I first met Rick Welliver in the winter of 2015. I wound up in a funky, gritty and historic place named Wallace, far north of Boise. The tourism board thought I would enjoy the town of 760, even though it was completely opposite experience from the snowboarding and snowmobiling that had consumed my winter until that point. I arrived, and my friends at Visit Idaho were right. I fell in love with the town right away. Despite its rugged character, it was recently named the prettiest city in Idaho by MSN.
Don’t forget to watch the video above!
Anyway, after a brief couple days exploring the abandon silver mines and hearing about the head shaking history of Wallace (it was once the brothel capital of the U.S.), I went to grab a coffee on my way out of town, only to strike up a conversation with a larger than life character who stood out anywhere he went with his bright red sweatshirt that reads ‘Spokane Boxing.’
Well, actually he was the first one to start the conversation. His exact first words “I can tell you aren’t from around here.”
Yes Rick, I surely was not. Three hours later, Rick and I were still sitting in that coffee shop, chatting about everything and anything. But what I was most interested in was his life. Boxing. Boxing is Rick’s life. Plain and simple. Rick is an ex pro fighter. Over a 10 year career, the light heavyweight went 12-5-1.You never saw him on HBO Pay Per View, but Rick got paid to do what he loved. Hit people. And boy, did he do it well for that decade. He finished 7 of his 12 wins by knockout.
After Rick’s career ended, he couldn’t get boxing out of his veins. In 2001, he started a rough looking gym in the heart of Spokane, Washington, thinking he would be training the next world champ. He quickly realized that the kids that came by the gym wanting to train were not going to be the next Mohammed Ali, but he also realized that his training, and the sport of boxing, could have rippling effects on their lives.
Many of the kids who came to train with Rick were tough. Growing up on the streets, a broken home life, drugs and alcohol creeping into their existence. The coach found that the harder he pushed them, the more they came by, and the more focused they seemed. Boxing became an outlet for many of Rick’s students to get out their aggression and channel all of their problems into those red padded gloves, releasing the stress with every hit of the heavy bag.
Rick kept fighting himself. But this time, it wasn’t in the ring, it was for the kids.
As I sat and listened to Rick tell his story, I couldn’t believe what I had stumbled onto randomly in this small coffee shop in the panhandle of Idaho. Knowing that he hailed from Spokane, I asked Rick why he was in Wallace, a town mostly forgotten since the Silver mines shut down.
“The kids in this valley need me. They need boxing. They deserve a chance to have another option in life.”
With the valley’s unpredictable economy, Rick set up shop in Wallace, using the abandon high school gym to train young fighters from the valley. Soon, he had a team, and he organized the first ‘Wallace Fight Night’ in 2014. And to his surprise, almost the entire town showed up. 7 fight nights later, the entire town is still showing up.
This was the people of Wallace’s Super Bowl. Their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters all laced up the gloves and went to battle against competing teams from the Pacific Northwest. Even in a place where almost everyone knows each other’s names, this event brought the town together as one like nothing had ever done before.
In November of last year, I was lucky enough to attend the Wallace Fight Night. Even though it was competing with a high school basketball tournament just a couple hundred yards away in the new high school gym, the town still came out in force, and a couple hundred people easily packed the bleachers and beer garden. Hearing the chants of “Cory, Cory, Cory” for one of the hometown fighters as he traded blows and blood with a rival was exhilarating and brought tears to my eyes, as I saw the pride and determination flow. The fighters that night left everything they had in that ring. And as soon as that final bell rang, the fighters embraced, proud of their accomplishment. Proud of the blood, sweat, and tears that they have poured into the sport in order to make themselves a better young adult. Proud to be a boxer. And most importantly, proud to represent Wallace, Idaho.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because tomorrow, May 6th, 2017 is the Spring Wallace Fight Night. And I cannot wait to witness this again. And if you are near Wallace, Idaho you need to make the trip to experience this unique event, a throwback in time to when Wallace used to pack the gym to watch boxing hall of fame inductee and hometown boy, Guido Bardelli, otherwise known as Young Firpo.
More information can be found on the Wallace Fight Night Facebook Page.