Tom McCormick can still remember one punch that caught him good.
Halfway through a three-round bout with Richmond’s Andrew Blanco, McCormick dropped his gloves and was rocked by a shot that literally left his eyes rolling in their sockets.
“I remember backing up, trying to get my composure and wondering if my eyes were going to stay like that,” he recalled. “They felt all cross-eyed and I saw three of him. I felt like the Cookie Monster. I’ve never been hit that hard.”
Welcome to boxing, Mr. McCormick.
An under card at the Clash of the Cascade Seven, held March 18 at the Cascades Casino in Langley, the fight was a first for the 24-year-old Chilliwack native, and it didn’t take long for him to learn his first big lesson.
Keep those gloves up.
“They told me that he (Blanco) was going to come out hard and that he wasn’t that good,” McCormick recalled. “I remember sitting after the first round thinking, ‘Man, this guy’s pretty good.’”
If nothing else, Blanco’s punch probably served to settle some nerves.
McCormick spent two gruelling months at Chilliwack’s Revolution Martial Arts preparing for the fight.
But all the training in the world won’t calm those butterflies as you prepare to step into the ring.
“I came out a door, and Blanco was 10 feet away from me. We’re both getting ready to go out and my legs were like Jello,” McCormick recalled. “Before a fight you can feel it all over. But once you get in there and see the guy on the other side you know it’s for real. No more laughing. No more smiling.”
McCormick’s coach, Keith Holdsworth, believes you learn a lot about a boxer by watching what they do when they get hit.
If they back off and get timid, that’s not good. If they shrug it off and continue fighting, that’s the type of fighter he wants to work with.
Not long after taking Blanco’s bomb, McCormick came back with one of his own, a beautiful combo that staggered the Richmond fighter.
“It was my right hook, jab, straight left and right hook right in the kisser,” he said with a smile. “I watched it on tape a few times. It’s amazing and I can’t believe it’s me.”
The rest of the tape was less spectacular, more clinching and body shots than rights and lefts. By the end of it, McCormick had done just enough to win on points, getting a 3-2 decision from the five ring-side judges.
“I could feel Blanco getting tired in the final round, but he kept trying to push the pace, charging forward with his head down,” said McCormick, who works a day job at Fraser Valley Roofing.
Watching from the corner, Holdsworth wanted his student to do the same.
“He almost lost because he wasn’t pushing the tempo enough,” the veteran boxer and coach said. “I was yelling the whole time for him to get going. In the third round he needed to step it up, and the only reason he won is because he was throwing cleaner punches.”
Aggression should come naturally to McCormick, a man who fights southpaw (left handed) and spent much of his youth brawling in street fights.
“When I first moved here (at 15 years old) I was young and dumb. I didn’t know anybody and I wanted to make a name for myself,” he said. “When Blanco hit me it felt like I was back there again. Everything I trained to do felt like it went out the window. I just wanted to hit the guy.”
McCormick may have been seeing red, but Holdsworth was seeing a tentative fighter.
“He may feel that way, but visually it doesn’t match up,” Holdsworth offered. “He wants to sit back and counter and he paws a lot too. I’m trying to get him to commit to his punches more, because it looks like he’s doing a lot out there, but he’s not really scoring.”
If he sticks with boxing, there’s little doubt McCormick will eventually get where he needs to be.
The young fighter sat ringside in late January as his coach beat Alex Pippes for the B.C. Combative Sports Association light heavyweight title.
“It was his title fight that got me into it, sitting front row and looking at my girlfriend and saying, ‘This is what I want to do,’” McCormick said, sounding very committed to the sport. “It’s happened so fast since then, and I can’t wait to do it again. Win or lose this is what I’m supposed to do.”
Until his next bout, McCormick will continue to hone his technical skills and improve his conditioning. Cardio, in particular, will tell the tale of how far he can go.
“My first coach told me anybody can fight, but how long can you fight for,” McCormick said. “Conditioning is huge, and Keith will help me with the other stuff. I’m going to practice more on harnessing my energy the right way, and once I master that I’ll be unstoppable.”
l As he was helping McCormick prepare for his boxing debut, Holdsworth had a fight of his own to worry about, training for a bout with Bisla Boxing’s Hardeep Saran.
Scheduled for March 18, the two were to meet for the Combative Sports B.C. Championship belt.
“But about two and a half weeks before the fight he cancelled, saying he had college commitments that were getting in the way of his training,” Holdsworth said. “Combative Sports told him he had to forfeit his title, so he phoned back to say the fight was on. Then, around March 13 his people phoned and said he needed a couple more bouts before fighting me.”
Saran was forced to vacate his title.
Having invested a lot of time in training, Holdsworth offered to fight the next highest-ranked boxer, only to be rebuffed.
“That didn’t leave me with anyone else, because everyone below him didn’t have enough experience to compete with me,” Holdsworth said. “They’re young up-and-comers, and I was in the same boat at one point. But I fought. Not always to the best results, but it made me a better fighter. So it doesn’t hold a lot of water with me to back out of fights because of less experience.”
Holdsworth had decided the Saran fight was going to be his last, and with no one else willing to step into the ring with him, it appears his boxing days may be done.
“When I watch the guys who are fighting, I still feel I can compete with them, and if it wasn’t for my daughter (promising young boxer Shalynn Holdsworth), I’d probably keep going,” he said. “But I need to devote more time to coaching, so I’ve fought my last fight.”
Holdsworth didn’t sound emphatic as he closed the door Brett Favre-style, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a comeback in the next year or two. Meanwhile, he hopes Shalynn, McCormick or another young fighter helps him transition fully from boxing to coaching.
“It would be easier on me if someone could go on a run and I could coach them and see them going somewhere,” he admitted. “It would be easier for me to accept where I am, because I still feel I can do it, but no one wants to fight me.”
Anyone interested in boxing can contact Holdsworth at 604-316-2409 or Revolution Martial Arts at 604-795-2972.