By the age of nine, Darrelle Valsaint had been kicked out of every public school in his Orlando, Florida school district. The first generation Haitian-American had cycled through so many he can’t give an exact number anymore today – “I wanna say ten. At least.”
Valsaint thought his Mom might remember, but she couldn’t keep count either. “How many schools were you kicked out of? Every single one of them!” she said with a chuckle.
“I used to fight in school a lot, I used to get in trouble a lot…I had a lot of anger,” Darrelle Valsaint explained. “It was kinda hard. A lot of violence, a lot of gun violence, a lot of…” he paused for a moment to reminisce. “A lot of everything, kinda.”
His house didn’t have a cable plan at the time, but while bored at home during an expulsion and scrolling through settings, “I accidentally bought us one,” Valsaint, nicknamed “Blast,” laughed. The 9-year-old troublemaker turned to a Floyd Mayweather fight by chance, and while he watched, something clicked. “I fell in love with boxing right there. I instantly grabbed toilet paper, started wrapping my hands, and told my mom: ‘I want to box…I want to box.’”
A couple years later, his Mom brought a then 12-year-old Darrelle Valsaint to Rene’s, a strip-mall boxing gym wedged between a Save-A-Lot and a Jamaican restaurant that over the years has become known for producing national amateur champions.“I guess it took me to get into a lot of trouble and a lot of fights for her to finally put me into boxing.”
Did it work?
“Most definitely…Without boxing, I’d probably be dead or in jail,” he said bluntly.
“I stayed in the gym, and it's been paying off. Being in the environment, the atmosphere, I loved it. I felt like I was home. And I knew it was what I really wanted to do,” said Darrelle Valsaint, who had just finished up his sixth day of training that week. “I fight for a better life. I fight for my kids that I don’t even have yet.”
The gym is also where the 6′ 1” super middleweight earned his nickname, Blast. “Once I first got into boxing I was always really fast and explosive, so people were like — ‘man you hit just like a blast,’ — like a blast of an explosion,” he explained. “So, they started calling me that.”
A switch-hitting boxer-puncher, Darrelle Valsaint sees a future undisputed champion when he looks in the mirror. As the youngest boxer at the 2021 Olympics and the Haitian team’s flag-bearer, he’s already spent time on the world stage.
“I remember waking up one day at the Olympics, looking out the window, like: ‘Hold on, am I really here?’” He laughed. “I had to pinch myself and I called my mom and said, ‘Mom where am I right now? Because I’m kinda confused.’”
After losing a decision to eventual bronze medalist Gleb Bakshi, Valsaint turned his full focus to the pros. He marked his debut with a 49 second knockout of Christopher Lavant in November of 2020 before signing with boxing manager Tim VanNewhouse at the end of last year.
“God blessed him with talent and he’s being afforded all the right opportunities to become a success,” VanNewhouse said of his prospect.
From carrying the Haitian flag at the opening ceremony to boxing on professional cards, Darrelle Valsaint knows there’s more than just his own dreams on the line. “I fight for my country, Haiti…they need a positive role model. Someone to really look up to. Somebody that is going to be there for them — and I feel like I’m that person,” he said. “That’s what I really fight for.”
Whenever Valsaint talks about himself as a boxer, he does so with confidence.
“I always set high expectations for myself,” he said. Today, those expectations are clear: “To become a world champion. To become one of the biggest boxing stars in boxing. To retire undefeated.”
Darrelle Valsaint fought on March 25 in Plant City, Florida against Geronimo Sacco, who'd battled for the WBF international super-middleweight title in 2018. However, that didn’t seem to faze the super middleweight prospect before the fight.
“What do I need to do to win it?” Valsaint cracked a smile. “Dominate. Be me.”
It didn’t seem to faze him during the fight, either: Darrelle Valsaint knocked his opponent out two minutes into the first round.