Emmett Wilson was once a professional boxer who had a 4-0 record with four knockouts, but he said the toughest competition he faced was never in the ring.
It was his 4-year-old son, Elijah, who gave him the most trouble after his training sessions.
“I would bring him and his bigger brother to the gym to watch me train and he would watch everything I do,” Wilson said. “I would come home and we would work on his punches and his combos, and he would always want to do more.
“Eventually, I started tying pillows to my legs. Those were his first opponents.”
Elijah, now 13, has grown up to become one of the most decorated young fighters in the state and will be participating in one of 15 championship bouts at Saturday’s USA Boxing Junior Olympics regional championship.
The event will be hosted by boxing trainer James Joseph and held in the Gernon Brown Recreation Center at 1001 Harrison Ave.
Fighters at the event will range from the age of 8 to 24, but championship fights will involve only those from ages 8 to 15.
The winners of the championship fights will advance to the national USA Boxing tournament in Charleston, West Virginia, during June.
“I’m really excited about Saturday, it’s a great opportunity,” said Elijah, who has accumulated five belts during his time boxing. “I’ve just been working on my mechanics and all the little stuff just so I can be ready.”
The thing that surprises Emmett Wilson the most about Elijah’s success at such a young age is that he initially didn’t want his son to get into boxing. Elijah’s older brother plays football at St. Augustine.
Emmett gave up his career in boxing once injuries to his lower legs stripped him of his ability to move in the ring.
But Elijah’s love for the sport was relentless.
“He was just so eager about it, and he really wanted to learn,” Emmett said. “I would teach him one thing, and he would want to learn another. I would show him how to place his hands, and he would want to learn how to move his feet.”
As Elijah grew older, he got away from boxing, but a traumatic loss of a family member greatly affected Emmett and he remembers a 9-year-old Elijah coming to him with a solution to ease his pain.
“He came to me and he said ‘Hey, let’s go do boxing again’, “Emmett recalled.
“I knew it would be a great way for us to spend time together, so I decided that I would bring him and his brother to see if they would take it seriously.”
Emmett brought Elijah and his older brother to his old trainer, Joseph, and saw what the longtime boxing coach could get out of his two sons.
“I coached his dad when he was young, and he was looking for something to keep him out of the streets,” Joseph said. “His older son wasn’t as interested but had a real interest in the sport, and he fights with a very tactical mindset.”
With Joseph’s urging, Elijah participated in his first boxing match at 9, and the young fighter hasn’t looked back since.
“I was a little nervous before my first fight,” Elijah said. “After my first punch landed, I knew I was good, though.”
Four years later, Elijah is one more win away from going to nationals for the first time and showing just how good he is against some of the best competition in the country.
The hardest part for Emmett is the struggle between wanting to coach him and wanting to be his dad during his biggest fights.
“It’s really hard for me, because sometimes I know he needs to be pushed and sometimes he needs a pat on the back,” Emmett said.
“Most of all, I’m just going to make sure I’m there for him on Saturday. That’s the most important thing I can do for him. I’m sure he’ll take care of the rest.”