“You know Marqus, what is that you want to do with your life? What is it that you would regret not doing when your'e fifty-sixty years old? Boxing!” This is what thirty-five-year-old professional boxer Marqus Bates (8-4) said to himself while sitting in a prison cell serving a three-year sentence at a Massachusetts State Penitentiary.
Marqus Bates grew up in Taunton, Massachusetts. If you're asking yourself, “where the heck is Taunton, MA?” You're not alone; I had to look it up. It is located southeast of Brockton, MA. Are you familiar with Brockton? Of course, you are! It's the home of boxing greats Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler.
When he logged into our meeting, Marqus was in the gym getting ready for his thirteenth professional fight. I can hear the commotion of boxers training in the background. I can tell it was an old-school gym. I can smell the unmistakable aroma of sweat-soaked boxing gear permeating the gym through my computer screen. I can imagine salt rings of sweat and dried blood adorned on the floor by the fighters that train there.
Bates was dressed in a black hoodie, black knit winter hat, and beads of sweat glistened from his thick beard. At first glance, he had a stark resemblance to former world champion Gary Russell Jr. “Nah,” said Bates bashfully when I mentioned it.
Marqus started boxing when he was twenty-years-old. A relatively late start, given that most boxers pick up the sport at a reasonably young age. Why the late start? “Boxing was something I always wanted to do as a kid. But my mom wouldn't put me into any martial art. She thought I would take it and use it against people,” said Marqus chuckling.
According to Marqus, the men of the Bates family are inheritably athletic. His father was an all-star athlete in high school and was offered a football scholarship. His younger brother, Trevor Bates, was drafted by the NFL and was a linebacker on the roster of the 2016 Superbowl champions, the New England Patriots. During his school years, Marques played basketball and football. So, he knew that he could rely on his natural athletic ability to learn quickly and succeed in the sport of boxing.
However, the road to the ring wasn't paved in gold for Marqus. He grew up in a single-parent home. “My family didn't have the money,” said Bates. His mom did the best she could to house and feed four kids. Surviving on welfare and section-eight housing meant that there was only enough money to provide for what was needed, not what was wanted. “It was tough on her. At sixteen-seventeen years old, being that age, you want things,” recounted Bates.
“In high school, you got to be on point. My mom couldn't do all that. Around that time, my father was sentenced to prison in Maine. Dad is gone, mom struggling, and having to get help from my grandmother was tough. So, I started selling drugs. I didn't want to burden my mom or grandmother to get things for me. So, they can get things for my brother and my sister. Looking back on it now, I probably didn't have to. But in my mind, it was something I felt I had to do,” said Bates regrettably.
Marqus continued, “I was a really good football player, but I didn't play. I stopped playing football because my dad was in prison. He used to come to my football games when I was younger. So, for him not to be there, I didn't want to play.”
Overcoming the pressure of his father's incarceration and being impoverished seemed insurmountable at the time. Despite this pressure, Marqus finished high school, attended college for a semester, and worked several jobs. However, he was still selling marijuana to supplement his income. “I was doing better trying to put that extra BS aside. Then I had my son, and that's when I went from selling weed to “coke” and crack,” said Bates.
Being a new parent, Marqus tried to stay on the right path. He tried to keep his mind busy by playing sports. That's when his friend suggested he pick up boxing. Bates remembered he always wanted to box. And now he was old enough and didn't need his mother's permission.
With a renewed focus fueled by a passion for boxing, Bates quickly found success inside the squared circle. He won local tournaments, including the annual Rocky Marciano Tournament of Champions held in Brockton, Ma. Marqus had a good run in the Golden Gloves tournament and reached the Southern New England finals two years in a row. However, he suffered back-to back-loses in the championship bracket to the same opponent.
This is where Marqus' life starts to take a downward spiral. “After that loss, I got discouraged. I went back to the streets. I started selling drugs again,” said Bates.
Shortly after that, Bates started to get in trouble with the law. In 2009, his apartment got raided, and, as a result, he spent 90 days in county jail for possession of drugs. In 2011, he was charged with a more severe offense and spent a year in the county jail while he awaited trial. “The first year I was in the county jail, I was going through it bad,” Marqus told NYF.
Bates continued, “My biggest thing was being away from my son. One day in the cell, I was locked down for a whole day, and I only got out once. I started bugging out, and I was like, I can't live like this. I broke down, I dropped to my knees, and I started crying. I started praying, and I said, ‘I need you to take this burden from me and help me do what I got to do to get out. I can't live like this.”
Since Marqus had a prior drug conviction, he was subject to the Massachusetts “10-G” Law. Which meant he was facing a minimum of three years and a maximum of fifteen years in prison if he was convicted. Luckily, he was offered a three-year prison sentence as part of a plea bargain. However, those three years were not going to be easy.
“Those three years were rough. Some days go by fast and some days by slow,” said Bates as he recounted those years. “I was twenty-four years old, and a ninteen-year-old CO is telling you when to wake up. Telling you when you can eat and go to the bathroom. There is a lot of violence in there. I'm blessed I didn't have to deal with any of that. But, unfortunately, I've seen some things that happened to people. People think it's all fun and games, but it ain't no joke. That's no way to live. Being broke in the streets is better than being broke in prison.”
Having served one year in the county jail meant that Bates only had to do the two remaining years of his sentence. He was motivated and had a mark on the calendar to look forward to. Life had granted him a second chance, and he wanted to make the most of it. Bates didn't want to live with any more regrets.
“I didn't want to be fifty-sixty years old, living my life in regret knowing I was good at something, and I didn't do anything with it. I didn't play football, and I regret that; I didn't play basketball, and I regret that. I didn't want to regret not doing something I was good at” said Marqus to NYF.
From there on, he had two things on his mind, boxing and reuniting with his son. So Bates started preparing for his new life while still in prison. “I started working out two times a day. I got with a bunch of guys on the same page as me. They took me under their wing. We worked out twice a day, Monday thru Saturday. I formatted a plan. My plan was to get home, get a job, and hit the gym,” said Bates passionately.
Marqus completed his sentence without any incidents and finally reunited with his son. His son was only a toddler when he started his sentence. Bates took a second to gather himself before describing what it was like reuniting with his son. “Words can't explain it. While you were asking that question and me thinking about that moment, my heart is beating very fast,” said Bates with a smile that could've illuminated a dark room all on its own.
Bates continued, “It was right before his sixth birthday and to see his little self, see the excitement on his face, have him run over and squeeze me, and say my dad is here, it's a feeling that I can never explain and a feeling that will never go away.”
Although he was motivated, Bates would soon find out that trying to start a life after prison would be difficult. “I came home to nothing. When I went to prison, I had twenty-three pairs of Jordan's, jewelry, money, and clothes. I came home with one pair of shoes, some sweatpants, and two hundred dollars that I made while I was in prison,” said Bates.
Despite these hardships, Bates set out to make true on a promise to himself. But, first, he needed to find a boxing gym. So, with the help of his wife, he met trainer Brian Johnson and currently trains out of Veloz Boxing.
Becoming a professional boxer wasn't in Marqus' plans. “I just wanted to get back in the ring and fight, whether it was amateur or just training,” said Bates. However, after ten amateur fights, his coach believed he had the necessary skills to compete professionally. Since becoming a professional fighter, Bates has fought twelve times and has compiled a record of eight wins, four losses, and six knockouts. And he is enjoying every minute of it.
Boxing isn't the only thing that gets Marqus out of bed every morning. He is also a Class-A CDL truck driver for P Gioioso & Sons, a Hyde Park, MA, construction company. “I am a trucker by day and a fighter by night,” said Bates graciously.
And if life couldn't get any better, it did when he got married in August of 2021. “My wife is amazing. She puts up with a lot; she's God's gift to me. I couldn't ask for anyone better”, said the newlywed of his wife. Since his release from prison, Marqus Bates has lived his best life. And he wants to make the most of life and boxing.
“If I can't take it to a world title shot, then I'll take it there. I want to keep going until I can't go anymore. I know a lot of people say I'm thirty-five years old; I don't want to hear it. I got a hunger inside. I'm strong and getting better every day. Soon I'll be up there ready to bang with the elite. That's what I'm shooting for,” said Bates.
As Marqus gets ready for his thirteenth professional fight this Saturday, he reflects on the man he was and the man he has become. “It's been great! Boxing has its ups and downs, but I love it. I have this fire inside of me, and I'm not going to stop until this fire is put out. These last six years have been an amazing journey.”
“It's never too late to turn it around. So pick up the pieces and make it right! Just because you've been to prison, don't let anyone tell you can't do it. Don't let society tell you that you can't get a job, that you can't chase your dreams. I'm living proof that you can do it,” concluded Bates.
“Life as a shorty shouldn't be so rough.” The famous line from the hip-hop classic CREAM by the Wu-Tang Clan is a line that resonates with most of us that have experienced living in impoverished inner-city “ghettos.”
Unfortunately, life for the inner-city youth is rough. I know; I experienced it. Life was a daily boxing match. Our opponents were eviction notices, empty refrigerators, and crime. The story of Marqus Bates can be found in every city. But often, that's where the story ends.
For three years, Marqus Bates was in a boxing match. In the imagery ring within the confines of his cell, he fought the same opponent, himself. For Marques, the fight wasn't over when he entered prison; it had only begun.