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Sunday, May 9, 2021

A Western student’s journey in the ring

Between studying finance and international business, Zeljko Stipetic spends long nights in his gym boxing. The senior has spent the last six years competitive boxing and has been recently preparing for his next match in March.
Between studying finance and international business, Zeljko Stipetic spends long nights in his gym boxing. The senior has spent the last six years competitive boxing and has been recently preparing for his next match in March.

His trainer told him to sleep in, but he still awoke at 7 a.m. on Saturday, April 25 for he had far too much excitement for his heavyweight bout that night.

Zeljko Stipetic, a student at Western, had been through the pre-fight ritual seven times before, but this time he felt more comfortable. He picked up Jimi Williams, another boxer who trains at his gym, at 10 a.m. and arrived at the weigh-in two hours early.

He reclined in his gray Camaro, closing his eyes and opening them every couple of minutes. He knew this was going to be a long day and was prepared after learning from the past.

One after another, more boxers pulled up in the parking lot, ready to weigh in for the fights that night. Eventually the doors were opened and fighters filed in.

“This gym is probably five times the size as Bricks Gym,” Stipetic said about the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club compared to the gym he trains at in Renton.

The gym was lined with speed bags and heavy bags, and in the middle stood the boxing ring. Pictures of boxers covered the walls and a case filled with hundreds of trophies hung above the weigh-in station.

Stipetic had to wait for the weigh-in because his trainer LeMar Vasser wasn’t there yet and had the paperwork needed.

A few minutes later, two more fighters showed up from Bricks Gym, Tim McIntyre and Marquel Ruffin. Both of them immediately weighed in.

“See that guy over there,” Williams said. “That’s who Z is fighting.”

Williams gave a quick breakdown of the fight and talked about the height of Stipetic’s opponent, Matthew Mollet. Stipetic stands about 5’10,” but is built like a brick wall. Vasser compared him to Mike Tyson, who was considered short for a heavyweight boxer. Mollet is about 6’2” and had the longer reach. This is nothing new for Stipetic, who is often fighting taller opponents.

Vasser showed up a bit late, and Stipetic weighed in at 215 pounds. At this point, most boxers were either laying around the gym waiting for the doctor’s physicals or were out eating and hydrating.

Between studying finance and international business, Zeljko Stipetic spends long nights in his gym boxing. The senior has spent the last six years competitive boxing and has been recently preparing for his next match in March.
Between studying finance and international business, Zeljko Stipetic spends long nights in his gym boxing. The senior has spent the last six years competitive boxing and has been recently preparing for his next match in March.

One boxer who weighed in two pounds over left with his trainer to run it off.

McIntyre and Ruffin already weighed in and left for the local Denny’s. Stipetic, Williams, Vasser and Vasser’s son met them there. With hydration at the utmost importance, Ruffin nearly finished two pitchers of water before Stipetic arrived.

“We shouldn’t compete against the guys we’re going against today,” he said. “We should compete against each other.”

The rest of lunch was filled with jokes, mostly from Williams, who always seemed to have one on the tip of his tongue. The guys seemed relaxed, even though Stipetic wasn’t saying much as he was focusing on his food.

They talked about boxing, girls, family and life in general.

After two hours at Denny’s, three pitchers of waters and countless plates of food, it was time to prepare for the fights.

Out of 17 fights, Williams did not get one, but helped the other boxers warm up and even helped Vasser in the corner during matches.

As the fights began, Stipetic’s and Ruffin’s families slowly entered the gym. Both families embraced all the fighters from Bricks Gym and wished everyone luck before they sat down to cheer for them.

McIntyre fought first and knocked out his opponent. It set the tone for Brick’s Gym as Ruffin went on and knocked out his opponent as well. Stipetic continued to wait, as his fight was the main event.

Stipetic watched a couple of the fights with his headphones on. He occasionally rose from the metal bleachers to jump around and stretch to keep warm.

“Nobody can spar with Z at the gym,” Tim said while watching Stipetic throw jabs at Vasser. “He’s just too strong and punches so hard.”

Stipetic eventually had his hands wrapped by Vasser and put the gloves on.

It was time.

Stipetic had broken a bit of a sweat to warm up and walked up to his corner. Mollet remained in his corner. Both boxers jumped up and down waiting for the referee to declare everything was ready to go.

Unfortunately, everything was not ready to go.

Stipetic’s mouth guard was declared illegal by the referee because it had red on it. Stipetic couldn’t fight unless he found a new mouth guard.

“It’s because if he bleeds from his mouth the ref might not see it,” a trainer explained to some people next to him.

After about 10 minutes of confusion, Vasser finally tossed Stipetic a clear mouth guard and the match began.

In the first round, both boxers traded blows, but Stipetic struggled with his mouth guard and it fell out, stopping the fight for a minute. The first round ended, and Stipetic was still struggling to hold his mouth guard in his mouth.

Mollet was quick and had reach. Stipetic had trouble finding angles to hit him.

“I kept trying to duck and hit in his body but I couldn’t find the right angle,” Stipetic said.

Stipetic lost his mouthguard again in the second round and was warned by the referee that if it happened again, he would be disqualified.

It dropped again and the fight was over.

Vasser sat in the corner for a couple of minutes with his head down. McIntyre and Ruffin looked shocked while Williams stood up waiting for Stipetic in the corner.

Stipetic wasn’t badly beaten and he said he thought the fight was stopped early.

“Next time,” Vasser repeated over and over.

Stipetic climbed out of the ring and embraced his family, friends and the guys he spent the entire day with.

“Bricks has that family feel,” Stipetic said. “It sucks to lose, but it’s nice to come out of the ring and see the guys that you train with weekly supporting you.”

Stipetic plans on fighting later this month, but nothing is scheduled yet. He plans on bringing a better fitting mouthguard next time.

Stipetic is studying business at Western and is planning to graduate in the fall.

Stipetic started boxing in 2008 during his junior year of high school, starting because he was interested in learning how to defend himself.

He has compiled a 4-3 record.

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