The sun was still out on one of the first evenings of spring, and Quesnel residents of all ages were soaking it in after a particularly rough February.
Instead of joining them, a group of boxers stood along the ropes of Two Rivers Boxing Club’s ring and listened to some advice for their upcoming fights at Rumble 26 this Saturday (April 6).
They were exhausted after a grueling training session that saw them push their bodies to the limit and were trying to muster up the energy to spar one another.
Standing at the centre of the ring was recently retired bull rider and long-time Two Rivers member Matt O’Flynn.
No stranger to high-pressure situations, O’Flynn volunteered to come in and talk to the fighters, many of whom are early in their careers, about the mental preparedness needed to ready oneself for high-stress athletic situations.
It can be daunting playing any sport in front of a decent-sized crowd, but one where you have the well-trained fists of a savvy opponent flying at your face and torso is particularly unnerving.
O’Flynn, having a handful of fights under his belt and a career of trying to hang on to 1,000-pound horned and hoofed beasts in front of hooting and hollering crowds, is particularly qualified to talk about that stress.
“In your first five fights, you feel so many emotions before stepping into the ring,” he said. “When the pressure is on and everything is happening super fast on the day you get there, your brain is scrambled.
“Even if you’ve been in a stressful situation, you guys are going to feel a lot of things that you’ve never felt before.”
The fighters looked at each other nervously. The few who have had a couple bouts knew what he was talking about. The rest at least understood the minor fear they felt while sparring and could imagine the escalation when there are significantly more distractions.
“The most important thing for you guys to do in the next couple weeks to really prepare mentally is to visualize.
“As you climb into the ring to spar, as you’re standing doing bag drills with me, as I’m yelling at you and pushing you through; all you want to be doing is running in your mind what it will feel like stepping into this very same ring come fight time.
“The best thing I’ve ever learned is rehearsing.
“It’s all in your brain.”
O’Flynn implored the fighters to picture the gym filled with people. He asked them to think of their moms and dads and siblings and cousins and friends yelling in the second row.
“Think about what you guys are going to feel. What that will do is prepare you a little tiny bit for what you’re actually going to feel.
“You do all the mental work leading up to the fight and on the day of, you don’t allow yourself to think about what you’re going to do.
“We’ve already put the work in. We’ve already sweated and been yelled at and run through.
“So when the fights come, it’s going to be like second nature.
“You’re going to walk in here and BOOM, first round, guy falls over. Just like we rehearsed!
O’Flynn’s sister Melissa, 22, will be fighting in the main event.
Coach Wally Doern has never had a female main event, but he felt the time had come to put one on at the gym.
Some of the club’s best fighters, like Britynn “Hurricane” Carter are ladies, so it made sense.
Melissa has fought in two Rumble fight cards before, but they were exhibition matches. This bout will be a sanctioned match against Prince George fighter Robin Grant.
“I’m so excited,” Melissa says, “But I’m trying to keep the excitement down, so I can focus a little better.
In the weeks leading up the fight, she says she has been working on covering up a little bit more.
“I think my punches are good, but I’ve got to focus on covering up, throwing and covering back up again.”
Melissa credits her brother Matt and her fellow fighters for getting her psyched up before the upcoming bouts.
“It’s amazing. We’ve got each other’s backs and we’re all pumping each other up in the heavy bag room, yelling, ‘One more round guys! Let’s push! One more round!”’
Melissa will be joined on the card by southpaw extraordinaire Camille Logan.
The wily 13-year-old has two exhibition matches on her record and will be fighting in her first official bout.
She thinks she is ready.
“As long as I keep going for runs every day and keep my cardio going, I should be fine,” she says.
“I’ve been working mainly on my cardio and getting lots of upper cuts in.”
Being a left-handed fighter constantly throws her opponents off.
“When I step to my right, I throw a straight and then an overhand hook, and that gets them confused,” she says.
“Or if I’m on the ropes, I can always hook them and then get out of there, leaving them wondering where I am.”
Her fellow club mates have been confounded many a time by her ring hi-jinx, and now she hopes to use some of that same magic this Saturday.
Caleb Tetreault will be the youngest Two Rivers competitor on the card, but he is no stranger to competition, having fought in five bouts before this one.
Tetreault, 10, is coached by his father, Cam, who is a mainstay at the gym.
He always moves forward, never giving his foes an inch of space; ducking and dodging until he can uncork a big overhand right.
The young dynamo says he likes to observe his opponent and then cater his style to theirs.
“I kind of go with how my opponent is moving,” he says.
Tetreault adds he has been doing a lot of shadow boxing leading up to this event, as well as working on his conditioning.
In what is sure to be the first time of many, one of the Clancy family members will duck under the ropes and fight in a Rumble event.
Connor Clancy, 12, is one of four siblings who are among the gym’s hardest workers.
He has had some experience with MMA and kickboxing, but this will be his first western-style boxing event.
“I like going into the bag room and practising all the punches and combos I’ve been working on,” he says.
He adds that he attended the last Rumble and got some good pointers on how to conduct himself in the ring.
“I’ve been trying to see what other boxers do, so I can use that in my fights.”
One of the most exciting bouts from Rumble 25 in November was a match between good friends Noah Kennedy and Owen Crosssman.
The two 16-year-olds went toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow with one another, driving the crowd into a frenzy and drawing some blood to boot.
Crossman will put his iron chin and lion heart on display once again this weekend.
“I feel pretty good leading up to the fight,” he says. “Compared to the last match, I feel pretty stable.”
The young scrapper, who says he likes to emulate Mike Tyson, has been working on getting in close to his opponents and battering them with hooks.
Another young fighter who has come a long way with the club is Evan Lee.
The 13-year-old is quiet, but his fists can certainly tell a tale.
He is known for darting in and out, using his long reach to jab foes at will.
“I’ve been coming to the club now for five or six months,” he says. “I like the physical exertion [of the sport].”
Lee is hoping to use his power against a prospective opponent and get some good experience in the bargain.
Admir Hanic may be new to Two Rivers, but the 37-year-old knows how to handle himself in a ring.
When sparring, he switches stances at will and is comfortable throwing punches from all angles.
“I was in boxing when I was very young, so I’ve got a little experience and I’ve helped my friends train for boxing and MMA matches, so I know how to throw punches and should be pretty ready.
This will be Hanic’s first fight, and he is quite excited.
“I can’t wait to get in the ring and prove what I’ve got in front of my family and friends,” he says.
“I just want to have fun out there.”
Those looking to join in on the fun can show up to Two Rivers Boxing Club’s gym in the West Park Mall Saturday, April 6.
The card will have anywhere between a dozen and 14 fights, and action is all but guaranteed. The bouts will start at 7 p.m., but anyone who has been to previous events knows it is wise to show up well before to secure a good view of the action.