Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fighters get ready to rumble

The Virginia amateur boxing championships are back in Roanoke, starting today at 6 p.m.

It's been at least decades, Maynard Quesenberry figures, since the state amateur boxing championships came to Roanoke. Some time back in the 1960s, maybe -- probably back when the Amateur Athletic Union ran things instead of USA Boxing.

Bruce Frank, the president of USA Boxing's Virginia chapter, can't disagree.

"He would be the only one old enough to know," Frank said of Quesenberry, his 55-year-old vice president.

The long wait ends today, when 40 or 50 of Virginia's best fighters begin a process they hope will take them to the regional and national tournaments, and maybe -- just maybe -- the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Mark Harrison can't wait.

"Looking real good," said Harrison, whose Virginia Gator Boxing Club is Roanoke's only USA Boxing gym. "I'm actually real tickled, because not only are we hosting the state tournament, we've actually got a chance of winning it."

Semifinal bouts in the novice and open divisions of 11 weight classes will start at 6 p.m. today at Roanoke Catholic School, with Sunday's 2 p.m. finals moving down Gainsboro Road to the old Booker T. Washington High School.

The tournament is held in a different city each year, Frank said, and this seemed a good time to give Roanoke and the Gators a chance to host.

"They'd been very strong supporters of the whole state, so we wanted to reward them," said Frank, who runs the Staunton Boxing Club.

With no travel expenses to consider, the Gators will enter seven or eight fighters, giving them plenty of chances to earn points.

Their best fighter, though, will not be among them. Jesse Geisbert, a heavyweight who won a state Golden Gloves title at the novice level last year, is too far over his weight limit to even try to make this morning's weigh-in.

Time-consuming school work and mom's home cooking helped Geisbert, a Virginia Tech graduate student, get up to 221 pounds over the holidays.

He said he lost 12 pounds in the past two weeks but still would need to drop another eight to get to the 201-pound limit for heavyweights.

Geisbert could fight and win as a super heavyweight this weekend, Quesenberry said, but being locked in to that weight class would become a problem if he got to the national championships.

Geisbert said it's disappointing to miss weight, but he knows he's not prepared to fight this weekend.

"I know Maynard's upset, and he rightfully should be," Geisbert said of Quesenberry, who has coached him for five years at the Virginia Tech Boxing Club.

"But they'll be plenty of people there to show them what Gator Boxing is capable of," Geisbert added.

First on that list is 141-pounder LA'Torie Woodberry, who will make his open debut, joining Geisbert, his fellow Virginia Golden Gloves champion, as the only Gators above the novice level.

Woodberry's draw, though, could include Ke'Ron Green and Mondre Pope, a pair of Norfolk fighters who will rank with anyone at the championships.

"He's going to have a tough tournament," Quesenberry said.

"But we think he's up to the task."

Several novice Gators could be title threats as well, led by David Hopkins at 141 pounds and his younger brother, 132-pounder Jesse Hopkins. Darus Somieari at 112 is inexperienced but has all the tools.

The women's bouts -- assuming enough show up -- should include a pair of Virginia Tech students, 138-pounder Fae Garstang and 165-pounder Dominique Bunai.

"This ain't no joke," Harrison said.

"You're going to have a show on your hands with this one."

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