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Bricked into Henry Milligan's brain is the idea that he's about to become the next Olympic heavyweight boxing champ. Milligan has this notion even though he has been boxing only 2½ years and he's too short for his division, not to mention too light, too awkward, too slow and too nice. On top of that, he got creamed last month by Aurelio Toyo of Cuba. Still, Milligan is America's reigning amateur heavyweight champion and, though he weighs just 184 pounds, our best hope for a medal in the 201-pound class. And, despite his drawbacks, he's long on heart and athletic ability and has one great attribute: whamming fists. His 40-5 record includes 30 KOs, 20 in the first round.
The 26-year-old Milligan is surely the only world-class amateur boxer who has an Ivy League degree. His is in civil engineering, conferred by Princeton in 1981. The only other accomplished boxer to come out of Princeton was middleweight Robert Cohn, who punched out Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises.
"Henry has an unusual background for a fighter," says Sam Hickman, an Olympic boxing instructor who ran Joe Frazier's gym in North Philly for 12 years. "He hasn't held up any banks, he hasn't done any time in the pen, and his mother and father probably didn't beat on him when he was a kid."
Milligan plays down the novelty of his background. He describes himself in prosaic terms. "I'm a typical white Irish fighter," he says, peering down the crooked cliff of his nose. "I'm not fluid and I don't move real well."
Milligan got into boxing because of a newspaper story. He'd never even been in a ring until three years ago, although he was an All-America wrestler in college. When he graduated, he went to work for Delmarva Power and Light Company in Wilmington, Del., about 15 miles from the house he grew up in. But he wasn't happy.
"The one thing that I want to do is box," he told his younger brother, Mike.
"Then do it," Mike said.
"But what's Mom gonna think?"
"It doesn't matter. You're 23 and a big guy."
A Wilmington promoter and trainer named Charles Messina was quoted in the News-Journal as saying that he was looking for heavyweights. Milligan volunteered. Messina is a street-wise former state heavyweight champ, and he was skeptical because Milligan was born on the right side of the tracks.