A crowd of about 200 people cheered on a group of Cayman fighters at the first international boxing event to be held in the country in two years Saturday night at the D. Dalmain Ebanks Boxing Gymnasium.
Six Caymanians faced off against boxers from Trinidad and Tobago on the event’s official card – not counting exhibition matches – and three of the hometown fighters came away victorious. The series of well-matched fights produced plenty of slick combinations of punches, drawing roars and applause from the stands.
Heavyweight Jaden Eccleston, 20, won his match against Haquille Defreitas when the referee stopped the fight in the third round at Defreitas’s request. It was Eccleston’s debut in the ring.
“I couldn’t lose this,” Eccleston said. “My whole life is boxing and fighting. I’ve been into boxing since I was 10.”
Eccleston said a big part of that was because his father was a boxer, who once represented the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean Championships. Despite his decade-long attraction to the sport, the younger Eccleston, who is learning to be an electrician, said he has only been training as a boxer for the past five months. Already he has hopes to represent the country.
“I would like to fight for Cayman,” he said, “maybe go to the Olympics. That’s the coach’s dream. It has to be my dream too.”
One of those cheering for Eccleston during his fight was Lydia Ray, a teacher who trains at the boxing gym. She said she’s seen a resurgence in the sport recently.
“I think there’s always been an interest,” she said, but it has increased since coach Floyd Trumpet took over the national programme. “There’s a lot, a lot of good talent here on the islands. Now, interest meets possibility.”
“I think we’re going to see some big things,” she added.
Perhaps the best bout of the night was between Cayman’s Alexander Smith and Mike Inniss. The footwork and open stance of the two made the opening of the first round almost like a dance, with few punches landed amid feints and dodges. The two were on even footing through the second round, but Inniss managed to dominate the third round and won the match.
The main event featured Brandy Barnes, of Cayman, against Faith Ramnath. The highly anticipated match-up lived up to its billing, with the two trading plenty of head shots throughout the fight. But Ramnath held the centre of the ring for most of the bout, keeping Barnes on the periphery and often on the ropes. Ramnath won in a split decision.
In other matches, Cayman’s Eduardo Montalvo beat Blessings Waldropt, Hepseba Angel won for Cayman over Kenisha Clarke and Trinidad and Tobago’s Shawnelle Hamid got the decision against Leah Lajat.
Many of those in the crowd had affiliations with the boxing programme, either through training at the facility, or through personal connections with the fighters.
Craig Smith heads the physical education programme at John Gray High School and, since it is right next door to the school, has been using the gym as a resource for his students.
“The next Cayman fighters are probably going to be from John Gray or Clifton Hunter,” Smith said. “If I’ve got this, I might as well bring them over.”
He said he’s not focussed on teaching his students how to fight, but rather in using the sport to teach discipline and provide young men and women an acceptable avenue to channel whatever aggression they may have. Interest in the gym is high, he said.
“Because it’s something that hasn’t been done before, we have a lot more students interested,” he said. “I think, long term, there is going to be a real positive impact.”
The physical education programme has spawned an after-school club that currently has about 50 members, Smith said. Those that show promise are encouraged by Trumpet and his staff to pursue more intensive training and to enter the ring.
Jon Mikol Rankin, 24, said bringing more attention and participants to boxing is a good thing.
“It brings diversity in sports,” said Rankin, who fought in an exhibition match Saturday evening. “We need more attention on boxers.”
On leave from his job as a firefighter, Rankin said he took up training for boxing three months ago, although he fought as a youth from age 7 to 9. Like Eccleston, he has dreams of competing in the Olympic Games, but said it will take more support for the programme to make that happen.
“The [Cayman] Olympic Committee needs to give more attention to the athletes who are doing good,” he said. They should be looking at this and saying, ‘What can we do to support them?’”
Teacher Pamela Smith, Craig’s wife, said the investment would be worthwhile.
“It’s already proven that sport has a positive effect on children,” Smith said. “It would be good to have more programs teaching that discipline, channelling their aggression. There’s definitely a place for it in this society.”