This Saturday’s (Nov. 24) Rumble 25 at Two Rivers Boxing in Quesnel will see a number of fighters from a wide range of ages duck under the ropes and enter the ring competitively for their first time.
Playing any sport for the first time in front of a cheering crowd can be daunting, but a combat sport is certainly a step above when it comes to nerves.
As head coach of Two Rivers, Wally Doern has a number of responsibilities when it comes to ensuring his boxers are in the best possible situation.
“As long as they’re in good shape and are at a certain skill level, then I’m OK with it,” Doern says while standing at the desk of his club, just prior to one of the last sparring sessions before the big event.
“But I will say that even through all the years that I’ve been doing this, when I bring anybody to the ring, especially a newcomer, I feel nervous.
“It almost makes me feel like it’s my first time.”
He tries to counter the fear by giving some timely advice on things to remember to the fighter about to box. Doern keeps it simple, so there is not too much information swirling around in their head when they need to be focused.
“Keep your guard up and practise all the things you’ve been taught,” he says. “Before you know it, the bout will be over and they’ll decide who won or lost.”
Jacob Wight, 14, is one of the newer members to the club, but onlookers wouldn’t guess it if they saw him in the ring.
Although he has only been training for five or six weeks, he has developed into a sneaky lefty with excellent movement, who favours a nasty looping hook to end combinations.
Older fighters have felt that hook and had to shake their head in disbelief that they have been caught with it.
“I feel pretty confident heading into the fight,” he says. “I’ve been working on slips and saving my energy and have started running, too.”
When asked what he feels the secret to success in the ring is, he says, “just try my best.”
Owen Crossman and Noah Kennedy, both 16, will be fighting one another in an exhibition match. They are good friends who have been boxing for about a year.
Crossman is a scrappy young man who doesn’t give an inch in the ring, coming forward no matter what is thrown at him. He has some power in his right hand and is not afraid to show it when the chips are down.
“I always wanted to learn how to fight and protect myself,” he says, and figured he would try a fight in the ring to see if he liked it or not.
“I’m always a little tense,” he adds, when talking about how he feels while boxing. “But I guess you get used to it after a while.”
His buddy Kennedy is a wiry, natural puncher who bounces around the ring, picking his shots at will.
“I’m fairly good at keeping range,” he says of his ability. “I’m trying to work on my in-fighting but for now I’m more of an outboxer.”
While he shows some restraint at the club, he feels he will let loose against an opposing club’s fighter when he gets his first competitive match.
“If I fight one of my friends then it’s just going to be me having some fun, but if I get an opponent then I’m going to unleash.”
Many families train at Two Rivers Boxing and among them, the O’Haras are probably the most recognizable.
The kids, who have been training for around a year, have all fallen in love with the sport.
Darby, 14, and Ryley, 16, are both fighting exhibition matches against some of the club’s more experienced boxers.
Ryley is a very big 16-year-old but is deceptively light on his feet with some of the quickest hands in the gym. He pummels the speed bag like few others.
Boxing has been a godsend for him.
‘It’s been tremendous,” he says. “It’s a good way to handle my anger issues.”
Getting the opportunity to tire oneself out with vigorous physical activity can calm most people. Add in the ability to smash a heavy bag or hit some pads with all your might and even the most worked-up person will be properly soothed.
“It gives me the capacity to control my breathing,” he says. “And control how fast my heart’s going.”
He likes that the sport is an individual one but there is still a team that backs the fighter up.
Ryley has been working hard with the team on a few things to look sharp for his first time in the ring. “I’m trying to keep my head in motion to make sure I get hit less, and have been working on how fast my counter-punches are.”
His sister Darby is a competitive swimmer whose endurance often helps her win the weekly skipping competitions at the gym.
She picked the sport up very quickly, often beating many of the guys her age and older.
Like all the boxers mentioned in this article, she has bought into the club in a big way.
“I like everything. I like the warm up and the training and the punching,” Darby says. “And I like all the people here. It’s great that everybody wants to be here and wants to get better.”
Even though many of the first-time fighters are young athletes, there are a couple who will be stepping inside the ring for their first time fairly late in life for a boxer.
Kyle Anderson, 27, has been a staple at the club for just over a year.
He fell in love with the sport after seeing the supermatch between Connor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather last fall.
“I think I was the only one that watched the whole card,” he says. “And I realized it’s pretty interesting.”
Newcomers to the gym can tell Anderson is a natural athlete. Although he may be picking up boxing a little late, he has a lot of experience playing hockey and rugby at high levels, so is not afraid of the rough and tumble aspect of the sport.
He is taller and in possession of a sharp jab which has popped the nose of many he has sparred with.
“I came for the fitness only and never had any intentions to fight,” he says. “But after working so hard, my confidence grew and I wanted to challenge myself, so win or lose, as long as I step in the ring, I’ll be happy.”
Anderson is excited to showcase some of the skills he has developed in front of the crowd.
“It’ll be great. I have lots of people coming out to support me and I feel comfortable in my home club.”
“Having everyone in the club here too to support me will be amazing.”
Chris Heaton, 37, has been training with Doern since before the coach took over Two Rivers Boxing.
“We would train in his backyard on days that were nice out,” he says. “And on days that it was raining, we’d go over to my friend’s [place] because he had a covered carport.”
Heaton, who has been active in wrestling, submission grappling and traditional martial arts for most of his life, has tried to get a match many times, but he has never made it into the ring.
It is possible his physique might have something to do with his opponents mysteriously dropping out so often.
He may not be a tall man, but he has muscles coming out of his muscles.
Heaton is as pleasant as can be to chat to at the gym but to see him spar is like watching an attack dog take down a suspect.
“I bring a determination,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of boxing matches and I don’t think anybody brings the determination to win the fight like I’m going to bring.
“A lot of guys bring skills, they bring cardio, but they start getting hit and the fight doesn’t go their way and you see them shutting down and I’m going to bring it.”
Although this (might) be his first fight, Heaton feels he has little to prove. “I already feel like I compete and spar with some of the best that this town has to offer,” he says. “I’ve also gone to other towns and I’ve always been able to hold my own.
“It’ll be nice, not so much for myself but for my friends and family to see what I do because they know all the time that I spend away from home and they will be able to come and see the culmination of all this hard work and what it’s meant to me.”
Doern is particularly impressed by the boxers who are longer in the tooth but giving the sport a shot for their first time.
“The majority of people start boxing when they’re kids or in their teens and to see these older fellas step in there, I would say it takes a lot of courage, so I just make sure they’re prepared to the best of their ability and matched evenly.”
For those interested in seeing a display of courage, come down to Two Rivers Boxing on Saturday (Nov. 24). Doors open at 6 p.m and fights will start at 7 p.m.
READ MORE: Quesnel boxer storms through Portland