By Gord Bowes, News staff
Zach Ridgewell says he got off to a slow start in the boxing ring, but he is certainly making a mark these days.
The 17-year-old Cathedral high school student started boxing when he was 10 years old as a way to get in better shape for hockey.
While working out at McGrory’s, he started sparring and found he preferred the solo sport of boxing to the team sport of hockey.
His hockey coach told him he had to choose one.
“I chose boxing,” says Ridgewell.
By age 11, he was getting some fights under his belt.
He lost his first match, but it didn’t discourage him from sticking with the sport.
“I didn’t want to quit with a loss,” he said. “I lost my first six fights. I wasn’t that good when I was little, but I stuck with it.”
It’s a lot different today, however. Ridgewell is one of just four boxers chosen to represent Canada at the 2014 International Boxing Association Youth World Boxing Championships in Bulgaria, April 10-25.
Ridgewell earned the spot by becoming the national champion last fall in the 64 kg weight class. He is also the reigning Ontario champion, winning that title two years in a row.
He also won a silver medal last summer fighting at 69 kg at the Golden Gloves tournament in Cornwall.
“I like the way Zack has matured in the ring,” says Bob Wilcox, who coaches Ridgewell at Steeltown Boxing Club on Upper Ottawa.
“Zack used to fight instead of box; now he is thinking more, picking his shots better and settling down more in the ring.”
Wilcox adds that Ridgewell’s height — he’s 6-foot-1 — and strength are great for boxing.
Right now, Ridgewell is training twice a day — strength and conditioning followed by ring training — six days a week, and then some sparring on Sundays.
He’s in the process of losing a dozen pounds to get down to his fighting weight.
He leaves for Bulgaria on April 9. About 100 countries compete in the world championships.
It’s a single-knockout tournament; boxers who reach the final could fight eight or nine times during the 15-day tournament.
Ridgewell says he probably won’t know much about his opponents, so he will have to try to find information about their records or possibly YouTube videos of fights to learn what he can ahead of time.
A top-five finish among North American boxers will earn Ridgewell a trip to the youth Olympics in China this summer.
He’s also set his sights on next year’s Pan Am Games and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Boxing Canada doesn’t have a big budget, so only the four fighters they believe have the best shot of winning will make the trip to the world championships. The three other boxers are Adrian Halford (52 kg), Cody Brown (60 kg) and Evagelos Frangos (91 kg).
Because Boxing Canada doesn’t cover the whole cost — the boxers have to pay for their flight and other incidentals themselves — there is a fundraiser for Ridgewell on April 6 at Splitsville from 3-5 p.m. Tickets are $20; call 289-442-2481.
On May 3, Ridgewell will be defending his Ontario title at the provincial championships being held at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. His professional teammate, Steve “the Pirahna” Wilcox, will be fighting at the Hershey Centre that night.