Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gross shows 'em in the Show Me State

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Jessica Gross seems to have picked a good time to get serious about boxing.

The 16-year-old Whitemouth resident admits that she spent more time socializing than sparring when she first took up the sport, but became more committed about three years ago.

Now, Gross is an international champion in her class, and it's timely, as women's boxing was recently approved for the 2012 Olympics in London.

"My entire boxing career I've been fighting older people," said Gross. "I'm hoping with all the experience of fighting people with more experience, it'll help me out.

"I think it's almost a respectful gesture having female boxing in the Olympics, like they're finally taking it seriously."

Gross' coach, Kirk Fleming from Beausejour's Eastman Boxing Club, is convinced that Gross will don the Maple Leaf at the Games.

"There were a lot of coaches there in awe to see this tiny little thing throwing punches so fast. She is the real deal," said Fleming. "That girl will be on the Canadian national team representing Canada at the Olympics, no doubt in my mind."

Last week, Gross won the 15-16 145-pound title at the Kansas City Ringside tournament, which hosted just under 1,350 boxers. While only two other boxers were in her division, both fighters are on the American national team.

"I wasn't sure if I won the fight or not," said Gross of the final against Asia Stevenson. "When they raised my hand I just felt 'wow, I am that good and I can do it.' I don't know who was more excited, Kirk or me."

While Gross made Fleming proud, she wasn't the only apple of his eye in Missouri, as Alex Simard, 17, also won his division.

"Here's little old Beausejour just hanging in there, and all of a sudden, come Saturday, we're in three final rounds, and winning two of them," said Fleming.

Simard had only six career fights before Kansas City, but fought four times in the Show Me State, winning each one to capture the 17-34 novice (fewer than 10 fights) 165-pound championship.

"I ended up getting a fight every day," said Simard. "I got a belt and everything.

"I don't even know what I love about it so much. Just the feeling of winning."

Simard said that he and a friend started boxing to get in shape for hockey season, but he fell in love with the sport to the point where he quit his summer job to train.

"I had never looked at the sport seriously, I just thought it was a bunch of goons," said Simard. "It really turns kids around, their attitudes. Some of these guys in the gym were completely different kids in school and Kirk's turned them right around."

daniel.falloon@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2009 D6

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