Breathing new life into any career is never easy. It isn’t just about the hard graft; it’s the brutal honesty, the tough questions you ask of yourself and the difficult answers you have to swallow and respond to. So when Kenneth Sims had his hand raised on Saturday night against one of boxing’s most revered prospects in Elvis Rodriguez he reacted like a man entirely devoted to his own renewed expectations.

“I did good but I could have done a lot better. I had a lot more that could’ve did,” Sims (16-2-1, 5 KOs) tells Boxing Social.

“I could’ve pushed the issue a little bit more because at the end of the fight I wasn’t really tired at all, I wasn’t breathing hard. He was weakening. And I got lazy a couple of times. I threw punches and just admired my work and got caught with some stuff I shouldn’t have got caught with.

“But the jab was the most important thing this whole entire training camp. That’s what we stressed. We made sure that we focused not giving up too much ground during the fight, that’s why I just came right out and just refused to move and give him space.”

Sims’ majority decision win on the Josh Taylor- Jose Ramirez undercard was a significant shock for the bookmakers. Rodriguez’s promoter, Top Rank, had been hyping him up as one of the best up-and-coming fighters in the sport, while trainer, Freddie Roach, had openly declared him to be the future of his stable. Yet Sims himself had been highly thought of for many years due to a long and stellar amateur career. A veteran of over 200 fights (just 21 losses), the American represented his country at both the Junior Olympics, where he won bronze medal, and the World Championships. Only a single point defeat at the hands of José Ramirez denied him a place at the Olympics in 2012.

“I feel like they [Elvis Rodriguez’s team] underestimated me,” said the 27-year-old. “They probably looked at some of my old fights. It’s a great feeling but it’s only the beginning because I expected that from myself. I just had some setbacks so I had to get back and refocus and reset everything. It’s a big deal as far as changing the course of my career and for my confidence but I expected this from myself.” 

The well-schooled Sims (left) shocked hot prospect Rodriguez at the weekend.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Life as a professional boxer has not gone entirely to plan, however. Contractual problems led to inactivity, contributing to a narrow points loss to Ronald Chinea in 2017, a draw with Montana Love and a close defeat to Samuel Teah in 2018.

“It’s been rocky, up and down. But now I’m back up the plan is to stay up from this point. I feel like I shouldn’t have lost those fights. Right now I feel like this is the best I’ve ever felt as a professional. I have more knowledge around me, more experience. At this point everything is on a whole new trajectory, going higher and higher.”

After tasting defeat for a second time, Sims knew drastic changes were required if he wanted to fulfil his potential. With his father having trained him since he was a teenager, the young American decided to add another set of eyes to the team and brought in the much-lauded Kay Koroma. Very soon afterwards a transformation in training took place, Sims progressing from effortless spars with mediocre opposition to facing off against the likes of Shakur Stevenson, Terence Crawford and Jarrett Hurd. 

“In the beginning, it was just me and my dad in the gym. We were just sparring with local guys. I was pretty much dominating every guy in the gym, but that wasn’t really helping,” said Sims. “So now at this point I work with coach Kay and my dad, they work together. In this training camp it was all world champions and people who are rated worldwide. So we went from dominating every sparring session to somebody getting the best of you that day to you getting the best of them another day. But that’s all gonna help you all improve. I don’t think I’d be the fighter I am right now if I hadn’t had those losses. I don’t think I would’ve made the necessary changes to get to this level, so it’s kind of a blessing.”

One particularly enviable piece of gold is next on the agenda for Sims, though it’s not something the noble art can bestow upon him. On June 8, the prestigious Sports Emmy Awards will decide on whether or not a film called ‘Ringside’ will win the nomination for Outstanding Long Sports Documentary.

Filmed over a nine-year period by film-maker, André Hörmann, the movie follows Sims and his father Kenneth Sr, along with another father-son team in Destyne Butler Jr and Sr, as they chase lofty ambitions of boxing stardom. Described by one critic as ‘the Hoop Dreams of boxing’, the film was snapped up by Showtime in the US but has yet to receive a UK release date. 

“They [the film-makers] were around me from when I was 14-15 years old. One of the producers is actually one of the producers from ‘Hoop Dreams’. Watching it, it just reminds me of what I was going through when I was a kid coming through in Chicago and where I am now. I see myself growing up on screen,” he said.

With a notable scalp now on his resume and priceless exposure from an award-winning film, Sims is now firmly focused on climbing the 140lbs rankings and squeezing everything he can from his potential. For today, though, he’s simply enjoying the sort of elation that only comes when an underdog pulls off an upset.

“I’m taking it one fight at a time. Take it as we go. I’m just soaking this feeling up right now,” concluded Sims.

Sims’ boxing journey features in the acclaimed documentary ‘Ringside’, which has been nominated for a Sports Emmy award next month. The film debuts on Showtime on June 12.