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Butler continuing Duluth's boxing tradition

Growing up around boxing, I witnessed firsthand the discipline and commitment involved to be successful at such a demanding endeavor. My father, a former boxer, trained my older brothers to varying degrees of achievement at the amateur and profes...

Growing up around boxing, I witnessed firsthand the discipline and commitment involved to be successful at such a demanding endeavor.

My father, a former boxer, trained my older brothers to varying degrees of achievement at the amateur and professional levels.

For several years beginning in the late 1970s, the Duluth Police Gym was the testing ground for anyone with aspirations to be a fighter.

Located above an auto repair shop on First Street downtown, it was a training facility typical of the sport. Two rings were surrounded by several heavy punching bags, speed bags and an area to jump rope.

Boxing shows were held on a regular basis in the Twin Ports at that time. The DECC's Paulucci Hall, among others, played host to these matches.

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Back in those days, the big prize for any amateur was to win an Upper Midwest Golden Gloves championship.

That tournament, generally held on a weekend in late March, attracted enormous crowds to the since-dismantled Minneapolis Auditorium. The bouts drew thousands and were the subject of great media attention, particularly in the Twin Cities.

Duluth has had its share of Upper Midwest champions dating back to the 1940s. Tim Perrault, Bobby Daniels, John and Dennis LeGarde, Billy England and Zach Walters are among those who battled their way to titles and earned trips to the National Golden Gloves Tournament.

Although not garnering the fanfare of years past, the Upper Midwest is still a prestigious event with the same stakes. Now held at Grand Casino Hinckley, it continues to bring the region's best amateur fighters.

Earlier this month, Duluth's C. J. Butler added his name to the city's boxing lore. Fighting in the featherweight division (125 pounds), the Central High School junior outclassed defending champion Wilshaun Boxley of Minneapolis in the finals.

For his efforts, he now advances to the national tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn. this coming week.

I was quite impressed watching extended highlights of his match-up with Boxley on one of the local newscasts. He appeared to be in complete command, especially in the final round.

For a young man of 17, he has the skills and coordination of a more experienced fighter. Combined with his quickness and relentless aggression you have someone who looks difficult to beat.

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Amateur boxing has changed quite a bit in the past 15 years. Rule changes for the sake of safety have been both positive and negative.

Protective equipment has improved dramatically with larger gloves and more stable headgear. Referees are now more adept at erring on the side of caution.

The computerized scoring at the national and Olympic levels, however, has further muddled the objectivity in how winners are determined. Judges using electronic devices have to react instantly when a blow is landed.

Now shorter in total length by one minute, bouts are fought in more of a frenzy than before. Defense suffers as fighters are more concerned with the quantity of punches they must land in the shortened time period.

Butler boxes with a style made for the amateur game. Constantly busy with hands always moving, he rarely gives opponents a chance to catch their breath.

His success at nationals will depend on many factors, including not knowing who his first opponent is until arriving in Chattanooga.

He'll also have to win several fights in a matter of days, which takes both a physical and mental toll. One loss means elimination.

With the right draw, he has an excellent chance to do well.

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Dave LeGarde is a Duluth East basketball coach and sports aficionado. Readers can e-mail questions and comments to dlegarde@charter.net .

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