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Boxer Al Sands will be boxing Saturday at Black Bear Casino. (2013 file / News Tribune)

Boxer Sands fights through new adversity

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Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

On the long list of body parts a boxer worries about injuring, the eardrum barely registers a footnote.

But when Henry Namauu caught Al “The Haitian Temptation” Sands with a hard right to the left side of his head during their Jan. 25 fight, a ruptured eardrum instantly upset the Duluth fighter’s balance.  

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“It was like the floor disappeared from under my feet,” Sands said recently while training for Saturday night’s North American Boxing Association-U.S. cruiserweight title fight at Black Bear Casino in Carlton. “It was like trying to walk on a ball. It was goofy. It wasn’t a punch that hurt; it was the pressure that popped it.”

Sands was tagged after the 10-second bell sounded late in the third round, so when manager-trainer Zach “Jungle Boy” Walters saw him stumble he initially thought Namauu had delivered a late punch. Despite fighting with impaired balance, Sands grinded out a unanimous decision to improve to 12-1 with 11 knockouts.  

“Injuries like that are the kinds of things that you (prepare for) in training camp,” Sands said. “You become accustomed to working when you’re exhausted or while your balance is compromised. It was just a mind-over-matter kind of thing. … I’m not going to let this little injury dictate how I win this fight.”

Walters said Sands earned a healthy measure of respect for battling through adversity.

“He got hurt really bad; it could have been the ending shot,” Walters said. “The next round could have been his last round. Blood was pooling in the cup of his ear, but he made adjustments for having a major injury.”

More adjustments will be needed as Sands and company prepare for a left-handed bruiser in Keith “No Holds” Barr (12-5 with three knockouts) from Burnsville, W.Va. Barr, who is classified as a heavyweight but will fight as a cruiserweight against Sands, packs power to spare. He went 27-3 as a Toughman competitor before turning to pro boxing in 2008.

“This guy has a really aggressive style. He’s got a mean right hook,” Walters said, adding that Barr’s uppercut is also best avoided.

Saturday’s main event will feature a trio of firsts for Sands: It will be his first 10-round contest, his first big title bout and his first pro fight against a lefty. And while Walters probably won’t try to turn Sands into a southpaw pugilist, modifications are being made to prepare for Barr’s left-handed haymakers.

“It’s a completely different look,” said Sands, who is the reigning Minnesota cruiserweight champ. “The power comes from the other side, all the speed comes from the opposite side. Everything is switched.

“He’s a big, tough, thick guy. He loves to throw big power shots and he’s got a great record.”

Sands’ recent victories have attracted the attention of boxing’s various sanctioning bodies. Surviving his ordeal against Namauu has led to an opportunity to claim the vacant NABA-US cruiserweight title (Sands is ranked No. 7 by the NABA, which is part of the World Boxing Association). A victory Saturday likely will land him bigger, more lucrative bouts in the future.

That climb up the boxing charts doesn’t surprise Walters.

“It’s actually going the way that we wanted it to go with Al’s rise in the rankings, his rise in the public eye and the national eye,” Walters said. “That’s what this fight is about most of all — jumping into those rankings. This is a big step.”

Sands said he’s ready for more chart climbing.

“I’ve felt a (growing) level of maturity in the last couple of training camps,” Sands said. “Now I feel that I’m ready for the pressures that come with being a main event fighter and going the distance.”

Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter.

Professional boxing card

When: Saturday, doors open at 6 p.m.

Where: Black Bear Casino in Carlton

Number of fights: Six

Main Event: Duluth’s Al “The Haitian Temptation” Sands vs. Keith “No Holds” Barr of Burnsville, W.Va., for the NABA-US cruiserweight title

Co-Main Event: Tony Lee of St. Paul vs. Robbie Cannon of Festus, Mo., for the NABA-US lightweight title

Tickets: Prices range from $30-$75 and can be purchased at ticketmaster.com or at Black Bear Casino.

 

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