USA Boxing hosted its first international tournament on US soil in more than a decade at the Pueblo Convention Center from Sept. 12-15, and action concluded Thursday with gold medal matches, where Team USA saw five of its athletes take home gold.
Matt Johnson, high-performance director for USA Boxing, said the organization was happy with the way the tournament played out.
“It’s been a great opportunity for a lot of our boxers and the city of Pueblo has been great,” Johnson said. “The convention center has really been welcoming hosts.”
With USA Boxing headquartered just up Interstate 25 in Colorado Springs, hosting the tournament so close to home was advantageous, not only for those who helped put on the event but for the boxers themselves, some of whom had never boxed in international competition on their home turf.
“I work too hard to lose in the US,” said Rashida Ellis, a Team USA boxer, after her gold medal victory over China’s Chengyu Yang. “As an international fighter, to win this battle feels good. I see familiar faces, I see a lot of Team USA faces, even the younger ones.”
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Another gold medal winner at the event was Emilio Garcia, who took on fellow American Johnny Mansour. Garcia said he was excited to earn a victory over a “really tough opponent” in Mansour to “show everyone what I’m really capable of.”
“This one really means a lot to me,” Garcia said. “This is my first victory as an elite for an international tournament and for it to be here in the US … what more can I ask for?”
Morelle McCane of Team USA was another gold medalist after besting fellow Team USA boxer Stephanie Simon in Thursday’s finals.
“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling like a champ,” McCane said after the match. “It feels good because we haven’t had the opportunity to compete with international people on our soil, so now it’s like, ‘Thank you, finally!'”
The final gold medal winner for Team USA at the tournament was Omari Jones, who took home gold against Germany’s Moged Schachidov. Jones said winning gold was something he’s worked hard for and wanted to accomplish for his family, which was in attendance at the event.
“I’m feeling great,” Jones said. “No matter how big or small (this tournament) is, I came out here to win so that’s what I did. I got my gold medal at internationals, and all glory to God for that.”
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Overall, the tournament went off without a hitch. Johnson said he believes USA Boxing and the city of Pueblo will likely collaborate more in the years to come.
“We hope to be back here again in the future,” Johnson said. “Really, the setup with the venue connected to the hotels is ideal for us because it eliminates transportation. It’s been really nice to work with everyone and very accommodating with the meals and housing — everything that we needed. So it’s a perfect setup and hopefully we can be back here again.”
Kevin Ortiz, the general manager for the Pueblo Convention Center, echoed those sentiments.
“It’s been one heck of an experience for our staff here at the convention center to host an international boxing event like this,” Oritz said.
“It’s something that we haven’t had the opportunity to do before and we’ve been truly thankful that USA Boxing brought this to our community. It’s been very well received by the community of Pueblo … there’s been a lot of people who’ve come to support the boxers. It’s been really fun to see them cheer on Team USA”
Johnson said the feedback he’s received on the event from his international competitors has been positive.
“There’s been a lot of good competition out here,” he said. “We had some boxers step up and we knew that we were going to have some tough competition with China and Germany and Azerbaijan and the Philippines … so it’s been good . There’s some good stuff to build on and hopefully we can do it again with more countries here in the years to come.
“A big thank you to the city of Pueblo and everyone who contributed to helping us organize this event. They’ve really made it easy on us and, like I said, it’s a great place and we want to come back.”
Christopher Abdelmalek is a sports reporter for the Pueblo Chieftain and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @chowebacca