A day doesn't go by when Raheem Whitaker can't think about what could have been.
He was a two-time, first-team All-American wrestler at Cuyahoga Community College in the mid-1990's, finishing in the top five at the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament twice. He competed with Matt Hughes, now a UFC fighter, and after being recruited by national powerhouse Iowa State, he enrolled at Upper Iowa University.
Entering the 1996 season, Whitaker was ranked No. 1 in the country at 149 pounds, but he dislocated his shoulder.
"It still haunts me," Whitaker said. "I have nightmares of not being a national champ."
Wrestling on the mat for years launched him to a career outside of the ring - in boxing. He managed professional fighters, including Lenzie Morgan and Jesse Williams, for 12 years. He even trained with professional female boxers.
"We had a chance to go up against Laila Ali in some preliminary bouts," Whitaker said. "Some of the girls were the best around."
Longtime friend, Pat Nelson, managed his brother, Etianne, and father, Ralph, who fought in more than 80 professional bouts. Whitaker started his managerial career in Columbus.
He's traveled to nearly every state and a few countries with his boxers.
Now, he's back in Warren. He misses the glitz and glamour, but wouldn't have it any other way.
The 1992 Warren G. Harding graduate coaches at the Warren Wrestling Club and STEAM Academy where he also is a recruiter for the charter school. He still stays close to his boxing roots and is currently training two Harding students, freshman Chance Rucker and junior Andre Henderson in the K.O. Drugs tournament held in Campbell.
It's just a small part of his grand plan that could turn those nightmares into sweet dreams.
Whitaker is in the early stages of opening a gym solely for boxing on Elm Road, near Edgewood. The 17,000 square-foot complex once housed a print shop and video store. He's got the permit, a ring and some punching bags and is ready to add more equipment for a grand opening in June.
"I want to bring boxing back to Warren," he said. "We have talented guys out there and can compete at the amateur and professional level."
Henderson is one pupil who has seen benefits, already, and has potential in the sport.
"I'm definitely new to it, but I really like it," Henderson said. "Raheem is a great guy to learn from."
Whitaker, 38, hosts young athletes at his westside garage where he has boxing bags and wrestling mats. Soon, it will be transferred to his new, bigger location though the gym is not yet named.
"There's so many guys in the area that want to try it and fight," he said. "So many people have said, 'When are you starting the gym?' I want the gym to be a safe place to keep kids off the street. I want to see them win and mostly get in shape."
His neighbors already call him 'coach.' He's known as a mentor and trailblazer, too, but it won't be long before citizens of Warren refer to Whitaker as 'hero.'