By Sgt. Ian IvesJuly 20, 2016
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Walking into Pearlside Boxing and Fitness in Kapolei, Hawaii, amidst the smell of old sweat, worn leather, the swish-snap of jump ropes, speed bags, and '80s rock music, a modest champion can be found contributing to the daily grind.
Standing at about six feet tall, with a pleasant demeanor and almost awkward physique, this simple Soldier transforms into a machine of focus and power as he begins his regimen. Never stopping for more than a few seconds, the 21-year-old does not take his mind off the target: to become an Olympic champion.
After becoming the All-Army boxing champion for two consecutive years, Spc. Adrian ''Terminator'' Tillman, a Human Resources Specialist with 25th Sustainment Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, is now making preparations for a move to Fort Carson, Colorado, to join the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program to train for a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team.
Growing up in Riverside, California, Tillman began his boxing career after prompting from his grandfather at the age of 12.
"I first got into boxing to try and lose weight," said Tillman. "My grandfather would take me to the gym that he would train at, and over time, I began losing weight. I then decided that I would stick with boxing and begin competing."
After switching to another gym, Tillman found his niche in the boxing world and dedicated a part of his life to it. Unlike most teenagers, the juggle of school life and the gym were not a problem for him.
"It was actually pretty easy to box and keep up with school," said Tillman. "I would go to class each day, and after school, I'd walk to the gym to box. That would leave me with a few hours when I got home to do schoolwork and get ready for the next day."
By his senior year of high school, Tillman had built a reputation for himself. At 17 years old, he was offered the chance to become a professional boxer. It was a tough decision for him to make on his own.
"I was originally going to go into pro-boxing right out of high school," said Tillman. "My mother helped talk me out of it explaining how joining the military would help me get an education. She would tell me that if boxing or the military didn't work out for me that I would at least have an education to fall back on, so I joined the Army."
Throughout his training to become a Soldier, Tillman's mind was never far from boxing. From monitoring his weight during Basic Combat Training to thinking about where to train next, boxing was still very much under his skin.
After learning he would be stationed at Schofield Barracks with the 45th Sustainment Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, (now the 25th Sustainment Brigade) Tillman began searching for a gym to begin the next chapter in his boxing career. As fate would have it, he found the perfect place: Pearlside Boxing and Fitness, owned and coached by Eiichi Jumawan.
"Coach Eiichi Jumawan's credentials are what made me ultimately decide to join Pearlside Boxing," said Tillman. "What I didn't want was to go to a gym where the coach wasn't very involved with competing."
Jumawan, a native of Wahiawa, Hawaii, is no stranger to competitive boxing, having been placed on the same U.S. National Boxing Team as Sugar Ray Leonard in 1976 and retiring from his professional boxing career undefeated. With his background, Jumawan was ideally suited to steer Tillman toward becoming a champion through intense training and competing as much as possible.
"Adrian is like a sponge, he just absorbs everything," said Jumawan. "Every little detail, no matter how subtle it is; he is able to absorb it and make it natural to his technique. He really loves the sport and is always wanting to learn more."
Tillman hit the ground running, impressing Jumawan with his natural ability. He was offered his first fight after only a few weeks of training at Pearlside, which he won. His first victory in Hawaii was a bittersweet one; once again his boxing career would be put on hold as duty called for his unit to deploy to Kandahar, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2014 to 2015.
"I was thinking about boxing all the time during my deployment," said Tillman. "I was always training to keep in shape, from working out with my friends to sparring occasionally with other people who boxed. Once I got back from deployment, I hopped right back into training at my gym. I had decided that I wanted to try out for the All-Army Boxing team after a friend of mine had told me about it."
The All-Army Tournament takes place annually at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where distinguished boxers from throughout the Army come together to compete. Tillman fought his first tournament in the super heavyweight division, which he won despite his recent return from deployment. Though his win was monumental for Tillman, it posed a new problem for him in the Hawaii boxing scene.
"The hardest thing about working with Adrian was trying to find him a fight," admitted Jumawan, laughing. "After he won the All-Army title no one wanted to fight him."
Eventually, a few brave souls dared to challenge the "Terminator" in the ring, but none prevailed. With the momentum from his win at the All-Army Tournament, Tillman went on to become the Hawaii State Super Heavyweight Champion in 2015 and Heavyweight Champion in 2016.
With a new year came a new All-Army Boxing Tournament, which Tillman naturally signed up for, this time as a heavyweight. This year, the competition looked tough in the form of an Army lieutenant from Korea.
"In the beginning, I was pretty nervous about the fight," said Tillman. "I had never trained with this guy, let alone watched him fight, and he was pretty stocky. Once the fight started though and we threw our first punches, I knew I was going to win. I listened to what my corner was telling me and by the third round the referee stopped the fight due to a technical knockout, making me the winner."
Claiming his second All-Army title, the "Terminator" caught the interest of scouts from the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Colorado. Shortly after Tillman submited a packet to the program, he was informed that he had been accepted and soon received orders to leave the 25th Sustainment Brigade.
Though the move means Tillman will no longer be able to train at Pearlside Boxing and Fitness, Jumawan sees a bright future ahead for the boxer.
"There is a saying that goes, 'boxers train when a fight comes up, but a champion trains everyday,'" he said. "Adrian trains like a champion every day. Whether there is a fight or not, he always puts in 110 percent. He is a special kind of athlete; you don't find guys like him anywhere."
Once Tillman joins the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, he will begin a four-year training program to prepare for tryouts for the 2020 Olympic Boxing Team and the opportunity to make his dream of becoming an Olympic Champion come true.