expense of this kids health."
Richardson is wise to look out for Dargan's health, but boxing is a television business. And knockouts make for good television.
Dargan's lack of aggression in his last four fights have not gone unnoticed by the premium networks. HBO has invested significant capital in lightweight champion Terence Crawford. And with the dearth of talent in the 135-pound division, Dargan would seem to be a strong candidate to join the mix of prospective opponents. At this point, he is not.
"He is the type of fighter that can beat any 135-pounder out there right now," said Main Events matchmaker Jolene Mizzone. "[But] he needs to make that statement to show he belongs in the mix."
Dargan will get another chance to shine against Flores, a straight ahead fighter who figures to be there for Dargan to hit. A strong performance could springboard Dargan to bigger fights, bigger paydays. Another decision -- no matter how decisive -- will likely do little to close the gap between him and those fights.