Island boxers close in on Olympic dreams at Super Channel nationals

Coach Jason Heit sees a lot of himself in his three Island Boxing Club performers who have qualified for the 2019 Super Channel Canadian championships beginning today and running through Saturday in the Bear Mountain tennis bubble.

It wasn’t too long ago he was chasing the same dream in amateur boxing — Olympic, Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games (just missing the former and making the latter) — before turning pro.

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That quest has never died for those in the fight game despite the narrative of mixed martial arts — which Heit also coaches at Island MMA — having eclipsed boxing.

“All the talk about boxing being overtaken by MMA is only in the North American market,” said Heit.

“Boxing is still booming in the rest of the world with some great talent being produced.”

It will be on display, at the amateur level, in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. That is the goal for most of the top amateur boxers from across the country who have gathered atop Bear Mountain this week. It’s a long qualification process. Being Canadian champion the year out from the Olympics certainly doesn’t hurt anybody’s chances.

Heit’s three Island Club boxers vying in that quest are Terris Smith in the 57-kilogram women’s class, Anthony Varela in the men’s 64-kilogram division and Brandon Colantonio in the men’s 91-kilogram heavyweight class.

“I have huge belief in all of them,” said Heit.

Heit took Smith down to his old haunts from his pro-boxing days in Los Angeles.

“All those contacts are still there and [Smith] sparred with the California amateur champion and she learned a lot down there,” said Heit.

“Terris is learning very fast and is highly coachable. She has had only 10 fights but boxes at a much higher level.”

Heit said fans will see this week just how quickly female boxing is advancing: “Women’s boxing is becoming a strong component of the sport, especially amateur boxing, and is coming on fast.”

The B.C.-champion Smith, a 25-year-old Langford accountant, has a chance to be in the vanguard in Canada.

“She is a quick learner and really coming on, and is a hard puncher, and also a good technical boxer,” said Heit

She is a big part of what Heit imparts as a coach.

“I tell my boxers to be the matador and not the bull, and to use the sweet science,” he said.

The B.C. heavyweight champion Colantonio is a 23-year-old carpenter who Heit describes as “one of those guys who is such a hard worker that you have to chase him out of the gym to get some rest.”

Langford’s Varela comes into a 64-kilo class that is teeming with talent across Canada. Only one Olympic spot per class per nation is available for Tokyo. It won’t be easy but that’s why they hold the competitions. And everybody here at nationals is either the champion of their province or the runner-up, as Varela is after losing by a split decision in the B.C. final to five-time provincial-champion Cody Brown of the Mission City Boxing Club.

“It is one of the deepest weight classes in Canada,” said Heit.

“But [Varela] is a boxer-puncher with good timing. For every boxer, it comes down to that night in the ring.”

Another Island boxer to watch at the nationals is Grade 10 Dover Bay Secondary student Noah Croasdale, B.C. Golden Gloves champion in the 66-kilo junior division, who is guided at the Inner City Boxing Club of Nanaimo by Boxing B.C. head coach Bob Pegues.

Two-time Canadian heavyweight-champion Bryan Colwell of Victoria, a leading candidate for the Canadian Olympic team to Tokyo 2020, has already been selected for the 2019 Lima Pan American Games and so does not need to fight this week at nationals on home soil. The leading B.C. men’s candidates to represent Canada in Tokyo are Colwell, 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games bronze-medallist Eric Basran of Surrey and the highly-touted Robert Couzens of Burnaby, the latter two who will be fighting this week in their home province.

The boxing nationals begins today at 6 p.m. The sessions Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. The nationals conclude Saturday with the final session at 1 p.m.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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