Winning a boxing bout isn't just about throwing punches at the other guy, Michigan boxer Anthony Barnes said.
"The only battle you really have is with yourself," a sweating Barnes said after winning a Saturday bout with Raymond Lucies of Indiana. "You've got to stay relaxed and think."
That psychology came up again and again Saturday with competitors at the USA Boxing Region 5 Senior Open Championships at Lexington's Consolidated Baptist Church.
Men and women boxers ages 17 to 34 competed for a chance to go to the national championships in June and possibly advance to the Olympic trials. The competition continues today at Four Seasons Martial Arts on Floyd Drive.
Never miss a local story.
A similar event hasn't been held in Kentucky since the mid-1980s, said James Doolin, trainer for the Louisville Legends boxing club.
Many boxers in the region have won some prior national title, said Lexington police Officer Jerry Loughran, the tournament coordinator.
He is a co-founder of the Lexington Police Activities League, which teaches boxing to young people.
"We're probably the toughest region in the country because we've got Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland — all those big boxing towns are in our region," Loughran said.
Lexington boxer Greg Vergara lost in a Friday bout to DaQuan Mays, a 17-year-old from the Dayton, Ohio, area with lightning-quick hands.
"I had a bad day and he was better than me," Vergara said.
But Vergara can still pursue the Olympics if he wins the Golden Gloves or a last-chance qualifying tournament that will be held in July.
Vergara, 19, who has been boxing since he was 14, said the sport takes discipline of the mind and body.
"You've got to be disciplined in your diet," said Vergara, who weighs 141 pounds now and hopes to get down to 132. "You cannot be sloppy in your diet."
Mays said the key to his speed is he learned how to position his feet and to keep his punches "real straight and crispy."
"If you've got good feet and you've got good accuracy, you can plant any shot you want," he said.
As for your competitor, Mays said, "You can't think about what he's going to do to you. You've got to think about your dream and what you're going to do. It comes down to who wants it more."
That competitiveness is what attracted Kim Olech, 22, to the sport. She played basketball at Madonna University, a Catholic college in Michigan, but wanted to try boxing.
"The challenge and skill level that it takes and the type of endurance it takes" intrigued her, she said. "It's quite an adrenaline rush."
Olech is excited that women's boxing will be part of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.
"It just shows how women's sports are developing and becoming more popular with the viewers," she said.
Vergara said he supports adding women's boxing to the Olympics.
"I think that's great," Vergara said. "They deserve a chance, too. When they go in there, they take the same punches, and they feel the same dedication."
Another woman who was thrilled with Saturday's bouts is Lexington artist Sandra Oppegard. She took photographs of boxers from many different angles, and will then use those photos to make drawings and paintings.
Oppegard said she used to watch boxing with her father. She recalled how, as a girl of 10, she got the autograph of Carmen Basilio, a professional boxer from the 1940s and '50s.
"I like the action and the musculature and their skill," she said.
"You're one on one. You're in there. There's no way out. You're either a man or you're not."