By Neil Patrick Healy
Garrett Felling walked into the Nevada boxing gym on Fourth Street over three years ago with a broken right wrist, no boxing experience and no sense of direction in his life. Now he is the two-time 185-pound national champion, has a career record of 14-0 and is successfully working toward his geological engineering degree. Hollywood could easily write a screenplay about Felling’s rise to prominence, and beginning this Saturday the plot thickens. Felling will fly to Memphis to compete in the USA boxing Olympic qualifiers, but he won’t be going alone.
Longtime Nevada boxing coach Pat Jefferson and the other coaches have been working with Felling from the moment he walked into the gym three years ago, but when Felling approached him with the proposition of qualifying for the Olympics, Jefferson personally took him under his wing.
“It’s been all Pat Jefferson,” Felling said. “He’s been 100 percent invested in this, and I see it every day. I see he wants it as bad as I do, and he’s with me every step of the way going the extra mile, taking me to other gyms and arranging different sparring for me.”
Jefferson knew that Felling competing in the Olympic qualifiers is a more daunting task than just competing in another college fight, so he amped up the tempo and the intensity of his workouts. The two of them have been working together for two to three hours every day for almost two months while adding more and more aspects to an already rigorous training program.
In collegiate boxing there are three two-minute rounds, but in Olympic boxing there are three three-minute rounds. To go along with the added time, Felling will be competing in the 178-pound division, which is seven pounds less than his college fighting weight.
“The biggest difference for me is the weight,” Felling said. “The extra seven pounds to lose has made things tougher in terms of diet and having the ability to keep up the intensity, which has also gone up to the next level with this next level competition.”
Felling isn’t the only one who has brought up the intensity. Jarred Santos is a former national champion for Nevada boxing, Felling’s assistant coach and his current roommate. Santos said that he has seen the ferocity increase in both Felling and in Jefferson as well.
“Since the workouts are more intensified, Pat is more intensified in training,” Santos said. “You can see in Pat’s eyes that he has the desire and he sees the potential that Garrett has. He is aware of how far he can take Garrett in the boxing world and you can feel that around both of them. You can feel the intensity of becoming a better boxer and better trainer for each other and their relationship and developed and strengthened more.”
To qualify for the Olympic trials in Reno, on Dec. 7, Felling will have to place in the top two in his weight class in Memphis next week. To do so, he will have to fight from that Monday through Friday. Preparing for five straight days of fights has been difficult because there isn’t a sparring partner that can match up with Felling’s capabilities. Jefferson went as far to say that there isn’t an amateur fighter in Nevada that can match up with Felling.
Another obstacle is Felling’s inexperience compared to the fighters he will be facing. Felling is entering his third year of boxing and has 14 career bouts, while his competition in Memphis will have upward of 100 to 200 career fights. While most would look at this fact as a disadvantage, Jefferson thinks otherwise.
“It’s actually an advantage,” Jefferson said. “He won’t mentally overthink about what the consequences are or about the competition. Garrett has only had 14 matches in his career and is 14-0. He has never lost, so he doesn’t know what defeat is. That is a big item because he doesn’t know the consequences of losing and I think that his confidence in me as a trainer of telling him his talents will win if he boxes to his capabilities. He will do so and he will win.”
Jefferson has taken it upon himself not only to train Felling, but also to raise the confidence in his fighter. Jokingly referring to himself and Felling as Angelo Dundee and Muhammad Ali, Felling feels that Jefferson has instilled the right amount of confidence into him.
“It’s hard not to be confident with a coach like Pat Jefferson,” Felling said. “He instills it into me every day while still making sure to keep my head right-sized, so I know what else I need to put into it. He’s getting me to that level where I know I have what it takes and together we’re going to do this and we’re going down there to win and that’s all there is to it.”
Throughout the entire training process, it’s hard for those close to Felling not to look back at where he has come from to where he is now.
“He’s a great success story of how hard work and the right mindset can get you out of a crappy situation,” Santos said. “His story could be a movie honestly. I remember when Garrett first came into the gym he had a cast on his right arm, so all he could work on was jabs and hooks. When I first met him, I never thought in a million years he would go as far as he’s already gone.”
Throughout the entire training process leading up to the qualifiers, Felling and Jefferson have been chasing down a dream they both share. Along the way, they have bonded closer together beyond the confines of fighter and trainer. Jefferson was trained by Sugar Ray Leonard’s trainer when he fought, he has worked with numerous national champions and even worked with former 1984 Olympic boxer Virgil Hill, but he looks at Felling in a different light because he will have worked with him from 0-0 all the way to the Olympic qualifiers and beyond. Jefferson refers to Felling as one of his little brothers and he is confident that Felling will do him proud.
“Garrett is 22 years old, but he is a man,” Jefferson said. “His confidence level is high enough to where the only ‘wow’ moment will be when he wins. I’m confident that we will win because I’m not going to let myself or Garrett down and I’m sure Garrett isn’t going to let me down.”
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.