Who doesn't like a Cinderella story? The come-from-behind victory; the beaten and bruised opponent; hurt, written off, only to muster the strength for a final stand (and "final countdown") and beat the unassuming favorite?
It's the type of story boxing lore is built on (see, Rocky, the first one, the Academy Award winner), and now the sport itself is mounting its own comeback. Called a transition period by many boxing fans and experts, the sport of boxing was fading from its popularity in the previous decade. A one-two punch: With few real bona fide stars, and with the rise of mixed martial arts (MMA) a decade ago, over the past 20 years boxing in America has lost millions in its fan base. To some, MMA may seem like the natural progression from boxing, a more dynamic battle, a mix of karate and punching, something closer to video games. But any boxer or remaining boxing fan will tell you the two sports are worlds apart—and that amateur boxing is, once again, gaining participants.
"Boxing is the oldest combat sport there is," explains Richard Miller of Deschutes County Rocks Boxing Gym in downtown Bend. Miller is relaxed and friendly, and exhibits neither the trademark broken nose nor gravelly voice that Hollywood would have you believe all boxing coaches have. "It was the first sport in the Olympics," he says, adding, "MMA took off, but now boxing is back again. MMA is a much, much more violent sport than boxing and now they are having some problems. They are failing drug tests and getting seriously injured."
Testimony to boxing's return to center ring is the gaining popularity of regional matches—and this weekend, Miller is hosting the Oregon State Gold Gloves Championship at Eagle Crest Resort.
To say that Miller, who was a boxer for 16 years and a coach for 24, is excited about the event and the sport of boxing itself is an understatement. His enthusiasm is contagious and goes well beyond the art of throwing a jab or connecting a left hook.
"Our whole focus with our team is not just about boxing," says Miller, sitting behind the desk at the front entrance of the Rocks Boxing Gym, flanked by a cardboard cutout of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, who looks beaten but not broken. Miller goes on, "It is about teaching these kids discipline, respect, dedication, manners, self-confidence, and things like that, that will help them down the road in life."
Miller himself is an example of that dedication. He works full time as an irrigation service tech, and, like all of the coaches at The Rocks Boxing Gym, volunteers his time and talent at the nonprofit gym. Miller goes on to point out that Rocks Gym teaches USA Olympic style boxing, a more restrained and diligent style that is quite different from the smashmouth battles favored in Las Vegas matches and the professional bouts.
"Boxing has a stigma," states Miller. "It comes from the professional game; it's dirty and it's rough with head injuries and things like that. But of the top 25 amateur sports for head injuries," he hastens to point out, "amateur boxing is not on the list."
Recently, two of the younger athletes who train at Rocks Gym returned from a Silver Gloves National Championship in Independence, Missouri. In their respective classes, both placed second in the in the nation. Miller is proud that boxers from the Northwest—which traditionally has not produced top-ranked contenders—stood their ground in these recent bouts.
"People always say, 'yeah but just wait 'til you fight some of those guys back east.' Well, we do and we beat them," says Miller, pointing out that his younger fighters overcame opponents from Cincinnati, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., to advance to the final bouts.
The Golden Gloves tournament this weekend is Oregon's premier boxing event, and a qualifying event for the National Championship and Olympic trials—and, Miller is particularly confident that his heavyweight fighter Alberto Rivas will advance to the Regional Championships in Las Vegas taking place in March.
Oregon Golden Gloves
6 pm, Friday, Feb. 20 and 5 pm, Saturday, Feb. 21
Eagle Crest Resort, 1522 Cline Falls Rd., Redmond
$15-$25 on Friday, $20-$30 on Saturday