ATLANTIC CITY -- Egg Harbor Township light-heavyweight boxer Gabriel Pham began his comeback with an impressive performance at Golden Nugget Atlantic City on Saturday night.
The 24-year-old returned to the ring for the first time in almost two years and earned a four-round, unanimous over Michael Mitchell, of Paterson, on the Derric Rossy-Joey Dawejko undercard at Golden Nugget's Grand Ballroom.
Pham (6-0, 2 KOs) last fought on April 14, 2012, when he defeated Mitchell by unanimous decision at Bally's Atlantic City. Soon after that bout, he took a break from boxing to deal with legal and personal issues.
"I did a lot of soul-searching," Pham said. "I made some mistakes that young people sometimes make, and I just wasn't 100 percent ready mentally or physically to fight. And if I wasn't 100 percent ready, there was no sense in fighting until I could get to that point. And now I am."
On March 1, 2010, Galloway Township police arrested Pham on charges that he and another person stole a laptop and three suitcases filled with clothes and other items from a guest at the Crystal Inn in Galloway Township. Pham said Friday afternoon that he was eventually sentenced to three years' probation and has one year remaining on his sentence.
Pham trained sporadically over the last few years, but only recently intensified his workouts after reuniting with trainer Chuck Eisenbeis.
Eisenbeis guided Pham, who grew up in Kissimee, Fla., near Orlando, during his amateur career. Pham had more than 100 amateur fights before losing in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. He then moved to Atlantic County with his cousin and conditioning coach, Victor Irezzary, and turned professional in 2009.
"I was very happy with the way he fought tonight," Eisenbeis said. "He only sparred six rounds for this, but he looked good. This is the best I've ever seen him. I think it's only a matter of time before he makes people take notice."
Pham campaigned early in his career as a super-middleweight (168 pounds), but now carries about 175 pounds on his lanky, 6-foot-5, frame. He used that size advantage to control Mitchell (2-3-2), keeping him at bay with crisp right jabs.
He got much more aggressive in the final round, after a head butt opened a cut on the corner of Pham's right eye. He countered with combinations and then landed a short right hook that put Mitchell on the canvas for the fight's only knockdown.
Judges Barbara Perez, Tony Perez and Joe Pasquale all had Pham winning 40-35, as did The Press.
"It felt good to get back in the ring again," said Pham, who also works as a bouncer at Delilah's Den in Atlantic City. "I don't know what it was, but I didn't feel as nervous this time. Maybe because I'm a little heavier now and I'm more comfortable in there. I opened up a little bit in the last round because I didn't want him to get blood-thirsty after I got cut."
Also on the undercard, Vineland junior-welterweight Omar Brito (2-1 KO) scored a four-round, unanimous decision over Johnathan Williams (0-2), of Allentown, Pa. Neptune cruiserweight Dave Valykeo (4-0), who trains in Lacey Township, lost two points for low blows but still gained a four-round, unanimous decision over hard-luck Brian Donahue (2-7-2), of Philadelphia.
Donahue's corner was livid after the fight and vowed to launch a protest with the New Jersey Athletic Control Board.
"It was (ticking) me off a little bit because I didn't know what was going on," Valykeo said. "I was putting him down with body shots and they were taking points away on some of them and scoring knockdowns on the same punches. It was ugly, but a win is a win. I'll take it."
Staten Island, N.Y., super-bantamweight Anthony Caramanno (1-0) thrilled his large fan base with a four-round, unanimous decision over Michael Varela (0-1), of Bethlehem, Pa. Both were making their pro debuts. Norfolk, Va., heavyweight Dorsett Barnwell (12-0, 5 KOs) shook off a left hand injury to win a six-round, unanimous decision over Jon Bolden (6-8, 5 KOs), of New York. Barnwell also decisioned Bolden two years ago in Atlantic City.
Punchlines: Saturday's card, promoted by Sal Musumeci of Final Forum Promotions, was the first pro boxing show staged at the Golden Nugget since 1998, when it was called Trump Marina. Proceeds from the show were to benefit a charity dedicated to fighting malnutrition in children.
"I'm actually hoping to make the Golden Nugget my Atlantic City home for boxing," Musumeci said. "It's a great property and the people here are great to work with."