Photo Courtesy of Erica Adjei.
Two local boxers are putting Ottawa’s name on the boxing-world map, bringing home a national title and medals from this year’s boxing championships in Quebec City.
Erica Adjei (26) and Dave O’Reilly (28) competed at the 2016 National Canadian Boxing Championships earlier this month. When they returned, Adjei brought home her second gold medal and O’Reilly sported a bronze.
Adjei is the two-time elite women’s national champion in her weight class. This was her fourth time competing at nationals but first time defending her national title. After moving to a lower weight class a couple years ago, she found success and was crowned Canadian champion for the first time in 2015.
“Coming into nationals this [year] I was nervous because my coach always tells me it’s hard to get to the top, but it’s even harder to stay on top,” said Adjei.
This was O’Reilly’s first time qualifying for nationals. He says that even though he lost his fight and finished third, it was a good experience for his first time.
Both amateur boxers represent and train with Final Round Boxing. The Ottawa based club was founded by Eric Belanger, and as owner and coach he helps train Adjei and O’Reilly. He says it makes him happy to see their success and how it helps to improve Ottawa boxing’s local reputation.
Final Round has been around for 10 years and trains all kinds of boxers, from those just looking for a good workout, to amateurs like Adjei and O’Reilly and even professional boxers.
“[Ottawa is] a tough town to be boxing in,” says Belanger, “It’s not a boxing city but we’re making it work.” He has been working to improve the sport’s reputation and says that since he’s opened the club, interest and success appears to be in the ‘upswing’.
“There’s more boxing going on than there has been since the ’70s and ’80s,” he says.
For Adjei and O’Reilly, boxing in Ottawa and training at Final Round has helped them find personal success.
Adjei has been boxing for about eight years. It all started in her last year of high school when a friend of hers was talking about joining a boxing gym with some other friends. Adjei chimed in, saying it was a good idea and they should all join together. The boy laughed at her, saying girls can’t box and even went as far as saying that even if she did join she wouldn’t be good anyway. Feeling stubborn and competitive, Adjei says she walked into a boxing gym a couple months later and hasn’t looked back since.
When’s she’s not working as a full time business analysts for a Canadian software company, Adjei is at the gym, spending every weeknight and Saturday running, boxing, training and sparring. She says moving to Final Round with her longtime coach, former champion boxer Greg Gayle, has helped provide her a with a more structured training program, pushing her to work harder.
It seems to be paying off, as two time Canadian champion Adjei is a part of the Canadian national team that competes internationally. She is travelling to her first world championships in a month in Kazakhstan, where she will be competing in her 54kg weight class.
“I want to see what I can do internationally, I want to see how many medals I can get, how many belts and wins I can get at that level,” Adjei says. “I would love to be on the podium, gold medal around my neck and the Canadian national anthem playing.”
For female amateur boxers in Adjei’s weight class, it doesn’t get much bigger than that. Women’s boxing was only introduced into the Olympics in 2012, with only three weight classes, not including Adjei’s. And funding for amateur boxers not in the three Olympic weight classes is almost non-existent.
Male boxers like O’Reilly have it a bit easier with more weight classes in the Olympics and the opportunity to move into professional boxing. O’Reilly says his goal is to become a professional boxer and make a career out of it.
He has been boxing for three years and joined Final Round over a year ago. O’Reilly lives in Quebec but trains at Final Round. He says he hopes to improve his technical treating and ring smarts then go back to nationals and take home the gold next year before trying to move pro.
“It means a lot [competing at nationals] because they’re telling you that you’re one of the best boxers in Canada, it’s fun to hear.”
Belanger says, “Hopefully as we develop and gets more [boxers like] Erica and Dave…people will realize it’s not just small, little, club level regional stuff. We’re competing in world class elite sports right here in our backyard.”