Boxers from all over Western Canada flocked to Red Deer this weekend for a chance to showcase their talent in the Alberta Golden Gloves at the Westerner Park Stockmens Pavilion.
More than 130 fighters from B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan entered the ring over the course of two days, with about a dozen ducking back out with a coveted Golden Gloves medal around their neck.
In front of his friends and family, Red Deer’s William O’Keefe was crowned a champion in the Youth 75 kilogram weight class, after a unanimous decision over Vyacheslav Nesterenko Saturday afternoon.
“It was everything,” O’Keefe said.
“All the training and I’m just thankful for my coaches and everything. Glad that I could go in there and fight. I don’t really feel anything after I win. I won, onto the next one.”
O’Keefe, 18, who trains out of the Red Deer Boxing Club said although the fight didn’t go exactly as planned, he was thrilled to win and knows how he can improve the next time out.
“I felt it went well. He had 13 pounds on me. I think I could have landed more punches and my jab. But I think I played it pretty well,” he said.
The teenager also got a taste of what it might be like next February if he was able to earn a spot on Team Alberta at the 2019 Canada Winter Games on his home turf. He had one of the biggest cheering sections over the weekend during his win Saturday.
“I’m just thankful because not a lot of boxers can have families watch them, all they have is their coaches,” he said.
“It would mean a lot (to make the Games), but my goal is to become the best. So if I get there, I want to win. I’ll train my butt off like I did for this. If I get there it would be great.”
Red Deer’s Roman Rzepowski, 31, also earned a coveted Golden Gloves title Saturday night with the hometown crowd on his side. The long-time boxing coach in Red Deer beat Neil Clement by referee’s decision in the first round of the Senior 75kg division.
Another Golden Gloves champion who was crowned on the weekend, 17-year-old Kyle Oliver of Lethbridge said it would be a dream come true if he was back in Red Der next winter.
“I want to go to the Canada Winter Games and win gold, then hopefully win nationals then go do some international tournaments,” said Oliver, who was also a 2017 Junior Canadian Boxing Champion in the 63kg weight class.
“If you do something like winning the Golden Gloves and you know there’s another step and you can just take it further. Be better and it just makes you a better person and it feels good to win and be the top dog.”
Oliver won a unanimous decision on the weekend in the Youth 60kg class, topping Fausto Santaro of Edmonton.
“I tried staying back and using my jabs and long punches. I think it worked okay, I won the fight but it wasn’t my best work,” added Oliver, who trains out of the Lethbridge Boxing Club under legendary boxer Rick Duff.
“Feels pretty good. The goal is to get to the Canada Winter Games and get on the team. This is just the first step and it feels great.”
The Golden Gloves served as a test event for the 2019 Canada Winter Games that will take place in Red Deer next Winter.
Boxing lead for the Games Colin Acheson said even with some hiccups, he was happy to see the level of talent and the huge number of fighters that made the trip.
“I was impressed with the talent. We had so many boxers appear for weigh-ins (Saturday) that we couldn’t get a lot of the little guys on. They are the future of the sport. But we had so many bouts scheduled, we couldn’t get the little guys on,” Acheson said.
“It’s a great show, it’s gratifying and shows that boxing is alive and well in this province. Nowhere to go but up.”