Riarus Dudley, of Macon, took up boxing when he was 13, but he had to stop when the gym where he worked out closed.
Now 21, he was back at it Saturday and taking part in what organizers hope will be the start of boxing revival. Dudley was one of the competitors in the grand opening tournament of Macon-Bibb United Boxing and Conditioning Club.
The conversion of the basketball gym at Freedom Park, which now has two boxing rings, was paid for with sales tax dollars. A ribbon cutting was held just before 40 boxers from around the state started throwing the first punches.
Dudley won his match in the 160-pound novice division. He is now 2-0 and hopes to become a pro. He was happy to see the new facility open and said he trains just about every day.
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“Instead of being out on the street wasting time, I’m doing something to further my career,” he said.
His mother, Victoria Dudley, gave him a tearful embrace after his win. She was also thankful for the facility and said she has seen changes in her son since he got back into boxing. “I see strength,” she said. “I see courage. I see perseverance. I see hope.”
Martez Jackson grew up in Warner Robins and dreamed of being a boxer, but he never had a chance to do so then because there wasn’t a place like the new club in Macon. He finally was able to box after college when he moved to Chicago. He later won the Atlanta Golden Gloves and in 2011 competed in the Olympic trials. Now 31, he has not given up hopes of turning pro.
He is a mechanical design engineer in Valdosta and plans to drive to Macon every weekend to train at the new gym because its the closest place he’s got. He also won his match Saturday, which was his first real bout in three years.
He said he likes the discipline that boxing instills.
“If you make a mistake in boxing, you know you have made a mistake,” he said. “You feel it.”
He and Dudley are coached by Earnest Butts Jr., the club’s head trainer. Butts estimated that about 200 spectators were at the tournament, which he said will be held every other month.
“It was a good caliber of fights and that’s what it is all about,” he said.
If people thought it was going to be gentle sparring, that wasn’t the case. The boxing was intense, even among the 11-year-olds, which was the youngest age group.
There was at least one bloody nose and one knockout.
Vito Evans, 14, of LaGrange, has been boxing for a year and a half and won his bout. He also hopes to become pro.
“It helps me because sometimes I get a little mad and stressed out, and it helps me with my control,” he said.
He said boxing is about “20 percent physical and 80 percent mental.”
The facility, operated by the Macon-Bibb County Recreation Department, is open to all ages. There are fitness programs in addition to boxing. Boxing can start for those as young as 10. Those interested in using the boxing gym must pay a $20 per month fee for unlimited access.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.