Boxer David Morrell Jr. and his Minneapolis-based training crew were running a few weeks ago on the back roads around Barnum, with Morrell in the lead and everyone else in tow.

All of the sudden “O,” as he’s nicknamed, from his birth name Osvary, saw a fawn that looked like it was getting ready to run into the road, so the Cuban native picked it up and set it in the grass.

But after doing that, the fawn looked like it was going to run back into the road again, so Morrell, not seeing any other deer around, no mother to be seen, picked up the fawn again.

“So he runs through the field over to the woods with this fawn in his hands,” Adonis Frazier said, laughing. “And I said, ‘Leave it over there.’

“So we get back, and I tell my father (Sankara Frazier), and he said, ‘You did what?’ He sees the video. He said, ‘Man, you did what ... you put it out there? The wolves are going to kill it.’ And we were like, ‘What were we supposed to do with it?’ And he said, ‘You could have all brought it back here. We could have had a little pet or something.’ And I said, ‘Are you serious?’”

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David Morrell Jr. (left) talks to trainer Sankara Frazier on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
David Morrell Jr. (left) talks to trainer Sankara Frazier on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

These guys aren’t training in Minneapolis anymore, and certainly not in Cuba, either.

Morrell (4-0, 3 KOs) will defend his World Boxing Association super middleweight belt Sunday night against undefeated contender Mario Abel Cazares (12-0, 5 KOs) during a Premier Boxing Championship series event at the Minneapolis Armory. The fight will be televised on Fox at 7 p.m.

Morrell, speaking through translator and boxing coach Josh Sanchez, talked about the bout.

“I’ve got no worries,” he said. “He does have 12 fights, but he doesn’t know who he’s going up against.”

Don’t let Morrell’s lack of professional bouts fool you. He won 130 of 132 amateur fights as part of the famed Cuban national team and is certainly not lacking in confidence.

“I don’t know much about Cazares. All I know is that I’m going to beat him,” Morrell said, drawing a laugh. “From what I’ve seen, he’s fast and he’s got a good jab. Those things are not going to help him for 12 rounds, and I train for 15 rounds. I’ve got my plan, and what's going to happen is going to happen. I’m ready. I’m ready for whatever style comes at me in the ring.”

David Morrell Jr. opens his mouth while adjusting his headgear before sparring on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum. Morrell is training to defend his WBA super middleweight world championship against Mario Cazares.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
David Morrell Jr. opens his mouth while adjusting his headgear before sparring on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum. Morrell is training to defend his WBA super middleweight world championship against Mario Cazares. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Morrell fights out of Circle of Discipline in Minneapolis, but whenever there is a fight coming up, the team goes up north to fight out of its Circle of Discipline branch in downtown Barnum. The Barnum facility serves as a training camp, with about a half dozen boxers and sparring partners at any time.

Adonis Frazier said the arrangement has been going on for seven to 10 years now. He was asked why take the show up north?

“Why not?” he said.

Adonis Frazier likened it to “Rocky IV” where Rocky Balboa goes off into the Russian wilderness to get back to the basics, with little to no distractions.

“Barnum is a town of about six hundred people ... how much more focused can you get?: he said. “We’ve got everything we need here. And as we started to get around more and more, the town has been so helpful, Moose Lake has been so helpful. Everybody has just kind of embraced us and made it even that much better."

David Morrell Jr. (right) delivers a punch to Yunieski Gonzalez while sparring on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
David Morrell Jr. (right) delivers a punch to Yunieski Gonzalez while sparring on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

From Cuba to Mexico to Miami

Morrell is Circle of Discipline’s latest star, having started boxing when he was 9. He defected from communist Cuba about two years ago in a harrowing experience. To avoid the Mexican border patrol, he and several others in their party of 16 jumped into the water.

“It was very difficult,” Morrell said. “We had to swim about 100 meters. The tide was high and you couldn’t see anything. We were swimming and the waves were hitting us. It was scary.”

Sounds like a hell of a journey.

“Oh, man, that’s not even half of the stuff I went through,” Morrell said.

Morrell washed ashore in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. After bouncing around the country for about a year and a half, basically on the run, he wound up in Miami for a brief stint before winding up in Minneapolis through boxing promoter Luis de Cubas.

“The goal was always to get here,” Morrell said of the United States. “I came here because this is the land of opportunity and that is exactly why I left Cuba, to be here, and follow my dream and pursue my career as a professional boxer.”

David Morrell Jr. delivers a punch to Angel Chavez while sparring on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
David Morrell Jr. delivers a punch to Angel Chavez while sparring on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

When asked if he missed home, he said he missed it every day. He misses the culture, the music, his family and friends. Life’s different on the island, he said, but this is the sacrifice Morrell is willing to make to be the best, and to give back. He described his hometown of Santa Clara in central Cuba as typical of Caribbean culture, a laid back, easy-going people who love life, no matter how little money they may have.

“I miss everything,” he said. “It’s more liberal, more fun, with less worries. Everyone enjoys life. Everyone is always happy.”

But he can’t go back.

“I’m here because first and foremost I want to bring my family a better living, and I want to be a legend in what I’m doing,” Morrell said. "This is one of my dreams, but unfortunately, you can’t do that in Cuba.

“Right now, I can see myself like any other boxer, hitting the road, my feet planted on the ground, but one step at a time, we can move forward. I want to leave a legacy and be well known in the sport, and be a legend, because once you’re a legend, you have everything."

David Morrell Jr. on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
David Morrell Jr. on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

From Miami to Minnesota

Morrell came to the right place. He's training with people who are used to working with a variety of backgrounds.

“Before COVID we had guys from Colombia, Toronto, Miami, everywhere,” Adonis Frazier said. “Luis de Cubas is originally from Cuba but he grew up in Minnesota as well and is a friend of ours. He was bringing this kid over, and they were watching my little brother Jamal (James) box at the Armory, and Luis said I love what your father and you have done with your little brother. I want to bring this kid up here because I see what you guys have done with Jamal, and we want you to do the same thing with this kid.”

Adonis Frazier said Circle of Discipline is more than just about boxing but about working with young people and instilling strong values they can apply to everyday life. His father started it about 30 years ago in South Minneapolis to get kids off the street and keep them off the street.

“Working with the youth, working with the community, bringing kids up. My father just used boxing as a tool to get the quote unquote tough guys,” Adonis Frazier said. “Oh, you’re a tough guy? OK, come over here and show me what you got, so now we can break you down and bring you back up.”

Through their boxing ties, including to former Minnesota boxer Chad Beaulieu, Circle of Discipline branched off to Barnum, where Beaulieu already had a gym. The plan was for Circle of Discipline to expand their offerings at the Barnum facility but that got put on hold due to COVID. Adonis Fraizer said you don't have to be a boxer to belong and get involved.

“In Minneapolis we have the whole organization,” he said. “We do the tutoring; we teach kids, we've got all kinds of programs. It’s bigger than just the pro boxing and eventually we’d like the same for Barnum.

“These are byproducts of what we do. Our main focus is working with the youth and everything else, but we’ve also got the pros who are good with that, too.

David Morrell Jr. throws a punch while sparring on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
David Morrell Jr. throws a punch while sparring on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Circle of Discipline Training Camp in Barnum. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

One of those pros is Morrell.

While he might be a tough guy in the ring, anyone who picks up a baby deer with the intention of protecting it, whether misguided or not, has a good heart.

That is one of those crazy northern exposure stories Adonis Frazier said he will never hear the end of.

“I thought the fawn story was going to blow over, but the next day, we wake up, and my father is like, ‘Man, you know, I had a dream about that fawn,’” Frazier said. “So we drive back to the place where O put the fawn in the woods. He gets out of the car and starts walking through the woods and looking for this fawn. I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ We’re driving up and down the road looking for that fawn. I’m like, ‘Man, that fawn ain’t around.’

“So they come back to me: ‘You killed it, because of you, it’s dead.’ So now I’m walking around with my shoulders all hunched over, knuckles dragging, feeling all bad. I said, ‘Only up here can you run into some stuff like that.’”