The 2019 Southeastern Kentucky Boxing Invitational left the London Community Center packed the night of Saturday, March 2. Hosted by the local gym, Loughran's Boxing, and put together by USA Boxing, amateur fighters of all ages performed in front of a larger-than-expected crowd.
"With us going up against the UT basketball game and the regional basketball tournament, we had way more of a crowd than we were expecting," said Jerry Loughran, owner of and coach at Loughran's Boxing.
Attendees included Mayor Troy Rudder and members of the London City Tourism and Convention Commission. London and the City Tourism Commission sponsored the competition.
"Mayor Rudder actually approached me after the event. The Tourism Commission was very impressed. They'd like to hold about four a year after the crowd they saw," said Loughran. He noted that the date for the next competition has yet to be decided.
Forty individuals from in and out of state took part in the event. The professional division, which was scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. after the amateur division, was canceled so that a limit would not have to be placed on the number of amateur participants. Bailey Lambert, 18, trains at Loughran's Boxing and was one of the fighters present at the event.
"When he first came in during his recovery, he was on crutches. He drives over here from Barbourville four, five days a week for training," explained Loughran.
In December, Lambert was shot in the foot after an accidental discharge. Despite having to spend two months recovering, he continued practicing at Loughran's for the competition.
"I was just like training; seeing if I could get ready," said Lambert, "I was really wanting to compete because it was at home here in London, and we never had one before. I was training harder and harder to get back in it. I didn't think I was gonna get back in it."
Many of Loughran's other students took part, including sisters Annie and Anna Zheng, ages 15 and 13 respectively.
"At first, before I got inside the ring, I was quite nervous. But once I got in there and started boxing, I felt much better and more confident," said Annie.
"Before going in there, I was nervous. After I got in there, I was still nervous," laughed Anna.
Anna partook in a developmental bout, which is a sparring match without an official winner or loser. Annie, who fought competitively that night, lost her match but enjoyed the experience.
"I just felt really good because when sparring, I don't usually spar anyone my size," Annie said. "It felt really good going up against someone that's around my weight-class and that was a girl."
Ethan Wells, 16, had similar thoughts after winning his bout.
"It was actually really fun. It was surprising first getting in the ring, but once you first start getting into it, it's a lot of fun," Wells said as he trained on a punching bag next to Kinnedy Hundley, 15. Hundley wasn't matched with an opponent during the competition. However, she continues to train in preparation of the next event.
"I'm going to be doing more running and conditioning," she said. "Conditioning is important because if you're in a ring, you're getting tired as you're boxing someone. And usually, the one who wins is the one who has the most stamina to reach the final round."
Hundley said she's focusing on mastering the fundamental stances of boxing, which include twisting appropriately after each thrown punch and keeping ones fists the correct distance from his or her face.
"Boxing is like a dance. If you're not dancing properly, you're not going to look or perform as good," she elaborated.
Also focusing on self-improvement was Aiden Rollins, who fought in a developmental bout against his friend and relative, Keston Kemper.
"We've sparred before. It was fun, but I think it would have been better if I got to fight someone I didn't know. I'm going to prepare for the next tournament by working as hard as I can. I need to lose a few pounds," Rollins chuckled.
The main event that night saw Treyton Byerly, 10, take home victory in his first competitive match.
"It was fun. It was exciting," Byerly said. Before his bout with Campbellsville's Preston Scott, Byerly made a promise to win.
"Treyton's opponent actually fought 12 times. His opponent had more fighting experience," boasted Jonathan Byerly, coach at Loughran's Boxing & Fitness. "We're hoping to get more sparring in for Treyton before the next competition."
"For a first show, I couldn't be more pleased with the level of competition and that everyone enjoyed the show," said Loughran. "Combat sports is probably the hardest emotionally for parents. Winning feels great; loosing feels equally bad. Win, lose or draw, I feel everyone handled themselves really well."
While nothing has been finalized, the next invitational may take place throughout two days, with one day dedicated to professional bouts and the following day featuring amateur fighters.
"We'll probably do two competitions in the fall," said Loughran. "We're going to have our first Jason VanHook Memorial in the fall. He was my best friend growing up." VanHook was a state trooper who lost his battle with leukemia in 2015.
Those looking to apply to Loughran’s Boxing & Fitness can visit them at 168 Shopping Center in London. A membership for law enforcement, first responders or anyone between the ages of 4 and 7 is $75 a month. Membership for those over 7 is $100 a month. Those within the same household as a member can apply for half-price.