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Annual boxing event full of storylines

Jan. 13, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Toughman boxing presents numerous storylines over two days.

Such was the case during the 25th Tri-State Original Toughman Contest held Friday and Saturday at Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

Deron Keeton of Huntington, runner-up in the middleweight division a year ago, fixes the problem that cost him the title and comes back to beat Justin Clark in the finals to collect the two coveted prizes -- Toughman jacket and $1,000.

Ashley Grizzle of Portmouth puts on the gloves for the first time and beats Kaitlin Moore of Logan by first-round TKO to win the women's heavyweight division and hearts of the crowd.

In the light heavyweight division, the crowd learns on the first night Melvin Russell of Greenup has the nickname "Romantic Redneck", but actually has a girlfriend, so that blows up the promotion he's available with some cash to talk about after he beat Charles Whittington in the finals.

In the finale, which started about 11:40 p.m. with a fair sized crowd still in the arena, Dustin Ryan of Ashland absorbed a first-round pounding from Rashawde Myers of Huntington, but charged back the final two rounds, and with the fans voicing their approval, he stops his opponent in the third round to claim victory.

In the scheduled pro title fight, West Virginia cruiserweight champion Bobby Thomas comes in a few pounds over the limit, so the 10-round bout against Warren Browning is cut to four, made a heavyweight bout and Thomas wins when Warren can't answer the bell for the third round.

At lightweight, Trent Blankenship got a split decision over 2012 champion Brandon Kitts of South Point.

Keeton, who played football, basketball and ran track at Cabell Midland High School, said conditioning made the difference as he went 4-0 on Saturday night.

"Cardio," he said when asked what he worked on most. "Fighters have the quickness, reflexes, technique. It comes down to conditioning. In the end, I stayed calm and relaxed and got the job done."

When the final bell sounded, Keeton paced around the ring believing he'd done enough, but knew it was up to what the judges had seen over three one-minute rounds.

"Relieved," he said of how he felt when promoter Jerry Thomas called Keeton's name. "All the hard work paid off. It makes me proud to know what I did to prepare for this had its rewards."

Grizzle had the nickname "Slammin" and that's what she did to three opponents in two nights. Fans really warmed up to her with each bout.

"I didn't hear a thing," said Grizzle, who weighed 282 pounds. "No people, no noise. All I could see was the fighter."

Grizzle started training three months ago at Fighters Wanted in Portsmouth. She often went up against the guys and she admitted she got her noise busted Monday.

"It healed up," she said with a smile. "Training with the guys helped me get ready."

When the decision became official, Grizzle was all smiles as she put on the jacket and collected $750.

"The best feeling ever," she said. "I knew I'd get it."

Andreanna Hensley, who lost to Grizzle on Friday, met her backstage after the fight. "She hits hard," Hensley said.

Grizzle dedicated her win to the gym and children who have to fight cancer. "You feel for them (cancer patients)," she said. "I hope this (title) is an inspiration to others."

Russell said he enjoyed playing up his nickname with the crowd.

"My girl friend came up with it," he said. "We (he and Thomas) played the crowd. It's show business. I've got the cash now and a girl friend. When we got down to business, I wanted the jacket. I'll wear it with pride."

Ryan admitted Myers puts a whipping on him the first round. A talk with his cornermen (Eric Jarvis and Noah Kirk of 304 Boxing Academy) allowed him to become the aggressor.

"He put it on me. I dug deep," an emotional Ryan said. "I did what my trainers told me. I wanted to show I was taught better than this."

Ryan worked Myers over the latter part of the final two rounds and the fans got truly vocal in their support. Eventually the fight ended in round three and Ryan prevailed by TKO.

"I wanted it for my kids," said Ryan, who is 34, has six children -- four girls and two boys -- and is going through a tough family matter. "I wanted to show them what daddy could do."

Thomas (12-1) knew Browning (17-3) had power and found a way to negate that advantage.

"He's a tough guy. Throws hard punches," said Thomas, who is from Oak Hill, W. Va. "l kept on the outside. We had a good plan. Set up the jab, move and use the angles."

Browning injured his right arm in round two and that ended the fight. He left with his left arm in a sling.

"I hope he's all right. I told him I'd give him a rematch."

Then there's a possible fight with Jason Pettaway of Huntington, who's lost only once and is back down to cruiserweight.

"We'll work on that," Thomas said.

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