Dante Kirkman ‘24 found himself at a crossroads last year. At the end of 2022, the then-21-year-old received his first professional boxing offer. Training with former world champion boxer Eddie Croft for over a decade, Kirkman has been competing in national boxing tournaments since he was 16 years old. All of the work and travel Kirkman put in led to this pivotal moment.
But Kirkman isn’t just a boxer. A senior at Stanford majoring in art practice, Kirkman has always emphasized the importance of getting a quality education, in case boxing no longer became a viable career. Kirkman also delved into the business behind boxing while interning for Floyd Mayweather.
“Nothing is really guaranteed in your sport,” Kirkman told the College Contemporary. “You could get an injury tomorrow and you need something to fall back on.”
Kirkman decided to pause a professional career until after he competed in the 2024 Olympic Boxing Trials.
Before the trials, which took place Dec. 2 to Dec. 9, Kirkman changed weight classes in order to compete in the 156-pound division. During the trials at the Cajundome in Louisiana, Kirkman beat two national champions before losing in the semifinals to Keon Davis (TX), who ultimately won the tournament.
Despite not making the Olympic team, Kirkman had an impressive run. He traces his journey and successes to his family.
Boxing rings in the family tree
Kirkman’s passion for boxing began with his dad. Robert Kirkman, an amateur boxer himself, believes in the positive impact boxing can have on its athletes.
“Boxing changes lives for the better — I grew up in East Palo Alto when it was very dangerous, and boxing kept me from the paths to prison and violence that I’ve lost so many friends to,” Robert said. “When youngsters are boxing, you want them to stick with it because it will make them a better person and build pride in themselves.”
Following his father’s advice, Kirkman started boxing at age 10 under the coaching of Eddie Croft, a former world champion boxer and owner of B Street Boxing Club in San Mateo, CA.
Croft has been training Kirkman for the past 12 years with one goal in mind: “I told him and his parents that I could teach him what he needed to know in order to compete for a spot on the Olympic team.”
“He battled through various injuries, some humbling losses, but never lost faith in himself or our ability to achieve the goals we set for him. Even if others had doubts.”
Kirkman echoed Croft’s comment. “I had a lot of injuries throughout my career. [At 12], I injured my lead shoulder, so to keep fighting I switched stances and just trained with one arm. I [even] had to fight with one arm, which probably should not have been allowed,” he laughed.
But he conquered these challenges in stride, gaining his first national ranking in high school. “It was a really fun experience traveling the country, fighting for weeks at a time, surrounded by other people who also love the sport,” Kirkman said.
“The people at the USA Boxing National Tournaments are the ones you’re gonna see at the top of the pros in about seven years, so it’s really great to see that all the people that I looked up to were in my situation.”
The pandemic put a pause on Kirkman’s competitions, but not his journey in the sport. He trained out of his garage, communicating with Croft virtually, and landed an internship in Vegas for Floyd Mayweather where he learned the business side of the sport.
As he transitioned into the student-athlete life at Stanford, he was faced with a new challenge. “I’m not really accommodated in any sense from the school for my sport,” Kirkman said.
Between training, maintaining his fitness, recovery and travel time to the gym, boxing takes up to six to eight hours a day — and then he has to go to class. “It’s not easy and it’s not really fun, but it’s just something I kind of do.”
Croft can attest to this dedication: “It is his mind, and his work ethic that really sets him apart. His dedication to his fitness levels, attention to details of his craft and his immense will are some of the qualities that will help him become a world champion.”
“I played a lot of sports growing up and boxing was the hardest,” Kirkman said.
According to Kirkman, a myriad of skills are required to perform well in boxing, but despite this, many spectators only focus on the violence within the sport.
“Boxing is not as brutal as people think. It’s not like in Rocky movies where you just go hit for hit like that. It is a lot more tactical,” Kirkman said. “You have to be able to have the endurance of a marathon runner but also be able to sprint like a sprinter when needed.”
Kirkman has competed in boxing all over the country, but also trained internationally to help a professional boxer get ready for one of his fights.
When you are boxing with people from different places across the country and around the world, “it’s almost like communicating in different languages but in the same sport,” Kirkman said.
Croft also commented on the challenge of being a top boxer: “I wish people knew how intelligent you have to be in order to become a championship caliber boxer.”
“You have to have the ability to gauge speed, distance, movement, patterns, and make decisions in fractions of a second. All the while someone is trying to detach you from your senses.”
Kirkman’s intelligence not only sets him apart in the ring, but is just as important in what he wants to pursue academically. Kirkman is a senior at Stanford studying art practice with a focus in photography.
“Ever since middle school I’ve been really into art,” Kirkman said. “I started photography … with a focus on gentrification in East Palo Alto, but lately I’ve been shifting into merging my boxing with my art.”
Kirkman was nominated as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts in high school and has photographed several boxing matches in partnership with USA boxing and other professional boxers.
A leading hook — and face — in boxing
Kirkman will be entering the ring as a professional fighter soon, and he hopes to define the sport of boxing in a positive light. “I shouldn’t be one of the only boxers in college,” he said.
Kirkman said he’s trying to emphasize the importance of education while also being a clean image for the sport.
Kirkman explained that there’s always a “face of boxing” — going back to Jack Johnson, the first black world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Lewis, a black American boxer who fought German Max Schmeling during Nazi-era Germany, and Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time and a social activist.
“What inspires me about guys like that is that they are able to touch the hearts of everybody,” Kirkman said. “I love recent fighters like Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather, but I do feel like there’s been a lack of a face for the sport.”
Following in others’ footsteps and hooks, Kirkman wants to use his platform to inspire people. “I want to show people how much boxing means to me, what it’s done for me and what it does for people around me, because I know people who have had their lives saved by boxing.”