For 14 years, the routine rarely changed.
Kenny Keene would wait for his dad to finish work at the sawmill. “He’d get off about 4 and we’d go work out at 5 at the gym,” Kenny said. “Rain, snow or shine.”
There was one interruption in 1990, when Jim Keene had pneumonia. Kenny was supposed to box at the Olympic Festival but canceled because of his dad’s health.
“Once he got out of the hospital he told me never to cancel like that,” Kenny said. “I promised him I wouldn’t.”
That promise is the main reason Keene will box on tonight’s five-bout card at the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Bingo/Casino in Worley, 12 days after his dad’s fatal heart attack in their hometown of Emmett, Idaho. The bouts begin at 7:30.
Kenny was sleeping when a policeman friend came to his house with the news. Jim was en route to work when his heart gave out. A policeman happened to be right behind Keene’s car. CPR was administered immediately, but Jim couldn’t be revived.
“It’s something I knew might be coming, but you can never prepare for something like that,” Kenny said. “I kind of went into shock.”
Kenny and two older brothers live within a mile of their mother’s house in Emmett, about 30 miles outside of Boise. The family has dealt with tragedy before. Kenny’s older sister died in an auto accident 10 years ago.
“It does pull the family closer together,” he said.
Kenny and his dad had always been close. Jim took Kenny to the gym for the first time 14 years ago. One of Kenny’s older brothers was a boxer and Kenny wanted to win a boxing trophy.
“He got me started,” said Keene, who often fights in Caldwell. “I guess boxing was his hobby and I was his hobby because he really enjoyed my career. He didn’t push me into it.”
Kenny, 28, turned pro about six years ago. With his dad watching most of his fights, Keene has compiled a 36-1 record and is cruiserweight champion of the lightly regarded International Boxing Council.
He has earned roughly $300,000 the last three years. He figures he’ll box about three or four more years and hopes for a big-money fight that may never come. His top payday was $55,000 last year for a fight on CBS.
“I’m very satisfied with my career,” he said. “The problem with the division is there aren’t really many household names, but I make a pretty good living doing this.”
At 5-foot-9, Keene stays on the attack.
“I have to be the aggressor. I have to make the fight,” Keene said. “I move forward and from what I understand that’s what he (Gary Steiger, tonight’s opponent) does, so it should be a good fight.”
Keene will enter the ring still coming to grips with his father’s death. “It doesn’t seem like he’s gone, I keep thinking he’s flying in (for the fight). Every day I keep thinking things will be back to normal,” he said. “Clear up to when he died, he was getting ready to come up here.”
He’s not sure if the tragedy will affect his boxing.
“I won’t know until I fight,” he said. “I didn’t just fight for my dad. I fought because I loved the sport, too.”
That’s something they both had in common.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TONIGHT’S CARD Program begins at 7:30 at the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Bingo/Casino in Worley: Cruiserweight: Kenny Keene (Emmett, Idaho) vs. Gary Steiger, (Louisville, Kent.), 12 rounds Welterweight: Helga Risoy (Las Vegas) vs. Norma Mosley (Atlanta), 8 rounds Heavyweight: Albert Williams (Las Vegas) vs. Steve Cortez (Klamath Falls, Ore.), 8 rounds Cruiserweight: Frank Vassar (Spokane) vs. Shawn Elliott (Bend, Ore.), 6 rounds Middleweight: Tim Shooks (Seattle) vs. TBA, 6 rounds