photo courtesy of Jeff Stockton Photography
For those of you who have not been to an amateur boxing tournament, I want to tell you: if you get a chance, you should go. The South Texas amateur boxing season heated up this past week with more than 300 people competing in the winner-take-a-gold-medal tournament, and it was well worth the $5 admission.
Amateur boxing is very different from professional boxing, though the characters both kinds of shows attract are quite similar. Headgear ensures less major injuries and makes knockouts infrequent, punches count independently of their relative power, and a standing 8 count gives a fighter who isn't answering punches a chance to recover and does not count against that fighter in the final score.
Fights are 3 rounds, 1 to 2 minutes long, which leads to the final and most significant difference between amateur and professional bouts: in the higher tier of amateur bouts, the fighters usually fight for the entire three rounds. I mean FIGHT. In my opinion, this is the major bonus of watching the amateurs--in comparison, the Latin Fury 10 fights bored me to sleep!
It doesn't hurt, at such a tournament, to be rooting for a winning team of fighters. I had that opportunity this weekend, sitting with an interesting new batch of Wolfepack fighters.
Many of you know Ann Wolfe as the trainer of professional fighter James Kirkland, whose career is currently 'on ice'. Having learned to cope with any and every kind of situation, Ms. Wolfe embodies the spirit of a phoenix, and she has risen through the ashes of poverty, homelessness, professional barriers, and injuries. Most recently, she has risen over crushing disappointment, after her dreams of guiding a champion boxer all the way to the top were also put on ice.
Literally, within a week of Kirkland's arrest, Ms. Wolfe attracted a new bunch of boxers, The new boxers included siblings nicknamed Sweet'n'low, Ru, and Diamond, who were recent immigrants from Africa, and happened to have a natural talent for the sport. Other new boxers included a guy who had come over from another gym, a guy who had been at the gym for a while and had recently decided to fight, and a quiet white boy nicknamed Zeus.
For the past 3 months, Ms. Wolfe has worked these boxers out morning and night, taking them through physical hellishness of a kind only she can inflict. The gym is closed in during the Austin summer heat, and it is only after a physical suffering barrier has been met and crossed that she relieves the boxers with a breeze through the opening of the warehouse door. She puts one of them in one corner while the others take turns fighting that one for 1 1/2 minute rounds, to teach each one about reaching down for heart within the extreme exhaustion that will come after the adrenaline rush that accompanies each boxer up the stairs into the ring. Et cetera.
At the Games, it was obvious that this intense level of preparation worked. As is often the case for Ann's Wolfepack, her team stole the show, bringing home 10 gold medals from the 12 boxers fighting from her gym. The boxers, even the two who lost, fought hard, obviously punching even through exhaustion and pushing many of their opponents into purely defensive stances. In addition to the intensity of the training camp, other keys to this success include the fact that Ann, famous for hard punching, teaches the boxers how to hurt their opponents. Another, pressure. As Ms. Wolfe likes to say, "Pressure's a bitch."
Finally, a secret ingredient is the feeling of family that pervades the Ann Wolfe Boxing Gym and Ann's commitment to nurturing each of her fighters. I was lucky to get a taste of her support in my short amateur career, and I can remember the first time Ann wrapped my hands. It was before my first fight. In the new, intimidating environment, all I knew to do was to follow Ann, quietly, through the handwrapping ritual. I have always valued ritual, and I knew I needed to use my 10 or so minutes with Ann before the fight to soak up knowledge and wisdom from her, from her calm, steely demeanor.
She turned a chair around backwards so I could sit on it with my hands over the top. She wrapped quietly for the first few minutes. Every turn of the gauze was exact. First she ran a length of cotton around my knuckles, loosely, again and again until the roll was done. Then she took this roll and put it across the length of my knuckles, for padding. Then she started on the next roll, to wrap my hands and wrists. Finally she looked up at me with a wry smile. “You scared?” she asked. “Yes,” I said clearly. “Everybody gets scared before a fight,” she said. “It’s a good thing, it’ll make you ready.”
If you need more convincing, you should know that today's amateur boxers need the support of boxing fans. These boxers are the hope for boxing's future. Boxing's hungriest stars come from trying circumstances, and many boxing gyms exist only because boxing fans support them. Wherever you may be--consider finding a local gym in your area, meet the boxers, find out what they may need, be it new handwraps or help with rent at the gym. Who knows, you may one day be sitting, cheering at a tournament while your boxers take home the gold!