After piling up upsets, 23-year-old now one big punch from title
Let’s be clear: Pat Ferguson is not going to save what the Klitschkos pretty much killed – which is to say, the heavyweight division.
But for the folks staging the USA Boxing National Championships here in Spokane, he’s the best thing that could have happened – even in an event that includes multiple Olympic medalists, world champions and the best amateurs in the land.
He’s not just “Local boy makes good.”
He’s local man makes preposterous.
And the narrative only grows more improbable.
On Wednesday, there was the crazy slobberknocker that hooked the credulous, Ferguson’s wild win over a game slugger named Manuel Contreras of St. Paul, Minnesota. Twenty-four hours later, the Spokane heavyweight committed fully to the fairytale, punching out a clear decision over Sardius Simmons, last year’s runner-up at this event.
But now it’s on. In Friday’s afternoon semifinals, Ferguson managed to pierce the glower and games of Ohio heavyweight Kato Montgomery, and finally rocked him with a flurry that resulted in a TKO at 2:15 of the third round.
So Pat Ferguson is now three rounds and the favorable estimation of three judges – or one big punch – from qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 2016 Games.
Isn’t it all too much – this 23-year-old who first set foot in the gym 20 months ago?
Isn’t he ready to sail away just on the story?
“Not really,” he said. “The fear of the fight alone kind of keeps it in perspective.”
Hey, that’s right. There’s another guy in the ring throwing punches, too.
The next one will be Vardan Khachatrian of Los Angeles, who dispatched Ryan Watson with a first-round TKO in the other semi. Their final has been moved to the 6 p.m. session, which should better accommodate Ferguson’s growing rooting section.
That would even include his trainer, Chauncy Welliver, the one-time world-ranked heavyweight.
“Pat’s kind of my new drug,” Welliver said. “I want to watch him fight.”
It was Welliver’s BoxFit gym that Ferguson found two summers back, without the Olympics or a national title or the pros in his grand vision.
“I really just wanted to get into shape,” he said, “and I decided I need something hard, something to discipline me and set me up for adulthood. So I go in and then I had the hardest day of my life that first day there.”
“It just went on and on – stuff I never did. The conditioning was brutal. I thought Chauncy was joking when he said, ‘Keep going.’”
Nonetheless, he did. Starting from about 225 pounds, he’s comfortably under the 201 limit for this tournament.
His first competitive fight ended in a knockout – his own. Almost immediately, he found the happy medium between anger and discouragement, thinking that “I’d been working hard, but I felt so behind, that there was so much I had to do. I think it helped to get me where I am now.”
So, KO’d in his first bout, entered here with the minimum 10 qualifying fights, in a city where boxing buzz is muted-to-nonexistent – any other alternate routes on the Ferguson journey?
It was 2004 when his family relocated from Port St. Lucie, Florida, to Spokane, Ferguson by this time having attended a dozen different schools. Other than a little weightlifting and a brief dalliance with the shot put in middle school track, Ferguson had no athletic resume at all when he tried on his first pair of boxing gloves.
“The only thing I can think of – and it sounds cheesy because everybody says it – is that maybe he was born to box,” said Welliver. “He might not be strong enough for football, but he’s strong enough for boxing. He might not be quick or skilled enough for basketball, but he is for boxing.
“He is an athlete. And when you hit him, he hits back harder. He kind of resents it a little bit.”
Ferguson certainly seems unflappable. Montgomery tried to freeze him with a glare and a growl at the weigh-in, and then punched the gloves he’d extended in the traditional good-luck gesture before Round 1. But by this point, what’s to get overwrought about? Ferguson knows the stage he’s on, that he’s already won the championship for most unlikely.
“But I want to do this for myself – I’m not trying to prove it to anybody,” he said.
“The experience – in the gym and all the fights – teaches you that everything else is not such a big deal. It makes every other goal and mountain you have to climb seem that much smaller.”
Putting it that way, it doesn’t seem so preposterous, after all.
Lead photo credit: Lewis and Clark grad Pat Ferguson lands a straight right to the forehead of Kato Montgomery in a semifinal bout Friday. Ferguson won by TKO at 2:15 of the third round. (Tyler Tjomsland)