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In this corner, boxing is a hit



Published: Sun, April 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



There was a time when I wouldn't give boxing a chance.

I didn't want to hear about who was fighting who, what belt was on the line or how many weight classes there were.

Nearly 10 years ago, when I graduated from high school, about the only thing I knew about boxing was this: Mike Tyson.

Tyson always intrigued me. If he wasn't destroying an opponent inside the ring, he was doing something absurd -- and illegal -- outside of it.

Of course, I didn't favor his crazy antics, but the potential he showed early in his career and the incredible punching power he possessed was enough to draw me in.

A whole new world

Outside of Tyson, I didn't know what was going on in the boxing world, nor did I want to.

But then I went to college, where one meets so many different people with so many different hobbies. You're thrown together with people your own age. You live with them. You listen and you learn.

There was one particular individual living across the hall from me who was filled with a wealth of boxing knowledge.

Still, none of us would give his sport much of a chance. Others, hearing the negative news that many boxers would make outside of the ring, simply made fun of it. Some found its brutality appalling.

What impressed me then was that knowledge he possessed. Seemingly, he knew every boxer in every weight class, the sport's historic bouts, its legendary figures. He told stories of the fights he had been to, the boxers he met.

When something in one's life is so important, you can't help but listen and be open-minded -- no matter the subject.

I learned boxing wasn't just two people taking turns pounding each other with their gloves. There was strategy and skill involved. There had to be dedication to training and conditioning.

Youngstown connection

My interest peaked in the sport when the college fellow began talking about the rich history of Youngstown-area boxing, the careers of boxers such as Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, Earnie Shavers and Harry Arroyo.

The biggest name in Youngstown boxing today is Kelly Pavlik, 20, a super middleweight who has a 12-0 record, with 12 knockouts.

The college fellow also had heard of Pavlik.

When Pavlik made his professional debut in Youngstown last November, I wanted to see for myself what he -- and the sport -- had to offer. So we went.

The support for Pavlik that night was impressive, and the entourage that followed him into the ring seemed endless. If I learned anything that night, it was that boxing is still alive and well in Youngstown -- and Pavlik can punch hard.

But I also learned that boxing thrives on its entertainment value -- the people inside and outside of the ring, the personalities, the anticipation of what's to come. That is all part of the excitement.

Since that November night, I've attended two more cards, including the David Tua-Fres Oquendo heavyweight showdown a week ago at Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort.

That night was capped off when Tua moved Oquendo against the ropes in the ninth round, stunned him with his power and won with a technical knockout.

As soon as the referee stopped the fight, thousands of fans rose to their feet and broke loose in thunderous celebration while Tua climbed the ropes, fired his arms into the air and succumbed to the emotion of the moment.

I, too, felt that emotion and, in the process, came to a decision.

There was a time when I wouldn't give boxing a chance.

Times change.

XBrian Richesson is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write to him at richesson@vindy.com.




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