Cam F. Awesome didn’t merely step into the ring on Saturday at the Ringside World Championships at the Independence Event Center. Dressed in pink headgear and shorts highlighting his advocacy for breast cancer awareness, he flipped over the ropes to land into the ring.
Even during competition, his mega-watt smile was easily seen, even when it looked like he was struggling in the first round against fellow super-heavyweight Nicholas Jones. Awesome won the fight by technical knockout in the second round.
“He’s a tough guy, very strong. He’s a little bigger than me,” Awesome said of Jones. “I figured I’d let him punch himself out in the first round and then knock him out in the second round.”
At 25 years old, Awesome, a Kansas City based boxer, has won 11 national championships and is the captain of the U.S. men’s national boxing team. He has been busy this year traveling outside the country to compete in international championships. He has won four gold medals this year.
His most recent win came July 20 in Mexico at the Pan-American Olympic Festival where he defeated boxers from Cuba, Mexico and Ecuador to bring home the gold. Saturday marked Awesome’s fifth Ringside World Championship.
“I just got back from Mexico about a week ago, and I was in great shape when I was preparing for this tournament. So I kept the ball rolling,” he said, later adding, “I come to tournaments like this to work on certain things. I’m good at fighting on the outside. I’m working on fighting on the inside, though.”
Next he will head to camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., to train at the Olympic Training Center before taking off for Austria to try to make it five gold medals this year. He’s already making plans to travel to Rio in two years, too.
“I plan on getting a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics,” he said.
The Ringside World Championships began on July 30 in Independence and consisted of 1,500 male and female boxers ages 8 and up fighting in more than 1,000 bouts in six different rings. The event brought amateur boxers from around the globe.
Makaly Elizondo, 9, from San Antonio, Texas won in the first bout of the day in ring five against Mariah Bahe from Arizona.
It was also Elizondo’s first tournament. Elizondo’s father, Gilbert, said it’s difficult to find fights in San Antonio with girls in Makaly’s weight class.
“We just opened a gym. We’ve been (open) for maybe six months, so this is our first trip, something we all wanted to try,” said Gilbert.
Makaly has been training for nearly three months.
“My boy wanted to box, and they’re around it all the time,” Gilbert said. “(Makaly) is a cheerleader, and she watched us train every day and she was like, ‘I want to box now.’”
Gilbert said at first he wasn’t sure if he should let his daughter box. He didn’t think it was for her, he said. Her interest in boxing didn’t go away.
Now, Gilbert said they train nearly every day.
“I said if you want to do this let’s do it the right way, let’s train hard and she stuck with it,” Gilbert said.
“She trained with the boys. She’s right there with them.”
Michelle Cugliani, 10, from New York, who also won a belt on Saturday, said she started out in karate but then decided to take up boxing. It was then that her father brought her to trainer Michael Kozlowski, nearly two years ago.
Kozlowski, originally from Russia, has been a boxing trainer for 30 years. He said in his experience training men and women, he’s found that women tend to be more disciplined. Cugliani is the youngest student on Kozlowski’s “Win or Die” boxing team.
Kozlowski said being her trainer has been a very rewarding experience because Cugliani has proved to be very serious about the sport, something Kozlowski looks for in an athlete. He said he doesn’t look to train athletes who just want to box for fun. For him, it’s about wanting to win championships.
“I feel if she continues to work hard, she has a chance to go to the Olympics,” he said.
This was Robert Ray’s last chance to best his good friend John Disterdick. At 74 and 72 years old, respectively, Ray and Disterdick fought in the final bouts of their boxing careers on Saturday. This was the second time the two friends who met in 2008 faced each other, but Ray wasn’t able to defeat Disterdick either time.
“I beat everybody but him, I can’t seem to beat him,” Ray said, laughing.
Still, Disterdick bragged about Ray’s many accomplishments, saying he’s won “all kinds of belt in New York.”
Disterdick began boxing in the Masters Boxing division in 2007 and Ray began in 2008. Both had previously boxed in high school but decided to get back into it as a way to get in shape.
Neither had any idea that their careers would take them as far as the Ringside World Championships when they first began. Once they started though, that competitive fire rekindled.
“I think a lot of guys have a competitive spirit buried in there and this lets it out,” Ray said.
After the bout Ray walked down the stairs from the ring with a blood on his mouth. Then he gave his opponent a big hug.
“We’re both retiring after this. It’s been a great sport, it kept us healthy. We made great friends,” Disterdick said. “We’ll be friends until they bury us.”