Reviving the amateurs

MURRAY GREIG -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

Jason Smith is coming back.

No, not that Jason Smith. The ex-captain of the Oilers, who was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers last month, hasn't bolted the city of Brotherly Love. Not yet, anyway.

The Jason Smith who is coming back is the former Canadian amateur light middleweight champ who brought a modicum of fame to Edmonton when he won a bronze medal at the 1995 Pan American Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

A talented puncher with a penchant for wild living, Smith was convinced the twin disciplines of a beckoning pro career and stable family life would keep him on the straight and narrow once he left the amateurs.

They didn't.

Now, at age 34, he's giving it one last shot.

"I was cocky and figured all I had to do was show up and win," says Smith, who works fulltime in the oilpatch when he's not training for his pro debut this fall.

"I had 140 amateur fights, won provincial and national championships, seven Golden Gloves titles and represented Canada internationally. I didn't see how I could fail.

"But things don't always work out the way you hope. I was mixed up. I fell in with the wrong crowd, got involved in drugs and other bad stuff.

"It took some time, but I turned it all around. Now I've got a great attitude, a couple of great kids. After I started training and advising some local fighters, it dawned on me that I could be back in the ring.

"I've been working hard at it now for a couple of months and by this fall I'll be ready. It's a late start, for sure, but I've gotta find out how far I can go."

Smith, who will turn pro at super middleweight (168 lbs.), credits the mindset of the gym with reinforcing his determination to return to the ring.

"The routine of training, both physically and mentally, is very powerful ... in it's own way, it's like a drug," he says.

"Until I started working out again, I never realized how powerful it was or how much I missed it. Getting back in the gym was what really got me focused."

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Gym focus is nothing new to Stuart McGrandle, whose boxing pedigree in these parts needs no introduction.

Earlier this month McGrandle opened the West Edmonton Knights Boxing Gym at 10074 151 St., and he's already got more than a dozen youngsters signed up.

"Edmonton has always been a great pro fight town, but we've kind of tailed off a bit when it comes to developing kids in a purely amateur atmosphere," says McGrandle, who has vast experience on both sides of the equation.

"Our club is amateur all the way. We're not interested in the quick turnaround of kids having a handful of amateur fights and then turning pro.

"I'm very up-front with every kid and every parent who comes in here.

"We've got a five-year plan to take them from pre-novice to Bronze Gloves, Silver Gloves and then Golden Gloves. It's not an easy road. It takes time and patience, but it's the only way.

"From my own experience, I tell these kids that amateur boxing can be their free ticket to travel the world, to represent their country and get the best kind of education available outside of school."

McGrandle has enlisted the talents of veteran trainer Joey Edwards, who's handled dozens of local fighters, as well as eight-time Canadian amateur champ and national team captain Adam Trupish, who's preparing for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"Joey's a natural teacher and a good guy to have around," says McGrandle. "Adam is one of the most experienced amateur fighters in the country. He's kind of splitting his time between Windsor and Edmonton right now, but we hope to have him here full-time before too long."

Some starry Knights, it seems, are on the way.


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