by Neil Patrick Healy
What if I told you that one of Nevada’s great athletes is someone you’ve probably never heard of? What if I also told you that this great athlete’s promising career almost didn’t come to fruition?
Garrett Felling is a member of the Nevada boxing team —an obscure club sport despite the program’s winning tradition. On a team that has the potential of having seven fighters qualify for nationals, Felling is the pinnacle of this program’s success.
A Reno native, Felling is a 22-year-old sophomore entering the second year of his geological engineering degree, who is a firefighter in the summertime. Felling is also the defending national champion for the 185-pound weight class and boasts a career record of 10-0 midway through his sophomore season.
This career of greatness was not a forgone conclusion, but came to Felling by chance. He had a brief stint in the Army, did not serve in combat and then he worked a tough job in construction before he broke his wrist on the job. Felling was at a crossroads.
He was unemployed, not going to school and didn’t have a plan moving forward. His life was at a standstill until the stars aligned. A chance meeting with Nevada boxing coach Dan Holmes is what gave Felling’s life the push in the right direction.
“I didn’t know what to do next,” Felling said. “I didn’t really have anything going for me. I just happened to meet coach Holmes and started talking to him about the UNR boxing team. He said to come down for a tryout and I figured I should give it a shot. After coming down to the gym for a few weeks I decided it was something I really wanted to do, so I applied to UNR. It became the next step in my life.”
That life-altering decision proved to reap many benefits for Felling. Despite not having a background in boxing, he became one of the team’s most successful fighters. His teammate Jarred Santos gives Felling the praise of being one of the program’s best.
“He’s up there with some of the better guys I’ve seen,” Santos said. “He has a lot of natural talent, so they didn’t really have to teach him much. He took to it, he knew how to fight and he could take punches. He’s a tough kid, so he’s able to pick things up quicker than everyone else.”
Santos jokingly compared Felling’s fighting style to Mike Tyson mixed with an Irish bar fighter, which isn’t too far from reality.
Holmes, the coach who discovered the diamond in the rough, attests to Felling’s growth into a great fighter.
“In the beginning, he would go up against guys who had a better game plan or guys with more boxing skills than Garrett had,” Holmes said. “That wouldn’t matter, because he would land a big shot and it would change the whole landscape of the fight. He’s what is known in boxing as an equalizer.”
Going into his second season, Felling wanted to get away from the distinction of being a brawler and gravitate more to the technical side of fighting.
“Today I have another year of experience under my belt and working with some of the best coaches in the country,” Felling said. “You could say that I tended to be a brawler, but I’m working on being more of a technical boxer and have developed more of a technical approach.”
Felling’s teammates and coaches have high aspirations for him going forward. Santos goes as far as to say that he will finish his career with four national championships and an undefeated record, saying “I don’t see anyone in his weight class that can beat him.”
This is a bold claim, as only a handful of fighters have ever achieved such a feat. Holmes believes that Felling has what it takes because of the mental approach he brings to the ring.
“He’s a pretty devout guy,” Holmes said. “I think he’s the type of guy when he has his eye on something and his mind set, I don’t care what it is, I think he’s going to get it.”
Felling tries to keep thoughts of future glories and accolades out of his mind and take it one fight at a time.
“I try to think of it as one fight at a time no matter what’s going on,” Felling said. “All I can control is what’s in the here and now and look to that next fight and what I have to do to win that fight.”
Boxing is a sport that has a history of men rising from the ashes. Men who overcome unfortunate circumstances life has dealt them and come out a champion. Felling is another success story that rivals the likes of Rocky himself. A battered down, unemployed kid with no path or direction faced uncertainty. He faced those odds and came out a champion.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.