The boxers fought tough. The crew produced a top-notch event. The problem was few people showed up.
“This is a good venue for Richmond,” said Jesse Coleman, an employee who travels with United States of America Boxing, the governing association of amateur boxing. “They did a good job of organizing, and they’ve got good fights. They just need an audience.”
They, the Richmond Police Activities League, were expecting over 1,000 spectators. But on Saturday afternoon only about 180 filed into Richmond Auditorium for the amateur boxing exhibition dubbed “Richmond’s Finest.”
The group’s first event, held last March, attracted around 800 people and earned $4,000. So, what was the difference this time?
“Our number one problem was the number of events happening in the city today,” RPAL Executive Director Larry Lewis said.
But, as Coleman pointed out, there were plenty of positives to build upon.
“The best part for us is the U.S.A. boxing officials are happy,” Lewis said.
Fighters, ranging in age from 11 to 30, traveled from around the Bay Area, and some came from as far as Los Angeles, bringing with them friends and family who otherwise may have never visited Richmond.
Lewis and head boxing coach John Island are planning to organize more fights in the future as the PAL boxing program continues to flourish and attract more youth. Nine bouts took place, with five locals competing and three leaving with victories.
“It’s exhilarating,” 12-year-old Ernesto Cuellar said. “This was my chance to win. It feels really, really good.”
To celebrate, Cuellar, and his older brother, Freddy – who was also supposed to compete but couldn’t line up another fighter – like to go to In-N-Out Burger. Leon Brown, 17, and Jaime Navarro, 23, also won their bouts. Navarro moved here from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, specifically to train with Island, an acclaimed fighter himself.
And while Nyler Baniqued, 23, and Nikko Jackson, 24, didn’t get the vote they were hoping for, they had much to be proud about.
“I fought with my heart,” said Jackson, fighting in his first match in almost four years. “I walked out with my head held high.”
He also hoisted his opponent after the judges announced their verdict and paraded him around the ring to erupting applause and hollers from the audience.
In between bouts, a dj spun old-school jams while kids shadow boxed with gray-haired men.
“This place should be packed,” long-time resident Ricardo Gutierrez said. “I love boxing. I remember when we used to have fights a long, long time ago, and everyone would come. They need to get the word out.”
Gutierrez pointed to a sweatshirt on the back of a young boxer. It read, “We don’t break the law. We break jaws.”
“They are fighting without breaking the law,” Gutierrez said. “Sports is a way to get it out of your system without shooting a gun.”