Flathead’s Natural Born Fighter

By Beacon Staff

Kenny Guzman has a gift and Phillip Moore wants people to witness it.

Moore describes Guzman as a natural fighter, innately equipped with the intangible tools necessary to win in the ring. But if Guzman was born to be a boxer, he never knew it until he walked into Flathead Boxing’s gymnasium last year. Seven fights later, with a 5-2 record that includes matches against some of the state’s most experienced amateur boxers, Guzman believes he’s as good as any young fighter in Montana.

Moore, a professional boxer who operates Flathead Boxing with Jesse Uhde, has been in the ring since he was 9 years old. As a former medal winner at the National Junior Olympics and Winter Olympic Trials, he understands the amateur circuit and the talent it takes to move up the ranks. The 22-year-old Guzman, Moore said, has it – and more.

“He’s just been a force to be reckoned with,” Moore said. “He’s come out of nowhere.”

After opening two years ago, Flathead Boxing is preparing to host its first boxing event. It will be held on April 4 at Kalispell’s Elks Lodge beginning at 7 p.m. All bouts are three rounds long but vary in length. Depending on age, rounds last one minute, one-and-a-half minutes, two minutes or three minutes. Fighters are coming from Montana, Idaho, Washington and Canada. Guzman is the main event.

Moore and Uhde opened up Flathead Boxing after many discussions about the need for an amateur training facility in the valley. Uhde, who grew up boxing in the Flathead and had a successful amateur career, said there used to be a gym for young boxers up until 2000. When that shut down, aspiring boxers didn’t have anywhere to turn.

So Moore and Uhde built a ring and opened up their gym, which is affiliated with USA Boxing.

Flathead Boxing originally was located off of West Idaho Street but has since moved into a building on River Road shared by the Jaycees. Incidentally, that was the location of the original club that closed in 2000. The gym is sparse but sufficient to meet the needs of the 10 or so youngsters who train there. In the past, as many as 20 fighters trained there at a time, but Moore said that’s pushing capacity.

The boxers range in age from 8 to 22, with Guzman being the oldest, though Guzman wasn’t the gym’s first trainee. That title belongs to his 11-year-old nephew Dillan Guzman, a force to be reckoned with in his own right. In his weight and age division, the younger Guzman is ranked as one of the top boxers in Montana.

Neither Kenny nor Dillan had fought competitively before two years ago.

“Good family genes, I guess,” Moore said.

Moore and Uhde volunteer their time as coaches. Practice is held three days a week, generally in the evening on Tuesdays through Thursdays. But Flathead Boxing also offers open gyms where fighters are welcome to come in and sharpen their skills, though they are not mandatory training sessions. Parents are asked to donate $25 a month to help with costs, but if that’s not possible, the coaches appreciate if parents can help out with fundraisers.

Boxing is too vital to Moore’s life to leave it behind anytime soon, he said, but his actual fighting career is likely slowing down. He has fought in two professional bouts in the past two years, winning them both. As another testament to his love of working with kids, he also works at the Montana Academy – a boarding school – for his daytime job.

“That competitive edge is still there, but it’s starting to go into training the kids,” Moore said.

Uhde, a sawyer by profession, is in a similar boat. He has been working his way through injuries the past couple of years and has found the gym to be the perfect way to satisfy his appetite for boxing. Both Uhde and Moore get in the ring and spar with the kids during training.

As for Guzman, he is now a boxer – in the ring and out. Referring to a bout that he let slip away last year, Guzman’s voice gives off a hint of frustration tempered with nostalgia, like an old veteran recalling a fight of his youth. Guzman keeps that loss in his head when he trains. It’s his motivation, or at least one of them.

In two of his most recent fights, Guzman has faced a top-ranked amateur with 75 fights under his belt and another highly ranked fighter with 56 bouts to his name. Guzman beat the latter and narrowly lost to the former. Now he’s in the gym nearly every day, trying to avenge his two losses.

“I totally crave (boxing) now,” Guzman said. “I can’t stand taking days off. It’s awesome, no doubt about it.”

Though his career is still so young, Moore said it’s not wishful thinking for Guzman to believe he can beat the best. Moore has been combing through lists of potential opponents for Guzman at the April 4 event. The final candidates are champions from around the Northwest United States and Canada.

To date, Flathead Boxing has racked up a record of 22 wins and 29 losses in competitive matches, going up against far more experienced clubs. Reminding that “it takes a lot to get in there and stand toe to toe with somebody,” Moore said he has been pleased with his young team’s performance over the past two years.

He remembers the first time he watched his boxers in competition. It became clear to him that the long hours of volunteer coaching are well worth his time.

“Watching, I just stood there and said, ‘Wow, this is what I love,’” Moore said.

If you have questions about the April 4 event or Flathead Boxing, call Phillip Moore at (406) 270-6812 or e-mail him at phillymo3@yahoo.com

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