HARTFORD, Conn. –
From an outsider’s perspective, the sport of boxing can appear like a chaotic and violent dance between two athletes. But for those in the ring, the sport transcends the few moments of sparring and is better defined by the camaraderie and fellowship shared among their fellow boxers.
This sentiment was evident during the annual Golden Gloves boxing tournament, hosted at the Governor William A. O’Neill Armory in Hartford, Connecticut. The event, which spans four weekends throughout the month of January, brings together amateur boxers from around New England to compete for the opportunity to advance to a higher level of competition.
“The thing about boxing is that it’s a test of wills, I think that’s the best part,” said Christopher Lacour, a competitor in the 201 lb. Elite Novice class. “It’s a constant challenge in and outside the ring. Every day is a challenge in the gym, trying to better yourself. I like showing my skills inside the ring.”
For some, the joy of competing and putting everything on the line for three two-minute rounds – the chance to say “I did that” - is enough. For others, like Lacour, a Motor Transport Operator with the Connecticut National Guard’s 1048th Transportation Company (Medium), this tournament is just the next step in chasing his dream of becoming a professional boxer.
His interest in the sport started early, though it was a casual obsession. He’d watch fights on television, shadow box whenever he had the chance, and take time during his workout at his local gym to use the heavy bags. But that casual interest changed in 2016 when he joined A Side Boxing Club in Stratford, Connecticut. It was here he met his coach, Kevin Schmidt, who saw potential in Lacour to be a great boxer.
“He’s very talented,” said Schmidt, a Woodbridge, Conn. Native. “He’s very skilled and fast for a heavyweight with good hands; he’s a good combination puncher and uses a lot of head movement … the transformation since day one, from when he started at the gym to where he is now, is just unbelievable. He’s come so far, so fast.”
It was this abundance of natural talent that made Schmidt and other members of the gym start calling Lacour “Lights Out”, in reference to former professional boxer James “Lights Out” Toney – who was known for his quick hands, punching power, and resiliency.
Schmidt has been coaching boxing for seven years, a passion he’s had since his teenage years. Throughout that time, he’s worked with several boxers but the relationship he’s built with Lacour is unlike many others.
In 2016, Schmidt decided to open his own gym to coach and train boxers. Like every budding entrepreneurial endeavor, he needed clients if he was going to see his dream become a lasting reality. So, he started handing out flyers to local businesses to try and entice locals to join.
“It’s a funny story,” said Lacour. “I told my coworker I was interested in joining a boxing gym a week or two prior and he happened to leave a flyer inside my job, and I’ve never seen a flyer in there before, so I called immediately.”
“[Lacour] started when I first opened the door to the club,” said Schmidt. “I’m the owner, he’s the original member that walked in the door; I think the first weekend I opened, he walked in … he’s the heart and soul of A Side.”
That was the start of Lacour’s journey, a story that started four years ago and continues to evolve, just like him. He entered the A Side Gym with little more than a dream, but it was through his hard work and dedication to the sport that he’s gained the skills, and trust of his coach, to enter the Golden Gloves tournament to represent his gym.
Despite having only competed in two boxing matches prior to joining the tournament, he managed to overcome his opponents in the quarter and semi-final rounds to earn a spot in the finals.
While every coach and boxer wants to hoist the trophy overhead at the end of the night, as they prepared for the bout, they knew winning their final fight of the tournament would hold a special level of accomplishment for this young duo: to prove to everyone that they’re the real deal.
“In this sport, there is a certain aspect of credit you need and proof to what you’ve been doing and this will certify our journey and what we’ve done,” said Schmidt. “No matter what you do in life, there’s people that say ‘you can’t win; you can’t do it; you’ll never make it;’ … it’ll mean a lot of us to prove to those people that with dedication, hard work, and focus, you can accomplish anything you want if you put your heart and soul into it and that’s what we’ve done for four years.”
The format to the tournament was slightly different from what you’d see at a professional match. Each fight lasted a maximum of three rounds and the fighters were broken up into classes based on their weight, age, and the number of fights they’ve previously participated in. Regardless of class, each fight was judged based on three statistics: sportsmanship, aggressiveness, and defense.
According to Maj. Mike Vaughan, a volunteer for Western New England Boxing, safety is the number one priority during the bouts. As such, each fighter is required to wear approved personal protection equipment, including mouth guards, sparring headgear, and approved boxing gloves.
If a fighter was knocked down or the referee stopped the fight, for any reason, the fighter is given a standing eight-count, after which, the fight will either resume or end depending on the referee’s judgement of the fighter’s ability to continue.
As the twelfth bout on the finals fight card, Lacour had a long wait before getting in the ring. From the balcony of the armory’s drill shed – used as a holding area for the fighters – he worked with his coaches to stretch and remain loose as well as talking strategy.
The fights started at 7:30, but it wasn’t until nearly 10:30 that his name was called. His bout was against Julian Smith from Thomaston, Conn. At first sight, Smith had a clear height advantage against Lacour and it became evident through the fight that he also had a clear advantage with arm length, as well.
However, many of those in attendance were quick to comment about how talented Lacour was despite those disadvantages and agreed that he easily won the first round. Unfortunately, despite holding his own throughout the bout, he ended up falling to Smith via a split-decision.
Although it was a tough loss, the look on both Schmidt and Lacour’s faces after the fight made one thing clear: they were proud of all they’ve accomplished in a relatively short period of time. With the loss, this chapter of Lacour’s story came to a close, but it’s far from over.
“He has a promising future if – and I know he will – he stays dedicated to the mission that we’re on,” said Schmidt.