A trio of local boxers will make their way to the 2019 Super Channel Canadian Boxing Championships next April in Langford, British Columbia.
The Valley East Boxing Club tandem of Matt Cooper and Brett Huard will be joined by Top Glove Boxing Academy youngster Patrick Martin, their spots sealed following competition over the weekend, in Niagara Falls, at the 2018 Ontario Gold Glove meet.
Competing in what is likely one of the toughest divisions, provincially, in the sport, Cooper (91 kg Elite Open) earned a split decision over 2016 Canadian heavyweight champion Brock Stumpf of Elora, giving him a crack at gold on Sunday.
Unfortunately, the height advantage that was enjoyed by 2018 national gold medal winner Sunny Thind (King of the Rings - Brampton) threw a curve at Cooper, who remained pleased with his recent progress in this, his fourth year of boxing.
Now 25 years of age, Cooper recently jumped between the two local clubs, working for the first time with long-time local coach Peter Yannacoureas. "Peter is very nitpicky with the little things, drilling in techniques to perfection," said Cooper.
"We've made changes to my style, focusing more on defense, getting hit less. We have been focusing on lots of movement, counter-punching, a better ability to hit without getting hit." With an ever-increasing resume of opponents on his card, Cooper knows that his key to success generally lies with ensuring that he plays to his own strengths, versus being all that concerned with what weaponery a particular adversary might unveil.
"Every fight is different, depending on how prepared I am coming into the fight, but when I stop moving my feet, that's when things go wrong for me," he said. "My strength is my ability to move, especially at a heavier weight, move around the ring."
"I don't even worry about what my opponent is doing," Copper added. "I just know that if I do what I've been training to do, I'll be alright." With just nine fights under his belt, Patrick Martin was making the move to the Open classification for the very first time at provincials.
Despite losing in the final to Matthew Ryan of St Catharines, a 15 year old with a little more experience than Martin, the Sudbury representative has still qualified to attend nationals thanks to a silver medal performance, anxious to put to the test the lessons learned in his first foray to a higher level of competition.
"He (Ryan) was a lot more aggressive, more focused, just more used to fighting, in general," said Martin. "It wasn't my best fight, but I didn't quit." And he remains equally as realistic regarding the end goal of his first visit to nationals in the new year.
"It's going to be a really good experience," said Martin, competing in the 60 kg Jr C Open classification. "You can see how other provinces fight. I usually fight shorter guys, and they are better in close. I need to keep my distance and use my job, a lot."
Also making a return to the Canadian showdown is Valley East native Brett Huard, looking to improve on his first visit one year ago. The former "AA" hockey talent endured a bit of a frustrating week at the Golden Gloves, advancing through the first couple of rounds with "walk-over" wins over Raman Dhaliwal (HUF - Heron Ultimate Fitness in Mississauga) and Tanner Grass (Border City Boxing - Windsor).
The lack of a preliminary fight may have proved costly to Huard, who was beaten by Mason Galveo (Bay Area Boxing Club - Burlington) in the final, with the local product surely looking forward to having another crack at the champion in April out west.
Also representing Top Glove, 25 year-old former Montrealer Youssef El Bouachraoui was the sole northern Ontario boxer to emerge unscathed in Niagara Falls. Competing in the 60 kg elite Sub-Novice bracket, a division not eligible for nationals, El Bouachraoui recorded a pair of wins in an equal number of visits to the ring last week.
On Saturday, he earned a unanimous decision over James Beaupre of Niagara, looking equally as impressive in dominating Jose Romeldino of Stockyards Boxing & Fitness the next day.
With a background, in his youth, with both Muay Thai and Karate, the Moroccan born pugilist first moved to northern Ontario some two years ago, quickly developing a very close bond with coach Gord Apolloni and the crew at Top Glove.
"Boxing is very different compared to the martial arts," suggested El Bouachraoui. "Boxing is really, really, really technical. You need to use your brain in boxing. If you don't, you get beat up."
When all was said and done, the young athlete who dropped nearly 30 pounds to get to his healthy boxing weight a few years ago, really could not have asked for more from the competition that exposed him to only the fourth and fifth fights of his career.
"It was everything that we planned, me and Gord. We visualized a lot of the fight before the fight happened. We had a plan and I followed the plan. When I came out of the plan, Gord put me back on track." Facing an opponent with a very dangerous over-hand punch in the final, El Bouachraoui understood exactly what needed to be done.
"I had to keep moving my head, ducking and slipping," he said. "I lost my first three fights and didn't do that enough." It is exactly that type of in-fight experience that 14 year old Aidan Bedard hopes to have captured in Niagara Falls, dropping a split decision to Jagger Austin of Quinte Bay on Friday.
He fought for the very first time last summer, competing at the Bronze Gloves with only six months or so of boxing training behind him. "My biggest flaw was that I couldn't get out of the corners," said Bedard, first introduced to the sport via his older brother Liam, a fan of the environment that is enjoyed at the Valley East Boxing Club.
"The guy had more fights, more experience, but I still went out there with my head held high. You always want to stay in the middle of the ring and never get trapped. If you are, you try and manoeuvre out."
Between his first and second bouts, some four months apart, Bedard would gradually expand his boxing knowledge. "I've learned different moves, different styles," he said. "My go to punches would be head, body, head. I would throw my jab with my left hand, then come in with my right, maybe an uppercut hook."
Rounding out the list of local boxers who took part in the Ontario Championships was Alex Barriault (Valley East Boxing Club), who was defeated by Caelen McCabe of Beaver Boxing Club in Ottawa in a 40 kg Jr B Novice matchup on Friday.