Josiah Dukes didn’t say much as his coach wrapped his hands with white fabric.
The 8-year-old boxer was pensive, trying to maintain his focus before entering the ring for his first-ever bout.
“Don’t think too much,” coach Earnest Butts warned. Mental exhaustion “is the worst exhaustion you can get.”
“It’s like somebody walking behind you (says), ‘Boo!’ You’re going to be scared,” Butts said. “But if you relax, you know that person’s coming up. You know what I mean?”
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Amid buzzers, bells, music, chatter and a crowd of about 300 people at Macon-Bibb United Boxing Club in Freedom Park on Saturday, Dukes and other amateur boxers gathered in the coach’s office were not distracted.
Dukes said the only thing on his mind then was “the person that I’m fighting.”
For decades, Macon’s boxing scene was located inside an old warehouse downtown and supervised by local minister Frank Ray.
In September 2014, the boxing club opened in Freedom Park’s old basketball gym. The transformation was paid for with special purpose local option sales tax funds.
A little more than two years later, Josiah was set to fight his first bout against his sparring partner, Emmanuel Seifu, in the 80-pound division.
It was the first quarter boxing show in 2017, and nearly 30 people were set to enter the ring.
In a practice area with punching bags, Josiah’s father, Joseph Dukes, encouraged his son to “get your hands up and keep moving.”
“I’m probably more nervous than him,” Dukes, a former boxer himself, said before his son’s first bout. “He told me, ‘Don’t worry about it.’”
Boxers, adults, teens and children fought one after another in two separate rings inside the gym for more than an hour.
In the fourth round, 15-year-old Luis Basurto faced Randy Cipriano.
Luis, who has been boxing for years, says it’s a personal ritual for him to pray in the corner before each bout.
Though he lost the match to Randy, Luis’s family cheered for him in the stands. The boxers hugged and shook hands.
Luis said his favorite part about boxing is “the fact that you can fight somebody, and at the end you can still be friends with them.”
Josiah and his opponent, Emmanuel, entered the ring for the next round.
When the buzzer sounded, the two youngsters put their dukes up, hopping around the ring on their toes, eyes locked on each other before the blows began.
After three one-minute rounds, the winner was decided.
A referee held Emmanuel’s hand in the air. Josiah was visibly disheartened but cordial as Emmanuel placed a runner-up medal around his neck.