Into the ring
Three months of training lead up to Chad Paddock’s first boxing match—in front of a sold-out crowd
It’s 10:30 on Saturday night inside Chico Boxing for Fitness. The sold-out crowd is cheering before the 23rd fight of the night, between Chad “The Sentry” Paddock and Zack “The Butcher” Thomas.
The bout starts. Thomas comes in swinging, and Paddock backpedals for a few seconds before he circles out and around, catching Thomas in the corner. Thomas breaks out and Paddock follows him, throwing punches.
The 19-year-old Paddock stands around 6 feet tall and is built like an athlete. Weighing in a few pounds shy of 200, he appears to be evenly matched with Thomas.
Thomas ducks and starts to circle. Paddock swings, catching his opponent with a solid blow that sends him down and rolling before he gets back on his feet.
Somebody shouts, “Keep your hands up, Zack!” The ref gives him a standing eight count and decides that Thomas can keep going, sending him back into the fight.
Before the match, Paddock said he didn’t want to meet his opponent. But sometime in the four hours of watching the other bouts he talked with Thomas, who it turned out was fighting on a sprained ankle, which earned him a healthy dose of respect from Paddock. After the fight Thomas would see a doctor and learn that he actually had a broken bone.
Joe Rodriguez, owner of Chico Boxing for Fitness and host of Fight Night, said he didn’t know about the injury. “He came in here a few days before and sparred—he looked really good,” Rodriguez said. “If I’d known or he’d have told me, I wouldn’t have let him fight.”
Fight Night, the only event of its kind in Chico, started as a fraternity charity fundraiser in 2004, but Rodriguez had increasing trouble with getting help both in setting up and cleaning afterward. He now hosts the events to support his gym, which is at the corner of Seventh and Wall streets, as well as the two professional boxers who train there, Eva Knight and Mario Hernandez. The money also helps Rodriguez keep his gym afloat during the lean months, when Chico State students aren’t around.
Three months ago, Paddock saw a sign in an ice cream shop for Fight Night V and decided to check it out. He signed up, and with the free gym membership that came with it he trained on a six-day-a-week schedule. He wasn’t alone, either. The event would feature 25 bouts—most of them between men, but three between women.
Like many of the other fighters—Rodriguez insisted that everyone involved in Fight Night be an amateur—Paddock worked on his technique and learned how to take a punch. The more time he spent at the gym, he said, the more he learned and the more friends he made.
“It’s like working out but not working out, too,” Paddock said two weeks before the event. “After you work out you feel good, but after this you feel good and you’ve learned a thing or two.”
Paddock came to Chico from Boston to play baseball at Chico State, but when that fell through he decided to transfer to West Point, where he will go in the fall. He hopes to play baseball there, and the boxing is keeping him in shape.
“On a team, if the coach says, ‘I want everybody to do 10 reps,’ you do 10 reps. But if you can do 15 you got away with doing 10,” Paddock said. “Here you do as much as you can.”
Used to playing as part of a team, Paddock said boxing offered a different kind of sporting experience. In the ring, there’s no one else to count on or bail him out, so success or failure would fall solely on Paddock and his three months of training.
And after all the practice, Paddock said he was ready and eager to “get into the ring with someone who’s not going to teach you, he’s going to beat you.” All of it led up to Fight Night and a match in front of a crowd. It’s Paddock’s first time, but he’s not intimidated. The crowd helps, too. It’s full of his fans—friends and even his grandparents, who show up to cheer him on.
“I don’t know why everyone wants to come see me get hit,” Paddock jokes.
As it turns out, people do want to see him box.
The house is packed, with more than 400 ticket holders in the audience. Chairs fill the gym, surrounding the ring and stretching back almost to the wall at the far end. People who can’t get a seat stand, and when they run out of room spectators are pushed outside and into the adjacent lot to watch. Some have jumped over the fence to get in—Rodriguez has security, but they can’t seem to keep everyone out.
“They were sneaking in by the bunch,” Rodriguez said afterward. “The security guys kept coming in to see the fights, and then more would jump in.”
The Paddock-Thomas bout doesn’t last long. The two men trade punches for a second, but then Paddock gets the upper hand and knocks his opponent down again.
Thomas is back on his feet but not moving as fast. He’s not throwing punches either, and his nose might be broken. The ref moves to end the fight. Thomas’ trainer throws in the towel from the corner, and the match ends in the first round at 1:03, the shortest fight of the night.
Paddock says what worked for him was hearing his coach yelling for him to circle, which pulled him out of the mindset of brawling—more like street fighting than boxing—and put him back in the ring.
“I started brawling a little bit, and you can’t brawl,” Paddock says.
The night appears to be a success. Not only for Paddock, but for Rodriguez, too. In fact, the gym was so full that he hopes to book space at the fairgrounds next time to make room for more. And Rodriguez says he’s pleased with all the boxers.
“The guys who won were the guys who came in to train,” Rodriguez said after Fight Night. “If they lost, it was to someone else who came in to train.”