Doug Clark: ‘Hillyard Hammer’ throws punches, punch lines with flair
A couple of truck backfires or something pyrotechnic ka-boomed not far from Market Street and Broad Avenue, the staging area for Saturday’s Hillyard Festival Hi-Jinx Parade.
As the noise faded, the following two things happened almost simultaneously:
1. Spokane Mayor David Condon flinched.
2. Chauncy Welliver wisecracked.
“You know someone’s not from Hillyard when they duck at the sound of gunfire.”
After nearly expiring from laughter, I was struck with the realization that the ‘Hillyard Hammer’ (Welliver’s prizefighter sobriquet) may be faster at throwing a punch line than throwing a punch.
Which is saying something.
Welliver, 31, is blessed with naturally quick hands. They helped him achieve some extraordinary things as a heavyweight boxer despite drawbacks like short arms, small hands, average power and a chronic weight problem that has critics calling him a fatso and a lot worse at every opportunity.
The Hammer fought 152 amateur and pro bouts. His professional record is a testament to his tenacity and iron chin: 55 wins, eight losses and five draws.
Welliver traveled the globe, sparred with Mike Tyson and won 13 professional belts that are fortunately large enough to fit around his …
Sorry. Now I’m doing it.
Piling on Welliver is an easy trap to fall into given the fighter’s predilection for comedic self-abuse.
DOUG – “Who do you think would play you in the Chauncy Welliver movie?”
CHAUNCY – “John Goodman.”
True story: After clobbering some mope in a title fight in Kentucky, Welliver received a certificate from the governor naming him an “honorary colonel.”
As you can see, asking this character to be the Hi-Jinx Parade’s grand marshal was a no-brainer.
Welliver grew up in this proud, former train-yard community in northeast Spokane.
And though he once made New Zealand his home, The Hammer can’t utter two sentences without including at least one fond reference to the unpretentious, rough-and-tumble community he holds dear.
“I’ve got belts and those are cool; I’ve got awards,” Welliver said. “But this is my shining moment – I get to be King of Hillyard for a day.”
Before the parade began, Mayor Condon spoke a few kind words about Welliver before gifting him with one of those mayoral awards that I have skeptically referred to in columns past as the, ahem, Condon Coin.
That’s what brought me to the parade zone on an early Saturday morning.
A few days ago, while he was conducting boxing business in Germany, Welliver sent me an email to explain how much getting such a coin meant to him.
Why would the mayor give him one?
Now living in Spokane, Welliver operates an amateur boxing program on North Division for youth and adults called BoxFit.
To compete on his team, Welliver insists that all pugilists get together one Sunday a month to perform four hours of community service.
This service “varies from cleaning community centers, helping the elderly move to just flat-out cleaning trash,” he said.
“I love my city and would do whatever I can.”
Welliver knows just how lucky he is.
Back in 2007, he was convicted of a misdemeanor assault for beating a man. The incident occurred outside a downtown tavern the previous year.
Though he would serve three months in jail, Welliver knew what had been at stake when the jury returned with its verdict. A felony conviction could have sent Welliver to prison for 10 years, ending his career in the ring.
“This is the part of my life I regret,” Welliver said, adding that the experience taught him how easy getting into trouble could be.
It’s impossible not to like this guy.
Welliver is a fabulous storyteller, recounting his fights in colorful vernacular.
DOUG – “So how’d you beat him?”
CHAUNCY – “Aw, his nose was all over his face.”
Welliver is also passionate about his wife, Sarah, and family. The man practically swoons whenever his infant daughter, Lemyn, is around. BoxFit members built her a nursery at the club with “Princess Welliver” etched onto the door.
Plus Welliver’s funny. Side-splittingly funny.
“Some guys call me ‘BoxFat’ because of my size,” he said, flashing that grin again.
“Sure I’m fat. Even when I’m in shape I’m fat. I’m not that athlete. I’m your everyman. I get in there and give it my all.”
Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.