Southland heavyweight boxer Dominic Breazeale had plenty to deal with in the past month, preparing for a nationally televised Saturday night fight at Staples Center.
Then his mother died and he opened boxes in her home, unearthing an identity Breazeale didn't know he had.
Breazeale, a 2012 U.S. Olympian and heavyweight from Upland who'll fight on the Premier Boxing Champions card headlined by the Danny Garcia-Robert Guerrero welterweight title bout, was in training New Year's Eve when his sister called, urging him to rush to Pomona Valley Medical Center.
Breazeale's mother, Christina "Tina" Breazeale, 56, suffered a massive heart attack at her Covina home, and soon after her son arrived at the hospital, she died.
"It hit home hard … and it happening in [training] camp is a very tough bump in the road," Breazeale said. "So I've had to make it something that gives me strength, gives me something to fight for, to put an exclamation point on this fight.
"When it happens so fast like that, there's not much you can do. But I know she's shining down on me from heaven."
Remarkably, as Breazeale helped his family and three siblings go through his mother's possessions, he found boxes containing boxing items from the biological father he barely knew, including a Golden Gloves state-championship belt, boxing shoes, a mouthguard and some news stories.
"I can't believe she didn't tell you," a family member said to Dominic Breazeale.
Turns out, Harold Lee Breazeale was a successful amateur fighter.
"I have the pedigree, and I didn't even know it," Breazeale said. "I guess it's natural to me. It's in my blood."
The elder Breazeale was imprisoned when Dominic was a 2-year-old, and was incarcerated until the time the boy was 15, dying when Breazeale, by then a former college quarterback from Alhambra, was 24.
"I never built a relationship with him like I did with my stepfather, Terry, who was there from Day One and raised me as a man, getting me ready for life," Dominic said.
The discovery brought Breazeale to reflect "it makes sense now," how when he came home one day he enthused about learning his boyhood friends boxed, his mother rejected his interest and ordered him to "stick to football and basketball."
"I remember telling my mom, 'Hey, there's these kids going to this local gym. They put on some gear, get in the boxing gym and literally beat the [heck] out of each other, and when they get out of the ring, they're the best of friends, high-fiving … I want to join,'" Breazeale said. "There was no explanation, just a, 'No, you're not doing it.'
"She was a huge supporter of what I do, but she wanted to keep me away from boxing."
Breazeale ultimately found that the footwork he needed to quarterback Northern Colorado's football team eased a transition to boxing, and he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team at age 26.
"Being inside and outside of the pocket, scrambling, setting up, throwing downfield ... your feet always have to be under you," Breazeale said. "Having that base correlates to throwing punches. When I throw that big right hand, I have to have something behind it, same thing as throwing a 70-yard bomb down the field on the money."
As a pro, Breazeale's rise took him to a scheduled bout last month against third-ranked International Boxing Federation heavyweight Charles Martin of North Hollywood.
But then on fight week, Martin was elevated to mandatory title challenger. He withdrew against Breazeale and on Saturday, he won the belt with a third-round stoppage of injured Vyacheslav Glazkov in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Breazeale (16-0, 14 knockouts) will now fight a shorter, more aggressive southpaw, Amir Mansour (22-1-1, 16 KOs) at Staples Center.
"Charles Martin … that's exactly who I'm shooting for," Breazeale said. "At this point, I'm thinking he owes me that. That's the least he can give me by pulling out the same week as the fight."
Meanwhile, Breazeale needs to win Saturday. He said he plans to continue inspecting the "secrets" of his father's boxing career, and wants to remain the rock of his grieving family.