For today’s column, I tried to think outside the box.
And I ended up watching people box.
Actually, I watched teenagers box. I buzzed over to the Civic Center for the Junior Olympic National Championships.
It’s a pretty neat deal. There are 179 fighters ages 15 and 16 from 39 states in town. They aren’t actually qualifying for the Olympics of any sort, but it’s the most prestigious tournament of its ilk. This is the 43rd year of its existence and we in Charleston swiped it away from Mobile, Ala. (We Rolled Tide!)
Anyway, I learned more than a few things from my Thursday visit.
First, I learned these kids are apparently too young to understand the concept of pain.
Second, I learned the refs seem very concerned about concussions. If one participant is dominating another, expect the bout to be stopped before you see a knockout.
Third, there is no bell. Instead they use a grating noise that sounds like a foghorn on steroids.
Fourth, the last thing you ever want to do is mess with Jayda Thomas of Detroit. Allow me to explain in three letters: OMG.
Yes, there are female fights as well as male fights. And, as mentioned, the fighters come from all across the country, from Wapahu, Hawaii (Kawelo Alcos) to St. Cloud, Fla. (Justin Roman).
Two hail from Vancouver, Washington and happen to be brothers.
Victor Morales, the older brother, is coming off an impressive January performance in the Reno Junior and Youth Open. In the bantam weight championship, he defeated 2013 Junior Olympic champ Vergil Ortiz and was subsequently named the junior men’s outstanding boxer of the tournament.
Thursday evening, Morales won a third-round TKO over Hilario Vasquez III to reach the semifinals.
Early Thursday, though, he was in his brother Tyler’s corner, helping the 106-pound sibling to a victory over Cincinnati’s Tariq Gordon. (Pronounced Gordon, not GorDON.)
“I’ve been boxing for nine years and he’s been boxing for eight,” Victor Morales said.
If you’re counting in your head, yes, he’s been boxing since the age of 7, when the rest of us were just figuring out glue and hair don’t necessarily go together.
“I was pretty much telling my brother the same as the coaches: stick to the game plan,” Victor said. “I’m trying to help him get to the top.”
How far off is Tyler?
“Not far,” Victor said. “He just needs to follow in my footsteps.”
Yes indeed, he’s a boxer. He has the swagger. But it was earned in January.
“It was fun,” Victor said of winning the Reno title. “I wasn’t supposed to win, but I beat all the top guys. Vergil Ortiz won here last year.”
The Morales brothers take this seriously. Their father, also named Victor, is their coach, but too they have a “strength and conditioning coach” in Jason Marquoit.
“I don’t know how to spell his last name,” Victor said.
“He’s only known me for seven years,” Marquoit replied.
Tyler Morales, by the way, won on Thursday, but not without a hitch. In the second round he was given a standing eight count.
“I kept my chin up,” Tyler explained, “and [Gordon] threw a hook and I got caught. I got off-balance, but kept fighting.”
It seems that will continue.
“I caught the fighting bug from my dad,” Tyler said. “I saw him do it when he was 27. I was four or five. When I was old enough at six I got into it with my brother.”
“The sky is the limit for them,” Marquoit said. “They work harder at it than anyone else. And they’re both straight-A students.”
“Winning here would mean a lot for us,” Tyler said. “If I don’t get gold, though, it’s fine as long as I give it my all. I don’t want to go home with regrets. If I lose, I go home and fix it.”
The Morales brothers are impressive. Ditto the tournament. You’ll learn that if you check out the action.
“The Morales brothers are coming out,” Tyler said. “We’re going for the gold.”
Bet on them.
And don’t ever, ever mess with Jayda.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.