Bernard Hopkins, my first fight, and 9/11 – part one

justin22I’ve written about how I got started in the sport, my first sparring experience, and then difficulty I had in finding a gym in rural Pennsylvania back in the late 1990s.  Now it’s time to discuss my first amateur fight.  I was set to fight on a Saturday in mid-September, but it was cancelled due to a national emergency.

The couch and yes, I was dancing.

The couch. Yes, I was dancing

The weight classes for USA Boxing were slightly different than they are today.  Back in 2001, I was getting myself down to 147 pounds.  I walked around in the high 150s, so it wasn’t too difficult to get to that weight, but I wasn’t content to just get down in weight: I wanted to be well-prepared.

I spent a lot of time at the gym.  I also spent a lot of time running throughout my town.  Remember Tae-Bo?  I used to do the basic video as a warm-up before leaving  my apartment and into the streets for my long runs.  When I wasn’t working a 12 hour shift, overnight at the factory, I was passed-out on the couch in the living room of the apartment Amy & I shared.

At the gym, Larry Angeles was fine-tuning my punches and technique.  One of the things I really appreciated about Coach Angeles’ approach to training was that if something worked, he didn’t try to change it.  Although I was a shorter fighter with a short reach, I was able to get in and out, landing power shots on the inside, but also fast, long range shot from the outside.  Though my long range shots didn’t carry much power, they still connected and that’s what counts.  Some trainers would have taken one look at my footwork and said that I move too much.  Fact is, I was able to hit and not get hit.

Dean Williams

Dean Williams

One day my coach wanted me to spar a cruiserweight named Dean Williams.  I never say no to my coach, but my brain was telling me not to do it.  I was apprehensive because I heard stories about him knocking guys’ teeth out, breaking their ribs, and just busting opponents up with his power.  I had faith in my defense so through the ropes I went.  My friend Amy was there to witness it all.  I don’t recall much about that sparring session except that I made Dean look like he was shadowboxing the air, because it was not me he was hitting.  The few times he did hit me, through the hand wraps and gloves, I felt his knuckles.  This guy did hit hard.  That made me slip, roll, and step-off more often.  I can’t be perfect all the time; at one point, as I was rolling from a punch, Dean threw an over-extended right (he was reaching) that connected to the side of my head.  Between stepping away from him and the power of that shot, my feet came off the canvas.  I finished off the session by doing a Willie Pep impression; I didn’t want to feel his power anymore.

After it was all done, I cooled down, stretched, then sat down with Amy on a bench in the gym.  Dean walked by me and said that I had very good footwork.  Seeing my style these days, you wouldn’t think that, but it was true.  My footwork was pretty amazing then.

The fight was getting closer.  I found out that Felix Trinidad was going to challenge Bernard Hopkins for Hopkins’ IBF Middleweight title on the same night I was going to make my amateur debut.  Knowing that a boxer who’s skill and style I admired, namely Hopkins, was fighting on the same day as I gave me a boost.  On Saturday, September 15th, I was going to make my amateur debut.

It was fight week and the nights at the factory dragged.  On Tuesday  morning of that week, Amy and I clocked out and drove home, I went straight to bed.  Usually I would stay up for a bit, but I was very tired this day and crashed on the couch.  I slept on that couch more than in my bed.  Well,  I was only a sleep for about 2 hours when I was being awakened by Amy.  After my vision brought everything into focus, I could see Amy had tears in her eyes.  I asked her what was wrong.  She told me we were being attacked.  I needed more information because I was still half-asleep.  She calmed down enough to tell me that the Twin Towers were hit with airliners piloted by terrorists.  I couldn’t grasp the reality of what she was saying.  I thought it was a sick joke.  She turned the television on for me and I sat up on the couch, still wrapped up in a sheet while a reporter spoke to the camera with the towers covered in smoke.  I think we all can remember where we were and what we were doing when we found out about this. I don’t need to relive in its entirety one of the most tragic days this country has ever had.

This is a very long post so I’ve broken this down into two parts.  Part two coming soon – the first fight.

About the Author

Justin M. Salvato
Justin M. Salvato is the creator & owner of BOXING 4 FREE. He's a former amateur boxer, former USA Boxing coach, and former boxing fitness instructor. These days he enjoys vintage computing, retro video games, and talking tech. He also writes a blog about the Coleco ADAM computer and Life with Microsoft.

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