Will West Michigan get its fifth national champion?
by Doug VanderLaan | The Grand Rapids Press
Sunday April 20, 2008, 12:06 AM
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GRAND RAPIDS -- Will the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions to
be held for the first time in Grand Rapids next month produce the city's fifth
national champion? According to local ringside observers, six local entrants
have as good a chance as any of the four previous champions. "To win a fight is
never an easy thing, but to win a national championship you have to win so
many nights in a row," said Bruce Kielty, local boxing historian and professional
boxing matchmaker. "That's why it's so impressive that John Butler and Kevin
Childrey were able to do it, and to have Jesse Briseno win it twice and Floyd
Mayweather three times makes this a very significant feat." Kielty, who left
amateur boxing after helping form the former Pride Boxing Club in Burton
Heights, said he wonders whether the accomplishment means as much today
given's boxing's decline in participation. In Grand Rapids alone, the sport once
attracted 300-400 entries and packed the former Welsh Auditorium to capacity
for the Golden Gloves tournament. "To win today, you don't have to fight as
many fights because of the lower numbers," Kielty said. Dave Packer,
executive director of the Michigan Golden Gloves, concedes all of those points.
But he maintains it may be more difficult to win a national title today given the
level of competition a boxer must face. "Look at some of these boxers,
especially from California and Texas," he said. "Some of these kids started in
the Junior Olympics and young kids and by the time they're 16 years old, some
of them have had 200 fights. They have way more experience in the sport that
boxers of years ago had. "And then look at the nutrition and the training
methods they use. A lot of these kids come out of the amateurs and go right to
being viable professional fighters. It's just as tough or even harder to win a
national championship today because of the experience level these kids face."
Regardless of a fighter's era, however, a champion must possess certain
qualities, Kielty said. "There's no question that to succeed, a champion has to
have the drive to succeed," he said. "It's an individual sport and that drive has
to be apart from everybody else." The drive must exist outside the ring as well.
"To me the real mark of a champion is not what he accomplished in the boxing
ring," Kielty said. "It's what he accomplished outside the ring when the lights
went out. Look at what Johnny Butler did -- he got a Ph.D., became a principal at
Union High School at the height of the city's racial difficulties, and then went on
to work for the city. "And look at Mayweather -- it's very difficult for somebody
who weighs less than 150 pounds to become an icon. But Floyd has been able
to do that and has also been able to do some goodwill with the money he's
earned. "You just can't overemphasize character. Boxing champions pick up a
lot of admirers and it's important that they carry themselves as heroes outside
the ring as well. As the area's first champion, Johnny