From towns as small as Te Awamutu, and as large and sprawling as Auckland, the North Island's best and brightest pugilists converged on Rotorua over the weekend to compete in the North Island Golden Gloves Championships. For the most part, it was the families and friends of fighters that filled the seats of the Rotorua Girls High School gym (aka Rotorua Arena), cheering and calling out advice to their favoured boxer. Some sensible, some spurious, the fighters were too focused to pay much attention to the advisors, and fought through both days for the chance at a Golden Gloves championship title.
A total of 80 bouts were fought in quick succession from Saturday, 1pm, to Sunday 7pm, with hardly a break for judges to catch their breath and hand the winners their dues, and for fans to subside into their seats. However, amongst the quick procession of golden-gloved champions heading to the dressing rooms with their ribbons, their awards, and their bruises, there were some that shone particularly brightly under the sodium lights. No other woman whipped the crowd into more of a frenzy, and drew more praise, then golden gloves champion Hurricane Doyle (Female Open Elite 69kgs, Auckland Boxing Association), who wrung a flurry of excited cheers and calls from the crowd during both of her fights, against very worthy opponents. Her first fight against Claudia Heijns (Central Auckland) ended in an amazingly high-scored 38-32 win for Doyle, and saw her lethal left and right hooks unleashed on an equally hard-hitting Heijns. It was blow for blow throughout, especially in the final round when both fighters landed a seemingly endless torrent of punches on each other. The final against Megan Maka (Wellsford Boxing) ran along similar lines, but was especially tense as Doyle started slowly, then outlasted Maka to continue landing all manner of blows on her tiring opponent. Doyle also won the Women's Most Scientific Boxer Award. The lighter, younger women (Cadet Novice 52kgs) had their own titanic battle that was fought late on Saturday night between Ati Te Tomo (Wairoa) and Reychene Whalley (Te Awamutu). Te Tomo came out on top 28-22, but worked exceptionally hard for the honour against Whalley and her contingent of extremely vocal supporters. The diminutive young women, ducked, weaved, threw combinations, and landed punches that would have ended with a KO in a heavier weight range. Whalley's brother Sheldon was also a finalist, this time in a Te Awamutu-only final against Tyler Jefferies (Junior Open 60kgs) that had raucous supporters from the small town stationed on two sides of the ring. Jefferies won the bout 24-13, amidst a long hollering session that had to be quietened by the worn-down referee.
Initially kneeling in his corner and crossing himself in thanks to his God, a devoutly Christian Joe Blackbourn (Wellington) fought a jovial Joshua Bowman (Whangarei) in an Open Elite 75kgs final that was another definite highlight of the event. Winning the title 20-13, Blackbourn displayed some outstanding boxing skill and technicality as he wove and punched around a strong, but out-boxed Bowman. The additional award of Most Scientific Boxer - Elite to Blackbourn was justified testament to the impressive display.
After 16 hours of boxing matches over two days, it may have been hard to muster the enthusiasm, but in the third to last match of the championship local fighter Tyson Sykes (Sykes Gym) made good on his comeback and delivered the expectant locals a golden gloves title in the Elite Open Male 81kgs final against Piutau Pani (Plantation Boxing). Despite being a tentatively-fought reentry into competitive boxing for the well-known local, the crowd were not disappointed.
Celebrations may be short-lived though, as those who left with titles are bound to be back in the gym already as the National Golden Gloves Championship looms closer.