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Jazmin Hunter works on a punching bag.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Jazmin Hunter works on a punching bag.

Getting ready
to rumble

Boxing team reaches milestone by hosting Saturday tournament

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

Whether or not any of Mario Davis' boxers score victories Saturday night, when the final bell rings, his young program will stand like a champion.

Mario Davis works out boxer Jordan Picchiottino at the Decatur Youth Services boxing and training center on Wilson Street.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Mario Davis works out boxer Jordan Picchiottino at the Decatur Youth Services boxing and training center on Wilson Street.
After starting from scratch 21/2 years ago, Davis has built a youth program capable not only of competing against longer-established programs in the Southeast but also of getting those other teams to compete in Decatur.

The inaugural Decatur City Rumble debuts Saturday at 6 p.m. at Aquadome Recreation Center, offering matches between 50 to 70 boxers from Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

It feels like a milestone moment for the program organized by Decatur Youth Services through the Police Activity League, Davis said, because boxing "had pretty much died out here," but now it's attracting talented athletes and making a statement that it's here to stay.

Playing host to a tournament that will draw teams from Bowling Green, Ky., Chattanooga, Gadsden and several other cities backs that statement up, he said, noting some of the fighters competing Saturday are national gold glove and silver glove champions.

More than 100 youths have donned the gloves at the gym on Wilson Street Northwest since it opened in September 2004. Of those, 12 to 15 are serious competitors, five of whom will compete Saturday.

The 41-year-old who boxed professionally for 10 years in Buffalo conceded even he is impressed how well the program has done in a short time.

"And I'm very surprised at the skill and talent we have in this area," he said. "I wouldn't have thought that because a program hasn't really existed here in years, and a lot of these kids don't really know anything about it except for what they see on television."

Throughout that first year, "droves" of boys would come in spurts and only a few would stick it out, Davis said. That's basically how it works in most boxing programs, he added, but in another year, the program ought to have enough to field a team.

Though producing a competitive team is important to Davis, it's not his main goal. His primary objective is to equip them with life tools that will help them be a success outside the ring.

"We got 100 boxers, and not all of them will be world champions, but every one of them will be members of our community," he said. "And we need them to be productive members of our community."

Boxing is a great tool for making them better citizens, Davis said, because it requires hard work, discipline and respect. Eventually, he wants to tie the boxing program with a vocational education program so the youths will walk away from their training with more than just an ability to duck and jab.

Jordan Picchiottino, 17, a homeschooled student from Athens who will fight in a 152-pound match Saturday, credit's the program's quick success to Davis' coaching ability and his genuine desire to help the youths make wise choices in life.

Picchiottino mentioned one young boy who was obviously troubled because he'd been abused, but now that he is surrounded by role models who work hard and practice self discipline, the boy is turning his life around and even going to church voluntarily.

"I'm not as wise as they (Davis and other coaches, Jeff Teague, Jessie Davis and Jon Lancaster) are, but I try to do the same things they do and teach," Picchiottino said. "They're definitely good influences on me."

Davis said boxing seems to appeal to troubled youth and many of the boys who come to the gym are eager to put the gloves on and start punching somebody. Many are disappointed to find out Davis requires them to train against punching bags and build strength for a month or two before he lets them in the ring.

"Yeah, we've got some guys who come in the program and think that (punching each other) is what boxing is about, but it's not," he said. "It's a lot to do with self control and self respect and discipline."

How to go

What: Decatur City Rumble boxing tournament featuring more than 50 youth fighters from Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Where: Aquadome Recreation Center.

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Cost: $5 for adults, $2 for youths.

Who's fighting

Five boxers will represent the Decatur Youth Services team in the Decatur City Rumble: Clayton Walker, heavyweight; Jordan Picchiottino, 152 pounds; Mario Davis Jr., 178 pounds; Gilbert Nix, 106 pounds; and Gregory Willard, 90 pounds.

The tournament features 12 weight divisions from 90 pounds to super heavyweight. Each match has three rounds. Awards will go to the winner of each fight, the best fight of the night, best fighter of the night and best team.

For more information on the Decatur Youth Services boxing program, call 341-4690.

- Paul Huggins

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