Sweating and spent under the bright boxing ring light that pushed the two fighters’ shadows straight down, Noah Pongratz waited for one of their arms to be raised in the air—winner of the headline match of the Golden Gloves Boxing Show in Cameron.
Male and female boxers as young as age 9 and heavy as 201-plus pounds, teams in gym shirts and track jackets, and parents have come from Madison and Milwaukee and the Twin Cities, and other Wisconsin and Minnesota cities.
Cameron boxer Pongratz, 16, had sold tickets to friends and family, now watching from metal chairs. He had worked the ball pit during the preliminary Family Fun Fair event. He was missing the High School Forensics State Tournament.
His teammates hung on the ropes, waiting as score cards were collected.
Like all boxers, Pongratz wanted to have a good fight.
Everybody wants a fight
Five hours earlier Pongratz had been looking for a fight. His opponent hadn’t shown. His coach Steve Amos, head of Cameron based Team Amos Boxing, delivered the news in a room of anxious boxers and coaches.
“I’ll fight,” Trumale Myers said. He was sitting with his team in ripped jeans and a red beanie. It was the shortest fight notice he’d ever had.
Pongratz likes fights. The outcome is quantifiable and concrete. He had fought Myers before. The quantifiable outcome had been a loss. But that was then.
Team Amos currently has seven competing boxers. Three were on the night’s fight card: Stevie Amos, Jax Manor and Pongratz. Phoenix Randell, 9, has trained hard and will fight next weekend.
In training, the thuds of their punches and sharp intakes of breath echo down the hallway of the old Cameron Middle School where the red and blue lockers are empty except for a rusted deodorant can. Signs on the bathroom doors state the water has been shut off.
They throw upper cuts and jabs. A training stoplight’s green light means 90 seconds of combo punches, yellow is 30 seconds of constant, feverish punching—burnout—and red is 60 seconds of rest.
The free weights are typically racked. Amos thinks weightlifting is overrated and would rather work on agility with footwork ladders and power and endurance with tire lifts.
Amos is in his office, silently taping Stevie’s hands, surrounded by framed posters for past local matches and photos of local boxers in past years.
Wrapping is meditative, repetitive. In a side room, Bill Pomeroy started by massaging fighter Trenton Forer’s hands. Tape is rolled around wrists and crisscrossed and tucked between fingers. A pad of gauze is put over the knuckles so the hand fits in the glove, he explained. Pomeroy estimated it can take 20 minutes to finish wrapping. There are a lot of different styles, but an amateur level constant is that each hand gets one roll of gauze and one roll of tape.
Forer’s wrapped hands get the better of his opponent’s. His record versus that fighter is now 1-2, all by split decision.
Don’t let him outwork you
Rene Villarreal has been an official for 8 years. He explained a scoring blow is a nice, clean shot that connects with the white front of the two-tone glove.
There is a difference between affective aggressiveness and ineffective aggressiveness. “Punches in bunches”—combos —are good, he said.
Judges are looking for a total effort in the three round fights, including defense. The decision is a qualitative assessment of the bout.
“Don’t let him outwork you,” Villarreal said.
TKO’s are rare for events like this, he said, but the number one concern is the safety of boxers.
A ringside doctor shines a flashlight into fighters’ mouths and pupils, looking for blood and concussion symptoms.
If the referee feels a boxer has taken an exceptional hit, he can impose a standing 8 second count where the match is paused and boxer is evaluated. The precaution does not effect the fighter’s score.
Amos said the mentality is that the fight would rather be stopped a minute too early than a minute too late.
The one TKO of the night happens in the 201-plus pound weight division. Big swings, big hits, big falls.
The men touch gloves at the end in sportsmanship.
In search of a KO
There is no glove tap this fight.
The boxers throw haymakers and strike hard. Early in the fight, the blue boxer breaks and runs from his opponent. By the end of the bout, he’s bounced back and landed his own heavy blows.
The blue boxer’s white tank top is blood flecked like a robin’s egg. The referee raises his arm. He hardly reacts.
The crowd is the loudest it’s been all night.
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It’s loud during intermission, too, as Amos throws T-shirts, ballcaps and red boxing glove key chains into the crowd’s raised arms.
A couple of grade-school girls get out of their seats when Amos announces he has pink shirts.
“I’ve never heard my name so much,” Amos said as he came backstage.
When he was a fighter, Amos figured the toughest part of the whole thing was the fighting. No way, he said. It’s the promotion.
Amos said he spent at least 160 hours preparing for this night. He’s thankful for the friends and family that set up and the sponsors that keep the fights going and for the instate and out of state license plates that gum up the parking lot.
Backstage, he adjusted the chinstrap of Stevie’s white headgear over the fresh haircut that has become a pre-fight staple.
Nine-year-old Stevie has been boxing for 2 years and training with his dad “since he fit in a car seat,” Amos said. He won a state title against a fighter that kept moving—“normally people punch in a fight,” he said.
He lost in nationals against a left-handed fighter—a southpaw.
The Amoses are a boxing family. Six of Stevie’s brothers and sisters escort him into the ring.
As the fight progresses, his mom, Jenny Amos, and dad were in his corner, Steve yelling:
“One, one, two, Stevie!”
Stevie wins in a fight he later calls harder than most.
At the end, both boys have a dance off.
Fighters know one another, many have fought against one another. Both Stevie and Jax’s fights are rematches.
Pongratz was scheduled to fight an opponent he’d never seen. Instead, he got his first rematch.
Typically, Pongratz passes boredom and placates nerves by reading before a fight—Brandon Sanderson, Rick Riordan—but tonight he sat in the home crowd with friends and watched the bouts.
In the ring, he’s without his black-framed, blue-armed glasses—“it’s easy enough to see a punch coming”—and wears a standard red short and tank top combo.
Pongratz catches his opponent, Myers, in the blue corner by surprise. This is not the boxer Myers had fought before.
The crowd noise spikes with each of his contacts and when he ducks under Myers’ sweeping right hook.
Myers connects with the heaviest strike of the match in the third round and Pongratz is forced to take a standing 8 count. By the end, it’s an endurance race to be less gassed. Both their gloves sag.
Jax Manor, 12, has been fighting for 2 years.
Like Stevie, he also got a haircut. The extra two ounces may make or break weigh in, he said.
In the ring, he said, he only sees the other fighter. Everything else is blurred—like how in boxing video games the crowd isn’t quite discernible. He shadowboxes under a bright LED at home to mimic the ring lighting.
It’s a mental fight. Be calm and be confident, he said.
“In a fight,” he said, “you learn if you’ve been doing the right thing [in practice].”
Jax’s blue shorts shine under the light. He’s been doing the right thing. He wins.
At the end of the night metal chairs are racked on carts and popcorn bags, candy rappers and water bottles are swept. The buckles are turned and the four ropes—red, white, blue, red—come down.
Jax is in the bathroom, dumping out the red Rubbermaid spit bucket. “I try not to look at it,” he said.
Besides the spit bucket, he’s happy with the night.
Under the white light, Pongratz and Myers aren’t sure who’d won. The crowd isn’t sure who’d woon. Neither is the official holding a fighter’s wrist in each hand.
Then, over the P.A.: blue corner, Trumale Myers.
The boxers quickly embrace. Team Amos gathers around its fighter. The crowd, disgruntled the hometown kid will have to get ‘em next time, but confident he will, applauds.
It was a tough fight. A good fight.