Tamerlan Tsarnaev: Did Loss Of Boxing Title Lead Him to Radicalize?


Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a budding boxer until his dreams were derailed in 2010.

The New York Times reports that the 26-year old, who was killed in a shoot-out in Boston earlier this month in connection with the Boston Marathon bombings, was barred from the National Tournament of Champions for not being a United States citizen immediately after his second consecutive title as Golden Gloves heavyweight champion of New England.

Tamerlan is described as a "cocksure" fighter for his reportedly presumptuous and arrogant attitudes and flashy fashion sense "partial to white fur and snakeskin." His only other interests at the time were devotion to Islam, and he was known to be an "ultra-respecful and ultra-religious" boxer around the New England boxing community.

Nonetheless, he was passionate about boxing, and was looking to redeem himself at the national tournament after his defeat in the first round a year earlier. The tournament changed its eligibility rules during the year, leaving Tamerlan adrift and open to hateful radicalization under the alibi of devotion to Islam.

His boxing hopes and struggles with American life were documented in a 15 image photo essay by photographer Johannes Hirn titled "Will Box For Passport." Under one of the photographs of Tamerlan boxing, there was quote by him that has already been repeated often by the media in the last few weeks: “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.”

Interviews with friends, family, and boxing colleagues help piece together Tamerlan's potential path to radicalization. John Allan, owner of the Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts Center in Boston, summarized the duality of Tamerlan's existential struggles:

“Tamerlan was an amazing boxer, one of the top boxers in New England ... Even thought he wasn’t professional, he would floor the top professional boxers in New England ... He talked about [Islam] a lot. He always kept his shirt on. He did not like swearing at all. In fact, he had a big problem with the boxing gyms he was training at because he thought they were very disrespectful because they used foul language and joked around a lot and weren’t what he considered professional."

Friends say his ineligibility for the 2010 national tournament was a turning point of Tamerlan's ideology. Even though he tried to describe his veering away from boxing as a personal choice, those near him track his thought processes as a victim as leading to his growing frustration with American society. This was further spurred on by a stalled citizenship application even though his younger brother was naturalized last year.

Tamerlan's six month trip to Russia last year is being investigated as a likely explanation into his further radicalization. Hints of this had started to appear in his normal life though, as Allan's description of Tamerlan's most recent visit to the Martial Arts Center shows:

“He was very disrespectful. Walking on the jiu-jitsu mats with his shoes on, which is very disrespectful. Using equipment that wasn’t his without asking. I asked for his contact information to tell him he wasn’t welcome back. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never had a problem like that with him."