ATLANTIC CITY — With his professional boxing career in limbo, Isiah Seldon spent last summer working on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
He spent last fall living under it.
The 27-year-old had been working for the Atlantic City Tram Car Service. Because he didn’t have a commercial driver’s license, he served as a conductor, collecting money and offering advice to riders.
“It was great,” Seldon said. “I was making $11 an hour plus tips. Because I know the city and speak English, I was pretty popular. I’d get $20 just for telling guys where to find the best strip clubs. Then they called me in one day and said they were cutting back.”
No longer able to afford the $60-a-day motel room he was living in, he took to the streets.
That meant sleeping in abandoned cars and sometimes spreading a beach towel on the sand beneath the boards. When Seldon, the son of former heavyweight champion Bruce Seldon, needed food, he asked friends for some help.
“Being Bruce Seldon’s son, I had a lot of pride,” he said. “But when you get in that situation, pride goes out the window. You don’t worry about pride when you have to go to your friends and say, ‘I don’t want any money, but if you have anything in that fridge for me, I’d appreciate it.’”
Bruce, now 49, was the World Boxing Association champion in 1995 and 1996. He lost the title to Mike Tyson on a controversial first-round knockout.
Bruce helped train Isiah early in his career, but he has not been involved recently. Isiah said he has essentially been on his own since he was a teenager at Mainland Regional High School. During his junior and senior years at Mainland in 2005 and 2006, for example, he lived at Covenant House in Atlantic City, which is a shelter for homeless youths.
“We have a good relationship. We have a decent bond,” Isiah said. “He’s more of like a best friend and a mentor.”
Local boxers and mixed martial arts fighters are going to be busy this weekend.
Bruce will be in attendance tonight, however, when Isiah (7-1, 3 KOs) returns to boxing for the first time in nearly three years when he faces Paterson’s Michael Mitchell at the Claridge Hotel. The scheduled six-round fight will be his first since June 27, 2013, when he suffered his first professional defeat via decision to Lekan Byfied in Essington, Pennsylvania.
Although he hasn’t been in a ring since that bout, Isiah has been hit with his share of punches, some of which landed below the belt.
But each time it appears as if he was going to be counted out, he has gotten up.
“It’s been a tough few years,” Isiah said. “I’ve had to go through a lot of adversity.”
He wasn’t talking about his boxing career.
He was talking about his life.
Three years ago, Isiah was living in a condo in Somers Point with his fiance, whom he did not want to name. When he wasn’t training at the Atlantic City Police Athletic League gym, he was working at a local Big Lots store.
After Friday’s weigh-in, Isiah hitched a ride to a run-down motel in the West Atlantic City section of Egg Harbor Township, one of the few motels on the Black Horse Pike that hasn’t been razed.
It’s where he has lived for the past few months.
It’s actually an upgrade.
Just after losing to Byfield, he went through a “very bad” breakup with his fiance, was forced out of the condo and was fired from Big Lots. Without a job or a place to live, he wandered the streets of Atlantic City.
He would pick up odd jobs here and there, but when layoffs happened, he was the first to go.
Meanwhile, his boxing career, like his life, was going nowhere.
As thrilled as I was to be inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame on Thursday nigh…
He would venture into the gym once in a while, but lacked the focus and discipline to keep at it. The potential he had shown after turning pro in 2010 began to fade.
“Isiah didn’t have an amateur career, so he jumped into the fire feet first,” said Jim Kurtz, Seldon’s manager and a Buena Vista Township resident. “Even though he’s Bruce’s son, he didn’t realize that when boxing is your job, you have to dedicate yourself to it 24-7. It’s not just about showing up for fights. It’s about training every day, watching your weight, listening to what your trainers are telling you.”
Isiah found other ways to make money. He traded in his sparring head gear for a bandana and began selling drugs.
“My goal was to make $70 a day,” he said. “I needed $60 a day for my motel room and $10 to eat.”
A few months ago, Isiah was riding in a car bound for Trenton to pick up what he described as “a major package.” The car was pulled over for a motor-vehicle violation. Police discovered he had a warrant for failure to pay a number of fines for a series of minor infractions.
He served three months in the Atlantic County jail in Mays Landing until he worked off his debt.
“I was actually pretty lucky,” he said. “We were pulled over on our way to Trenton. If we had been pulled over on our way back (to Atlantic City), I would have been in major trouble. But I was in jail just long enough to realize I didn’t want to go back. People I didn’t know from a can of paint were coming up to me and asking why I was there.”
Determined to turn around his life and career, Isiah went back to the PAL about two months ago and resumed working out with veteran trainer Bill Johnson. He contacted Millville-based Rising Promotions in hopes of landing a spot on Saturday’s card.
He also had a long talk with Kurtz, who was rightfully skeptical about Isiah’s commitment.
“I told him I would be his manager again as soon as he proved to me that he was serious,” Kurtz said. “I made him set up this fight himself.”
Besides training, Isiah also got a job at a local Wawa, which helps him pay for the motel room. He’s planning on taking courses at a vocational school in hopes of becoming a plumber.
But he admitted that until a month ago, he was still selling drugs.
“I’ve always wanted to make something of myself,” Isiah said. “I’d much rather be operating on people’s brains than getting mine beat in. But it’s tough when your best friend is a drug dealer and you see him walking around with a wad of cash, driving a nice car and living in a condo while you’re living in a motel on the Black Horse Pike.
“It’s easy to lose faith when you’re running for so long and can’t see the finish line. But I never lost my faith in God. I’ve always believed He has a plan for me. Now, finally, I can see the finish line.”