In an arena filled with enthusiastic cheering, one chant from the sidelines can be heard above the rest.
“Fight, Bryan! Fight!” a man screams over and over. A sea of more than 15 others dressed in red and black “Elizondo Boxing Club” T-shirts join him in shouts from the sidelines.
The scene looks the same from all sides at the Independence Events Center on Thursday. Family, friends and coaches fill up pockets of the arena to cheer on boxers competing in the 15th annual Ringside World Championships, the world’s largest amateur boxing tournament.
Ringside, a Lenexa-based boxing equipment company, hosts the competition which draws more than 1,500 boxers and 500 coaches. Competitors travel from all 50 states and 10 countries around the world to compete for 230 championship belts.
At 14 years old, Elizondo Boxing Club member Bryan Solis is hardly the youngest boxer competing for a belt. His San Antonio-based gym has 40 boxers, including 9-year-old Mia Cortez who has been training for four months for her first competition. The tournament allows competitors as young as 8 and has no upper age limit.
“What I’m gonna do out there today is do my best,” Cortez said.
Solis, who has been boxing for two years, also trains with the boxing club in San Antonio. After he got into a fight at school, his mom signed him up for boxing lessons.
“It lets me take my anger,” Solis said. “And I get to punch people.”
The tournament separates competitors by age, experience and weight. All boxers fight in three rounds to win a fight, but age determines the length of each round. Three judges sit at the side of the ring and determine a winner based on the boxer who makes the most hits in scoring range, in front of a person’s ears and above their belt line.
John Martin, 54, has been boxing since 1980 off and on and will compete in the Masters Division, for those 40 years and older. Martin grew up in Newark, N.J., and took up boxing so he could be a better fighter in the streets. As he continued the sport, though, he kept fighting inside the ring, advancing to the semifinals of another prominent amateur boxing tournament, the Golden Gloves, in 1981 and 1991.
“I had a lot of anger built up inside of me, and I just fought a lot in the street. I just had a short fuse,” Martin said. “When I started boxing, I no longer wanted fight in the street. It just gave me that discipline.”
Although he lives an ocean away, boxing helped Brian McKeown, the coach of Cavan Boxing Club in Ireland, overcome a struggle of his own. McKeown was a boxer for eight years before he became a political prisoner of the British government. He said boxing helped him during his 11-year imprisonment.
“In boxing, you have to go it on your own. Every time you climb up in the ring, you put your whole life up for examination,” McKeown said. “If you knock yourself down in the boxing ring, everybody sees it. You’ll never forgive yourself. It’s a big character builder. It’s a sport that makes men out of boys.”
It costs each of McKeown’s boxers more than $1,600 for travel and entrance fees for the tournament, but he said the tournament is worth the cost.
Under McKeown’s coaching Céire Smith, 22, won the Ringside World Championships in 2012. She won a bronze medal in the European games and hopes to qualify for the Olympics this January in Kazakhstan. This year, McKeown brought Smith and seven others to compete in the tournament.
Ringside purchasing manager Albert Guardado said the sport is about more than just competition.
“It’s great because of the lessons it teaches young people,” Guardado said. “Amateur boxing requires a lot of work. It requires you to be in shape. It requires goal setting and focus unlike any other sport.”
Emeralda Navarro, a 17 year old from Mission, Texas, knows the hard work of boxing first hand. She runs four miles every morning and boxes three hours a day nearly every day of the week. Although, the ultimate goal is a belt, Navarro said she has another reward in mind if she wins.
“I would go home and eat ice cream,” she said.