It is a beginning ... a place where young boxers go to begin, to take those first steps, those baby steps ... where they step through the ropes into the adrenaline-overload that fills a boxing ring.
The 71st annual El Paso Regional Golden Gloves boxing tournament will unfold tonight, Saturday and Sunday at that special and popular old boxing venue, the El Paso County Coliseum.
Young boys and girls will step into that ring, taking those first steps and following in the footsteps of some great professionals who have entertained thousands in the old building -- men like George Foreman and Salvador Sanchez and Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Erik Morales.
"We've had a pretty good turnout," said El Paso Golden Gloves director Ladislao Vicencio, himself a former three-time state Golden Gloves champion. "We'll probably have about 17 bouts each session."
As always, there will be bouts in three divisions -- the Junior Olympic Class, which pits boys and girls by age and weight up to the age of 17; Novice Class, which is for young men and women over the age of 17, but with fewer than 10 amateur bouts; and Open Class, the group that sends its weight class winner to the state tournament in Fort Worth. A championship there will offer a trip to the National tournament.
"We're a little light in the Open Class bouts this year, but we've got some weight classes where we are just overloaded," Vicencio said. "One of those is 132 pounds. We've got Raul Becerril,
who is relatively new to the program. He's been boxing about three years, but he has been very active. We've also got Omar Rangel and David Munoz, both at 132 and both former local champions. And we've got Martin Corona, who has come up through the Junior Olympic ranks. That will really be a tough weight class.
"The 165-pound weight class will be a tough one, too," Vicencio said. "Rigo Gutierrez was a champion at welterweight (147) two years ago. And we've got Israel Han, who is always a contender at 165."
Han, whose brother Abie is an undefeated professional and whose sister Jennifer is a five-time amateur national champion, has had some classic battles at 165 over the past few years. Twin sisters Heather and Stephanie are also talented boxers.
"I've made it to the finals, but I haven't made it to Fort Worth yet," the 24-year-old Israel Han said. "I've been training with my brother and sisters. They've been getting me ready and that's the best training."
Han, who is lean and ripped, laughed and said the 165-pound weight class is perfect for him.
"That's a comfortable weight for me," he said with a chuckle, "because I like to eat. I don't like to say no to food and I can fight at 165 and still eat."
Han sustained a cut in sparring just before the Golden Gloves Tournament last year and missed the event. He fought a beautiful battle with Josh Enriquez in the 2011 finals, losing a decision. Enriquez has since turned professional.
"I feel I'm ready," Han said. "I feel I'm finally ready to show people what I've been working on and I'm excited to show El Paso I'm ready to be the best."
The tournament always brings in new hopefuls, boys and girls interested in trying the Sweet Science. Vicencio said this year there is a new group joining in.
"We've gotten some of the mixed martial arts clubs entering," Vicencio said. "They are starting to branch out into boxing a little, and I think this will be a shot in the arm for us. We have four different MMA clubs entering. Some of these kids might not be that experienced at boxing yet, but they are tough kids with big hearts and they don't mind getting hit. This will be good for them and good for us."
There will be 17 bouts a session and Sunday's session will feature the finals of the Open Class, the fights that will decide a trip to Fort Worth and a chance to chase the dream of a state championship.
These are opening steps, baby steps, beginning steps.
And they begin tonight.
Bill Knight may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6171. Follow him on Twitter @BillKnightept
In the ring
-- What: 71st annual Regional Golden Gloves boxing tournament. -- When: 7 p.m. today; 3 p.m.Saturday-Sunday. -- Where: El Paso County Coliseum, 4100 E. Paisano. -- Tickets: $10; $5 youth, seniors, military. -- Of note: Amateur boxers from throughout the region compete in the Junior Olympic, Novice and Open Classes. Champions in the Open Class will represent El Paso at the state tournament in Fort Worth.
-- Information: 533-9899.
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