On a weekend evening, hundreds of people gather for fight night.
They cheer for two boxers, who punch, jab and defend their way through round after round in the ring.
In the end one emerges victorious, sometimes by knockout and other times after the judges reveal their scoring. Records improve or fall, momentum will be gained or lost, and fans applaud the winner and await the next two competitors.
That scene occurs at boxing events all over the country, as professional and amateur fighters compete in front of fans for a shot at advancing their career. It could be in New York, or Las Vegas, or Atlantic City.
It also happens in Wesley Chapel.
The American Olympic League hosts regular boxing events at its home, 5807 Ellerbee Road in Wesley Chapel. The organization trains athletes and has classes in disciplines such as boxing, wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai. But their regular fight nights draw hundreds, and the next event on May 3 will feature several amateur boxers of all age ranges who are ready to show off their skills in the ring.
“It’s amazing the talent that you can find, you see these kids have ambition and you see it carry through with their skill level,” said Carlos Valle, who serves as general manager and promoter.
The boxing events normally feature between 17 and 20 fights, with competitors usually ranging from 7-year-olds to teenagers. Some adult amateurs also compete, but the event is mostly for younger fighters who will eventually turn pro.
All fights are sanctioned by USA Boxing, so the format, protective gear, officials and judges all meet the standards required for a bout that counts toward a fighter’s record.
But Valle explained that American Olympic League isn’t about just selling tickets to events or having classes. They also sponsor Sports League of Wesley Chapel, a non-profit where Valle also is active. The two organizations work together to help area underprivileged kids learn a new skill and stay focused on their schoolwork.
“They really can’t afford to train, the uniforms, the gloves, the headgear. It gets expensive,” Valle explained. “So we pick them up from school, we bring them here and we help them with homework. We have a tutor here who helps them, and when they’re done with homework, then they come here and box.”
In addition to those participants, the events draw other groups and fighters who are interested in adding to their record. And even the younger fighters can run up significant stats.
“I was impressed when I saw some of the kids, 8-year-olds with 45 to 50 fights, because they’re competing every month and sometimes twice a month,” Valle said.
The boxing event also is a chance for less-experienced fighters to start their path into the ring. Benjamin Vazquez, a 15-year-old freshman at Wesley Chapel High School, will be on the card May 3, marking his first amateur fight after months of preparation.
“I’m ready for it. I feel confident,” Vazquez said during a training session. His confidence stems from his previous experience competing in karate, and also a strict regimen where he trains every day after school.
Shadow boxing in the ring, instruction and more boxing with a trainer who wears pads and timed work on a punching bag, are part of his daily routine.
Vazquez is ready for his match against a to-be-named opponent, and said that his training has required a lot of hard work.
“The conditioning is intense. There’s a lot of stamina, running. It’s not easy,” he said.
While his fight will be a one-on-one battle with his opponent, Vazquez won’t be alone that night. His mother, Maribel, will be one of around a dozen friends and family who will be there cheering him on and watching him compete.
“I can’t wait,” she said. “He’s going to have uncles, sister, brothers, friends” at the fight.
Maribel grew up watching boxing, and won’t hide her eyes while her son competes. She wants to watch the entire fight, and believes his hard work has prepared him well for his first boxing match.
“He trains very hard, and he has a good coach,” she said. “I have confidence in my son.”
The event begins at 6 p.m., with doors opening at 5 p.m. The cost is $15.
For information, call (813) 284-8888.
Published April 30, 2014
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