Portrait of an Amateur Fight – Melee at the Mile High in Duluth
August 8, 2009
By: Laura Zink
Last night in Duluth’s west end (and I mean FAR west), in one of the most unassuming of locations on one of the most dreary, gray, and wet evenings of the summer, Horton’s Gym filled the Mile High Club with fight fans from Duluth’s western boundaries, surrounding towns, and the reservation by Carlton County. It was a day that began with dense fog, which later broke into rain, and finally ended with soft surges of lightning which illuminated the sky from behind a never-ending banner of clouds. The road to the venue was long, isolated, and full of construction. The signs to the venue where hidden behind tall pine and birch trees. The backyard of the venue (where the fight was to be held) was covered with wet puddles, mud, and gravel…and amidst all these rough conditions, the venue was booked to capacity.
Thank goodness there was a tent.
The rain kept showering on and off throughout the fight, but it did not touch the ring or the audience…that is, unless one cared leave the tent to visit the beer trailer or the barbecue pit. And while the rain did not hit the crowd when they were under the tent, the wet weather did pose somewhat of a treat to those crossing over to get back under the tent. As the rain collected in puddles which sagged the canvas at the tent’s edges, people played pranks on each other by shoving out the puddles, trying to catch each other under a shower of collected rain water.
The demeanor of the crowd during the fights was similarly spirited…if somewhat unfamiliar in composition for audiences usually found at small, regional, amateur shows. Typically non-ranking amateur bouts of this kind have audiences which are primarily composed of family and close friends. While there were some friends and family there, the Mile High crowd also had many people who did not know any of the principals, and some who actually had never seen a live boxing match before. For these people, they came to the fight not to see a close friend or family member win, but to watch boys and young men duke it out for pride, for bragging rights, and for the sweet taste of public victory. These were people who firmly believed that there was only one way to learn in life, and that way was the hard way. So as the first two 90 lb. principals stepped into the ring, 11 year old Dawson Wrazildo and 12 year old Jonathan Hule, a burly and gravelly voice from the crowd hollered:
Fight it out boys!
And fight it out they did. As young Wrazildo showed the crowd that he had a taste for overhand rights in round one, the crowd cheered for Wrazildo, while, in a collective act of group parenting, warned young Hule:
Hands up kid! Hands up!
Not liking the sting of Wrazildo’s right hand, Hule tried to out-frenzy Wrazildo with a micro-storm of irregular punches to Wrazildo’s head. Wrazildo fought his way out from the ropes and out-busied Hule for the rest of the round.
As Wrazildo sat in his corner, being given instructions by his father, Clayton, his brother, Cole, and his head coach, Gary Eyer, the crowd took a breather to express their respect for the two boys who had the guts to fight it out in the ring.
“These kids are good little fighters,” a large, round man in a baseball cap said to a friend between sips of beer while he waited for round 3.
In round 3, with Hule’s corner screaming at him to “Move! Move!” away from Wrazildo’s punches, young Wrazildo kept trying to land, some hammering Hule, and some just getting blocked by Hule as he tried to shrink away from the onslaught. By the end of the fight, both boys came to the center of the ring, and before the decision was even called, the crowd cheered loudly for both of them. After it was announced that Wrazildo won, each boy looked at the other with a discerning, yet respectful eye. It was as if each felt that they had just grown up a little more, and perhaps will continue to grow at a faster rate than their non-boxing friends at school.
As the night carried on, the bouts unfolded to the ever-increasing appreciation of the crowd. It seemed that every one of the fights reminded them of something, perhaps, that they themselves had to fight through before. As is often a part of amateur fights of this nature, the bouts are not so much about critical analysis and judgment of a boxer’s worth. Instead these bouts are about seeing young people you know learn lessons about the sport, about themselves, and about life. And though the crowd at the Mile High did not have a personal stake in any of the boxers, they watched with an excitement for displays of toughness and for hard lessons fought and overcome…whether in victory or in defeat.
They got to see a 130lb. fight where red-headed and freckled Mark Pogorelski defeated the much larger and heavily muscled Sam Sanchez just by busyness and sheer force of will.
“This is my first sanctioned victory,” Porgorelski said with a smile. “I had no idea I was gonna end with a TKO victory! It was pure jubilation. I got to thank my coaches and all my fellow fighters who congratulated me. All the hard work paid off. I was trying not to do a huge dance and be unsportsman-like. I just felt so good that I wanted to bust moves…or do some pelvic thrusts or something! It was so great!”
They also got to see Zack Overfors heed the advice of an experienced mentor from his gym, professional boxer Zach Walters, as Walters screamed almost brotherly tutoring from the crowd. That night Walters, who is a tall lanky fighter himself, yelled instructions at young Zack about one of the best ways to get in close enough to brawl a much bigger fighter:
Come in behind the double jab, Zack! Double jab!
They also got to see a huge 16 year old superheavyweight, Jon Greisy, fight his first amateur bout against Jesse Daniels, and learn how to keep standing even when you get caught…no matter how bloody your nose is. Greisy walked to his corner at the end of the bout covered in a veritable beard of blood across his face. Trainer Chuck Horton jumped up on the ring to try to stop the bleeding, first with a look of clinical seriousness, and then, once the bleeding was stopped, a lighthearted grin.
“Oh man, it’s broken,” Horton said as he held a towel to Griesy’s nose. He even chuckled a couple of times knowing this kid had earned his first stripes…even if they were ones gained by blood.
And as the fight rolled on, the crowd did their best to offer their own advice to the principals. When Riley Rinas was overwhelmed by Randall Gouda Jr. and tried to muffle the attack, the crowd yelled:
No more hangin’ on kid!
As Zach Stone began to toss and shove Winston Anderson, the crowd yelled:
Keep it clean boys! Keep it clean!
And as the sky darkened and the main event hit the stage, the rough-hewn crowd from the Mile High sat back for a moment and got ready to scream their hearts out. This clearly was an experience some of them had never had before.
“It’s the main event,” a rough beery-sounding voice said from behind me. “This is gonna be good!”
Perhaps it was mystique of watching a live battle between heavyweights. Perhaps it was the dark physical stature and thick-muscled arms of one of the principals. Perhaps it was because this same principal displayed the moves he developed by sparring with pros like Zach Walters and Andy Kolle for the last year. For whatever reason, the crowd went wild for the last match. Some people around me went as far as to remark, “That was the greatest ever!” Granted it was a fun fight to watch, but after the bout the impressive principal, Al Sands, had to say this about the fight.
“Jared has only been in the gym for about three or four months now,” Sands said. “He showed a lot of potential. First round he came out swinging, so I returned the favor a little bit. Second round we kind of found our happy medium, and it turned into more of a sparring match. I did hit him with an uppercut in the second round that stunned him a bit. Then coach told me to take it easy on him and use my jab. And that’s what I did. It was a good fight.”
If they knew, I’m sure the crowd at the Mile High would have gotten a lesson of their own. What Sands did that night was give a young hopeful a chance to test himself in public against a more experienced fighter, an opportunity which is critical for a young fighter to develop confidence. And while Sands held back a bit to give him a chance, he also put on an entertaining and sportsman-like finish for the audience.
And once the main event was over and the surges of lightening lit up the darkened sky over the Mile High, the audience laughed and smiled as they began to make their way back to the bar or to the gravel and mud parking lot to head home. The amateurs, many whom were called out by Horton to take down the ring, began to disconnect the ropes and peel the canvas and padding from the floor. And as I left that evening, I turned back one last time and saw young Dawson Wrazildo standing alone on the wood planks of what was left of the stripped ring. While he stood there, his little brother, Evan, peeked up from under the corner and jumped in the ring with his brother. And as the other amateurs hauled the ring back piece by piece to the trailer, the two brothers play wrestled until the meager lights in the parking lot of the Mile High were shut down for the night.