By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Gavin Bernal has had the chance to test his skills against some of the best boxers in the country.
He’s a two-time National Silver Gloves champion. He’s won a silver medal in the National Junior Olympics.
But what he doesn’t often get the chance to do is put his skills on display in front of his hometown crowd. This weekend, he will.
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Bernal, a 16-year-old junior at Jefferson High School, is competing in one of 12 bouts at this year’s Rockford Boxing Classic, an outdoor competition held at Rockford City Market pavilion on Saturday.
“I like putting on a show for Rockford, for all my family to see and also all my teammates,” Bernal said. “They can’t really see me at the higher level out there all over the country.”
“In the event you’re going to see some novice boxers, kids beginning, and you’re going to see some of the best boxers in the country if not some of the best in the world,” said Jimmy Goodman, director of the Rockford Patriots Boxing Club, which is now in its 20th year.
Goodman said the youngest competitors could be turn out to be one of the most fun matches to watch.
“We have two 9-year-olds, 60 pounds, going to be going at it. It’s a fun, safe event and it’s competitive,” Goodman said. “The crowd’s going to love it. I promise you.”
All bouts, from the 9-year-olds to the Rockford Police Department vs. Rockford Fire Department headline event, are sanctioned with USA Boxing.
“This is not a Tough Man brawl, unsanctioned event,” Goodman said. “We have certified referees, judges, a ringside physician. This is the real deal.”
Bernal has been invited to compete at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, an Olympic training site, later this year. First he faces Javon Williams, who fights out of Knock Out Kings boxing club in Peoria, on Saturday.
“I step into the ring just like it’s any other opponent,” Bernal said. “Even if it’s not at the national level, I step into the ring, don’t underestimate them and just give them hell.”
That match is followed by another high-ranking local boxer, Julian Lugo, who won the Chicago Golden Gloves Championship in the 139-pound open class in April and was named the best overall boxer of the tournament. Lugo is also a Junior Golden Gloves National Champion.
Bernal said Lugo, his occasional sparring partner, has also been a great inspiration for him to look up to in the ring. Goodwin said that’s the nature of the club, which has had multiple champion boxers from Angel Martinez to Braulio Arcos-Rodriguez.
“That’s what the gym does. Everybody helps each other out here,” Goodman said. “It’s a good team dynamic. An individual sport, but a team aspect to it as well.”
The main event is a police vs. fire match that puts police officer James Nachampassack up against Rockford firefighter Ryan Taylor in a heavyweight bout.
Nachampassack, a 36-year-old former U.S. Army Reservist, has been training with fellow officer Cory Magnuson, who won in last year’s main event against Elijah Leffelman.
Goodman said he hopes this continues the fun and competitive rivalry police and firefighters have had with events such as Guns and Hoses or Battle of the Badges.
“The rivalry is there, but in the end we all work toward a common goal and try to make our community better,” Nachampassack said.
Know before you go | Rockford Boxing Classic
Where: Rockford City Market pavilion, State and Water streets in downtown
When: 4 p.m. gates open; 5 p.m. first match on Saturday, Aug. 12
Seating: Bring your own lawn chair
On the web: rockfordboxingclassic.com