Sports

Ready to Rumble

Flathead Valley professional boxer Kenny Guzman to fight Olympian Michael Conlan in high-profile bout televised on ESPN

It’s impossible to predict when the biggest fight of your life will arrive.

For Kenny Guzman, a 30-year-old carpenter and expecting father who lives in Happy Valley with his fiancé, the call came two weeks ago while he was working on a home in the Swan Valley. One of Ireland’s most successful amateur fighters of all time wanted to square off in late September.

“I didn’t really hesitate,” Guzman said.  “Right when I got the offer, I immediately was like, ‘Awesome.’ I’m as ready as I’ll ever be right now.”

Guzman, one of the most successful fighters from the Flathead Valley in recent years, is being thrust onto the national stage with his upcoming professional boxing match against the vaunted Michael Conlan, a 25-year-old Olympic bronze medalist from Belfast, Ireland.

Guzman (3-0) and Conlan (3-0) are fighting as super bantamweights on the Sept. 22 Top Rank card at the Tucson Arena in Tucson, Arizona. The high-profile event will be broadcast on ESPN and will feature two world title bouts: featherweight world titleholder Oscar Valdez versus Genesis Servania and super middleweight titleholder Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez against Jesse Hart.

Guzman and Conlan will face off in a six-round match as the first fight on the undercard in front of an estimated 7,000 fans.

There’s no denying the odds are against Guzman.

Conlan is a household name in Ireland and a rising star in the professional ranks after only three bouts. The brash Irishman earned a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics and was poised for a gold medal at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio before a controversial decision in the quarterfinals. Conlan pummeled his opponent but lost a judges’ decision that boxing experts thought should have went in Conlan’s favor. Conlan unleashed a profanity-laced rant afterward and said he would never box as an amateur again.

Since then, Conlan has won his first three professional fights in overwhelming fashion, including his pro debut in Madison Square Garden earlier this year on a fight card that featured Manny Pacquiao. The hype and excitement surrounding Conlan’s emergence has been compared by many to Oscar De La Hoya in the early 1990s, CBS reported.

He’s also developed an attention-grabbing identity as a rebel, similar to his close friend and countryman Conor McGregor.

“Mike is a world-class talent,” said Jose Roman Jr., a writer for AllSportsTucson.com who is covering the upcoming bout between Conlan and Guzman. “He’s a big deal and his career is being followed very closely.”

“They’ve been scouring the world for a quality opponent for Conlan,” Roman added. “They must’ve thought something pretty high of (Guzman). They could’ve brought in any number of fighters, including a top name from Tucson. But instead they’re going to bring in someone from Montana. It obviously shows how high they think of Kenny.”

Ten years ago, Guzman began dropping off his nephew at boxing practice for the new Flathead Boxing amateur club. The coaches, Jesse Uhde and Phillip Moore, saw something in the athletic uncle and convinced Guzman to try out the speed bags. Pretty soon Guzman was lacing up the gloves and stepping into the ring. Aggressive and strong but wise with his swings, he could more than hold his own in the ring despite no training. He could also take a punch and deliver a memorable response.

After one year, Guzman was 3-0 in amateur bouts and had knocked out a former Junior Olympic national champion with over 100 fights on his resume. After three years, the 24-year-old was a rising star in Montana with a 14-7 record and a Golden Gloves championship. Within a few years, he was 29-11 with a regional championship belt and a Golden Gloves title.

Hoping to make a few extra dollars to supplement his blue-collar career, Guzman began seeking professional fights. Over three matches, he has one TKO and two unanimous decisions, including his most recent victory over Roxie Lam (7-2) in Calgary in April.

“Right now I feel awesome,” Guzman said. “They only gave me four weeks heads up for this fight, so I wasn’t necessarily in the greatest shape at the time. The more it’s getting closer, I’m feeling so much better and better. I have plenty of time. I’ll be in real good physical shape, cardio wise. I’ll be right where I need to.”

Leading up to his match against Conlan, Guzman has been training twice a day before and after a long day of work as a carpenter. At his side is a group of close, talented friends, including Moore, a former professional boxer, Corey McFarland and Hamilton Ash, a talented mixed martial artist who runs a dojo in Whitefish.

“I got a lot of good friends that I train with,” he said. “I’m getting my body tuned.”

Guzman isn’t studying Conlan by watching clips of fights. His coaches can do that. Guzman knows what he’s up against. He knows he’s the ultimate underdog.

“This is a huge opportunity for me to test myself as a competitor and see where I sit as a boxer, with a real professional with a lot of experience,” he said. “This is a chance for me to prove to myself what I can do by working real hard and dedicating myself to something.”

It’s also an opportunity to help him and his fiancé, Lindsey Hanson, as they prepare to start a family. Hanson is pregnant with a boy due Nov. 18.

Guzman’s philosophy is simple: do what he enjoys and loves, work hard and prepare for what could come next and good things will happen.

“I’ve treated boxing as my hobby and not as a job and opportunities keep coming up. I take those opportunities when they come,” he said. “Now I get another huge opportunity. It’s not something I was necessarily striving for but I was ready if it did happen.”

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