GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Saturday morning July 25 promised to be a good day. It was hot, it was humid, but it was nice to see that everybody was able to gather and take the responsibility at a sporting event to follow the rules without panic.
The building that is home to the Gladden Boxing Club does not dominate the skyline, but it does stand out as a place where great things are being provided for this community.
The doors were unlocked a little after 8 a.m. and the Back to Business Boxing Show officially started, with fighters reporting for the weigh-in and boxing coaches getting checked in and tested. Plenty of reminders were also issued to observe social distancing and wearing a mask at all times.
The formerly unattached boxing team that calls Hernando County home, including fighters Jason Nguyen, Skyler Romero, and Wayne Wright, arrived at the gym with excitement of the competition. They were anxious to finish the first step of the day’s journey by weighing in.
Boxing coach Felix Montanez was also excited about his fighters arriving in good spirits and rested for Saturday’s event, but he was even happier because his team found a home and a sponsor.
Stepping up and making his way to the middle of the ring, owner of Lift More gym, Mike Olivia, likes what he sees from the fighters. He also respects the dedication that Montanez and boxing trainer Larry Thorogood bring to the sport of boxing and to this team.
The first fighter in the group from Hernando County and fighting in the 141 pound class was Skyler Romero who faced Cameron Ray. Under the hot tin roof, with the spotlight turned on, the bell signaled the start of the fight between Romero and Ray, the feeling of excitement did not fade away like the echo of the bell.
Romero went to work against Ray, both fighters kept looking for any advantage over the other. Ray used his height to his advantage, using it for a bigger reach against Romero.
Romero worked hard in the opening round, but a combination of a right hand and then a dominating left hand from Ray caught up Romero, who took a standing eight count midway in the first round. By the end of the round though, Romero discovered his offense against Ray.
At the start of the second round, Romero came back to the ring with a plan that was finding success by tying up Ray’s arms, by getting him pinned up against the ropes and moving him to the corner.
The consistency of the offense started to falter because that type of offense forced Romero to use a lot of energy. Ray got out of the corner, he moved off the ropes and was able to get into the middle of the ring. Using his reach, he landed a series of jabs and one punch seemed to move Romero back too much and he received another standing eight count at the 1:15 mark of the second round.
As the time expired in the second round, Romero once again found success with a flurry of body punches and backed Ray into the ropes. Here, he tried to take advantage of the situation, but time ran out and the second round ended.
In the third round both boxers had exerted a lot of energy and it was a round of survival for both fighters. There was no standing eight count and Romero tried to get Ray pinned up on the ropes, but it was time for Ray to use a smart defense and keep the fight close to the middle of the ring.
The judges scored the fight an unanimous decision and the fight was awarded to Ray.
“With Skyler, I will go over with him, if the guy’s taller and has the long arm reach what you should do is dig at the waist and then lift up and bend at the knees when the guy jabs,” Thorogood said after Romero’s fight. “He just needed to shrink the hit-zone. Something that we will work on.”
The next fight on the card was Romero’s team mate, Jason Nguyen stepped into the ring at 135 pounds and faced Alex Gregory.
Nguyen with a record of 4-1, walked to the middle of the ring for the meeting between the two fighters and the referee. His look was piercing, he was focused and he was planning on the offense against Gregory.
The bell sounded and Nguyen jumped up from his stool in the corner and went on the offense immediately with a flurry of body shots and then he made some good scoring punches with jabs. Nguyen kept scoring with his right hand and Gregory had to take a standing eight count.
Nguyen dominated the rest of the first round by landing a few more body punches and at the end of the first round both fighters retreated to their respective corners. This gave Gregory and his coach time to recommend to him to use the game plan.
Both fighters came out for the second round and Gregory went to work on getting his punches toward Nguyen quicker and shorter, which seemed to slow down the progress of Nguyen’s offense.
The heat caught up with Gregory along with the combination of Nguyen’s body punches and a series of jabs.
Gregory started to drop his hands to a dangerous level. Nguyen recognized that he had an opportunity to land a punch that could do some damage. He rushed the punch and missed the target.
With the sweat dripping, both fighters returned for the final round of the fight between Gregory and Nguyen. They moved toward the center of the ring, Nguyen went back to the offense that he used in the first round. With a flurry of combinations that found Gregory’s body he was forced to move into a defensive posture most of the round.
“It was a tough fight,” Nguyen said after the fight about Gregory. “He is like any other fighter and anyone in front of me and my mission is to take him out. That is with every fighter especially as an amateur they step in there with a lot of thoughts in their head.The heart starts beating and that is part of the game and that is normal.”
As the time in the round melted away, Gregory used a combination to score some points but fatigue took over the fight and both fighters began to slow down. Nguyen was ahead in points and won the fight with a unanimous decision.
“In the second round I was super tired,” Nguyen said. “But I put my heart out there and I took his heart and I poured everything that I had and got to the last round.”
Wayne Wright ended the day for the group of fighters from Hernando County in the 147 pounds class against Byron McIntyre.
Wright found the offense for his fight against McIntyre late in the fight. He just ran out of time to make a successful comeback and take home the trophy.
Wright’s success started when he began to attack McIntyre’s defense with body punches and forcing him to retreat. The momentum Wright found, forced McIntyre into making some mistakes by getting caught in the corner.
Wright appeared to score enough points, but lost the fight in a split decision to McIntyre. Wright’s overall record is now 1-2, his inexperience shown in the ring. Some of the punches that Wright landed sounded good but there was no follow through, so the power of the punch was never delivered.
“This is only Wayne’s third fight and we waited too long,” Thorogood said. “In amateur boxing in a close fight the judges will score the more aggressive fighter. I would love to see our guys be more aggressive.”
Thorogood stated after the event that his athletes worked hard during their fights but his fighters are still so young in their careers as boxers, so there is plenty of work ahead of them to get better for the next tournament.
Montanez was proud of his fighter performance, but he also appreciated the dedication to the safety of everybody that attended the Back to Business Boxing Show.
“I love to see number one the precaution being taken for the pandemic,” Montanez said before leaving the gym. “I am proud of all of them; they are all winners in my eyes and they gave 100 percent they gave everything that they had. We are going right back to the drawing board and tweaking some things that need to be tweaked and move forward. Losses are not life sentences, they are a life lesson.”
The final bell echoed at the end of the final bout of the day at the Gladden Boxing Club, the lights were turned off, the doors were shut and locked.
The show ended just as the sun started to set beyond the horizon and the rain clouds gathered to wash down the street, but it didn’t matter! According to Montanez it was a great day in Gainesville and I have to agree that it was!