KENNETCOOK, NS - What started as a gesture to say thanks for the support has turned into something far more significant for Kennetcook boxer Wyatt Sanford and his local fans.
The four-time Canadian amateur champion, with an impressive 77-17 record, is an entrenched member of the national elite boxing team. He’s currently focused on the next Olympic Games, and that makes him one busy athlete these days.
Based out of the national training centre in Montreal and doing considerable travelling for events and camps, Sanford was scheduled to be spending this week at home on a short summer break.
It was to be a rare opportunity to get away from the daily grind of trying to retain and improve on his standing as one of the world’s top fighters in the 64-kilogram division.
What does he plan to do on his break?
Not surprising to those who know him best, the 19-year-old left-hander sees it as an opportunity to fulfil a promise of headlining a high-calibre card at home in front of the friends, family and fans who have backed him so wholeheartedly in recent years.
Once Boxing Canada found out he wanted to fight at home, it got involved and turned it into a larger production by lining up a top international-calibre opponent. This creates an extra opportunity for Sanford to gain more points toward seeding in the pre-Olympic elimination process.
Suddenly, what started out as just a fun event takes on greater significance, with Sanford now headlining shows June 6 at East Hants Sportsplex in Lantz and June 8 at Findley Park in North Noel Road, near his family’s Kennetcook home.
The two cards will be highlighted by bouts featuring members of the Canadian national elite team against members of the Puerto Rican national team. The main events will pit Sanford against Puerto Rican champion Omar Rosario.
Rosario won’t be a soft touch. The two have fought before, with the Puerto Rican winning a split decision.
As for Sanford, he couldn’t be happier to fight at home against world-class competition.
“Without the community and its support it wouldn’t be happening,” Sanford said last week from Puerto Rico, where he was attending a Team Canada training camp while his local supporters were busy organizing the two weekend shows.
“I could never give back to my community as much as it has given me.”
The East Hants and Hants North areas are well-known for their generosity in supporting local sports. East Hants features a list of impressive sports infrastructure for its athletes, and the more rural Hants North region started Nova Scotia’s original Chase the Ace program, using proceeds well into the six-figure range to improve sports infrastructure and help other community causes.
Local sports fans and supporters continue to live up to that generous reputation.
“In less than 13 hours (after the card was announced) we had seven of 11 VIP tables sold,” said Sanford’s mother Angela, who along with husband Dan has been active in Nova Scotia amateur boxing not only as the parents of three boxing sons — Wyatt, plus older brothers and former provincial champions Devin and Ryan — but also in various other capacities.
“They (the VIP tables) were $1,000 apiece,” she said. “The last couple of days, ticket sales are really picking up.”
Community sports leaders couldn’t be happier with what’s happening. Sanford’s career sends a message to local youth about the benefits of sports, and his return to headline two international shows is more evidence of what can happen for athletes anywhere when they combine hard work with natural talent.
“He (Sanford) is the real deal,” said local businessman Eric White. White is one of the leaders of a large group of volunteers in Hants North who play a prominent role in the Chase the Ace fundraising projects. A large portion of the profits are used to hasten local sports infrastructure improvements and assist a resurgence of the area’s minor baseball programs.
“He is definitely a role model for our community and to the young people in our community,” White said. “It shows them that if you have a goal or a plan you can succeed.
“He’s impressive, highly motivated and dedicated to the success of the Olympic program. For this (high-stature fight card) even to happen in our backyard, we owe it to our community members who have been strong supporters of our community to put something like this on.”
Sanford graduated early from high school, with academic honours, and earned an academic scholarship to Saint Mary’s University. Yet his education, like many other aspects of his life, is now being temporarily set aside while he chases his boxing and specifically his Olympic Games dream.
He hasn’t forgotten about the education.
“All I am focusing on (for now) is boxing. I train at Olympic Stadium in Montreal with other members of Team Canada. I’m training with the very best (amateur) boxers in Canada. Every day you want to push yourself harder and harder.
“In the fall I am going back to school. Not a lot of people have a plan B. I want to get some degrees so (after boxing) I (won’t be) starting off with nothing.
“The Olympics is my main goal. It has been that way for four years. If I go to 2020 and don’t get a medal I’ll go for 2024.”
Given the complicated qualifying process facing the fighters, his road to the next Olympics would be made just a bit easier with wins over Rosario.
Ironically, during the Canadian elite team’s recent stop in Puerto Rico for training camp, Sanford bunked in the room next to Rosario. The two got to know each other better and talked about clashing again in the ring.
“He’s a really nice guy,” Sanford said, but that doesn’t change his attitude about the upcoming challenge which he knows comes with high expectations from the partisan crowds.
“I enjoy pressure. The more pressure on me the better I do. Two years ago he beat me 28 points to 27 (on the judges’ cards). Now we have two more years of experience; it’s going to be a great fight.
“I want to get this on so bad — a rematch with this guy, in my home-town. I wish it was tomorrow.”