A tale of two punchers

MURRAY GREIG, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

The card wasn't finished as of presstime last night. See Murray Greig's report of the full card in tomorrow's Edmonton Sun.

Loretta Armstrong always knew she wanted to punch people; it just took awhile for her to believe she had a talent for it.

"Three years ago I wandered into the Panther Gym and registered for a boxercise class because I thought it would be a good way to lose some weight and get myself in better shape," the personable 28-year-old recalled earlier this week.

"It was like a whole new world. Almost from the first day, I was asking anyone who would listen if I could get in the ring and fight ... but of course, I didn't know anything about it. All I knew was that I wanted to punch somebody."

Armstrong's enthusiasm and dogged determination soon caught the eye of savvy trainers Benny (The Jet) Swanson and Sterling Craig.

"Both of them spent a lot of time showing me the basics, and when Sterling offered to take me under his wing and get me some fights, it was one of the happiest days of my life," she said.

"In a lot of ways, Sterling has come to know me better than I know myself. He's great at building up my confidence. Everything else can be taught, but with me, confidence was always the big hurdle.

"He gets all the credit for getting me over that."

Armstrong's confidence faced the supreme test last night when she squared off with three-time Canadian champ Susan Haas on the 10-bout pro-am card at The Palace banquet hall (still in progress at press time).

With a modest record of 4-4 (2 KOs) at 160 pounds, Armstrong had no illusions about trading with the much more experienced Haas, who fights out of the Cougar Boxing Club and went into last night with a 21-4 mark (7 KOs).

"I'm more excited than nervous ... it's a great opportunity if you take away the winning or losing part," Armstrong laughed.

"I'm totally grateful that Susan is giving me this opportunity, especially because I was supposed to fight someone else, who cancelled.

"All I can do is give it my best shot. If I can hang with the Canadian champ, I'm good with that.

"Like Sterling always says, the girl in the other corner is just another fighter like me. If I go in there thinking she's some kind of superhero, I'm beating myself.

"I respect the fact that Susan is a tough, talented fighter ... but so am I."

The day before her first fight, Armstrong sought inspiration by watching five Rocky movies, one after another.

"It sounds funny now, but watching Rocky Balboa really kind of cleared my mind and helped me understand that an underdog is just somebody who needs a chance to show what they've got," she said.

"Between Rocky and Sterling, my confidence has grown by leaps and bounds, to the point where I'm much more calm and focused when the bell rings.

"I've learned that when somebody really believes in you, there's no pressure at all. You just have to get in there and step up."

Meanwhile, Haas, who quit the ring for six years after dropping a decision for the 125-pound national title in 2002, has rediscovered the passion that got her into boxing in the first place.

"When I quit, it was basically because I stopped enjoying the sport," she said at Thursday's weigh-in at the Beverly Bronx Gym.

"It was getting to the point where I was going to the gym all the time and missing out on all the stuff my friends were doing while I was training.

"There were some rough spots to get over, but when I came back in January and won the title at the nationals in Trois Rivieres, it was like, 'yeah, I really missed this,' " added Haas, who splits her time between administrative work at Norquest College and laying concrete with trainer John Mendoza when she's not in the ring.

"I started boxing in St. Albert when I was 13 because I wanted to punch people, but I really got hooked when I moved over to the Cougar Club. It's like a family there, and I'm just really happy to be back into it," she said.

Both Armstrong and Haas said their ultimate aim is to turn pro, but neither fighter has a definite timetable for accomplishing that goal.

"I think every amateur thinks about it," said Haas, who's 24. "It'd be fun to see how far I could go, but right now I'm just concentrating on building my amateur record."

Armstrong, who works part-time at the Panther Gym, said that getting an up-close-and-personal look at the pros while preparing for last night's fight only made her more determined to eventually punch for pay.

"I spent a month in the same camp as (cruiserweight headliner) James Cermak and (heavyweight) Rob Nichols, and it was neat to see how pros approach the sport -- and I soaked it up like a sponge," she said.

"If I can have a few pro fights by the time I'm 30, that would be great.

"If not, well, I'll just keep learning ... and keep punching."

MURRAY.GREIG@SUNMEDIA.CA


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