By day, they build homes, train horses and drive garbage trucks. In the evening, they pursue their boxing dreams.
For years, the boxers at Flathead Boxing Club trained in cold warehouses, warmed only slightly by the heat of wood stoves. That’s all changing now. At Straight Blast Gym in downtown Kalispell, they have a place to call a home – a real gym to go along with their real dreams.
Earlier in their lives, Kenny Guzman, Randy Kopchinsky and Jen Johnson, who will be participating in the upcoming Montana Golden Gloves boxing championships, never envisioned spending nearly every night in a boxing gym, training for a sport that barely registers a bleep on Montana’s sporting radar. But that was before they met Phil Moore, a former professional boxer who believes the Treasure State is ripe for a boxing scene.
Moore runs Flathead Boxing Club out of Straight Blast Gym, owned by Travis and Kisa Davison. The club used to convene in an empty warehouse in Evergreen and before that an old muffler shop behind the Montana Nugget Casino. The only source of heat in each facility was a wood stove.
Moore is taking advantage of his new digs. His recruitment rate for young boxers has picked up significantly in recent months while his adult classes remain popular as well. Moore has taken adults like Guzman, Kopchinsky and Johnson under his wing, showing them the ropes of boxing and igniting a passion. Similarly, he wants his gym to be an open door for curious kids as well.
Coming from a dysfunctional childhood, Moore said boxing kept his life on track. Moore fought in 70 amateur bouts during his career, twice winning national bronze medals. He has also participated in 12 professional bouts.
“The one thing that was consistently positive in my life was boxing,” Moore said. “I always told myself I would give back. And that’s what I’m doing here. It’s my passion.”
Moore and Travis Davison are organizing the Montana State Golden Gloves boxing championships on March 19 at the Outlaw Inn convention center. Moore said their bid for the right to host was higher than initially expected, but he considers it a worthwhile sacrifice for an event that he hopes will stimulate interest in his beloved sport.
Moore and Davison have hosted boxing smokers at the Elks Lodge the past two years, drawing around 150 people each time. But they felt that something with the name recognition of Golden Gloves, hosted in a more professional setting, could rally the community. The March 19 event will have capacity for 300 people with ringside tables available.
Doors open at 6 p.m. and bouts begin at 6:30. Moore is expecting between 15-20 bouts altogether, including a possible showdown between a 2009 national champion out of Helena and a Canadian national champion.
“We’re trying to take the amateur boxing match to the next level,” Moore said. “We’re treating it like a pro bout.”
Guzman and Kopchinsky, who have both trained under Moore for years, will be fighting for Golden Gloves state championships at the 132- and 161-pound weight classes, respectively. Moore said Johnson and several others who train at Flathead Boxing will be participating in match bouts, which don’t offer the chance to advance to regional competitions like the tournament bouts of Guzman and Kopchinsky.
Montana’s largest urban centers have boxing clubs, but Moore said the sport is by no means a big attraction anywhere in the state. While Moore is able to send his boxers to tournaments in places like Hamilton and Helena, he often has to look out of state.
Moore hopes his efforts can help bring attention to the sport across the state, starting in Kalispell, which he said “historically had a pretty big boxing community and then it just kind of faded away.” Davison said Moore, who also works at the Montana Academy therapeutic boarding school and the Summit Medical Fitness Center’s Parisi Speed School, is the man to lead boxing’s revival.
“We get 750 to 1,000 people at our (Kalispell Kombat) MMA events,” Davison said. “I don’t see any reason why it can’t be as popular.”
The challenge of scheduling bouts is amplified for Johnson, who said, “for women boxers in Montana, there’s not a lot.” Johnson, a 34-year-old horse trainer, has managed to scrounge up nine bouts, winning seven.
“I’ve been lucky; I’ve been pretty successful,” she said. “I’ve really been lucky to have Phil as a coach.”
Guzman, 24, is a construction worker with a 14-5 career amateur record. He also helps with coaching, alongside Corey McFarland and 70-year-old Ed Wettach, who won a senior division championship at the Ringside World Championships in Kansas City last August. At the same competition, Johnson won the women’s novice title.
“He’s an amazing guy to have around,” Moore said of Wettach.
Kopchinsky, 31, drives garbage trucks for a living. While he has only participated in two fights, he has trained for most of the four years Moore has operated Flathead Boxing. Moore believes in extensive training and sparring before allowing his fighters into the ring in a competitive bout.
Growing up, Kopchinsky loved watching boxing on television. Now, thanks to Moore, who he calls “a great coach and great guy,” Kopchinsky is living out his dream.
“Golden Gloves is always something I wanted to do,” Kopchinsky said. “I’m going to see how far boxing can take me. De La Hoya, Mayweather, all those guys, they started somewhere.”
Tickets to the Montana Golden Gloves boxing championships are $15 ahead of time and $20 at the door. Call Travis Davison at (406) 250-2380 for more information.
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