Boxing’s in her blood
WELLSBURG – Boxing is in Sasha Wallace’s blood.
Wallace won her second Wheeling Toughman lightweight women’s championship in March. She stands 5 feet, 6 inches and weighed in at 134 pounds.
“I was working out, and I wanted to work toward something and have a goal,” Wallace said. “Also, I have a lot of pent-up aggression, and it helps me work it out. I’m not really nervous before a fight. Before I fight, I pray.”
Because she has won two championships, she will no longer be eligible to fight at Toughman contests. The Wheeling event is the largest in the state, and the fifth largest in the country. An estimated 5,000 people attended the competition both days.
“There are other competitions I could do if I chose to do them,” Wallace said.
The first day of the competition, March 7, Wallace fought Carrie Whitehead of Wellsburg, and, the second, March 8, she fought Stormie Pollard of St. Clairsville and Margaret McCamick of Martins Ferry for the championship.
“I was proud to see her win,” said Richard Wallace, her father and a former amateur boxer.
Wallace trained with Ronnie Green Sr. as her head coach with Mike Napple, Artie Thompson and Thomas Hastings assisting. She has trained at the Bullpen Fight Club in Wheeling.
“Ronnie worked with me the entire time, from the moment I came in the door until I left,” she said. “The others would work with me on timing and run drills, things like that.”
She frequently sparred with Kamron Chervenak.
“She’s a very good athlete,” Wallace said. “She hits like a mac truck.”
Wallace also sparred with workout partner Heather Stevens of Follansbee. Women’s 2014 heavyweight champion Brandi Wood of Cameron also trained at the Bullpen, as did men’s light heavyweight 2014 runner-up and 2013 champion Josh Fisher of Bellaire and men’s middle weight 2014 champion Alex Quinn of Jacobsburg, Ohio. Boxer Bruce Runkle also is a Bullpen product and also worked the corner for Wallace.
Another Wellsburg resident, Aaron Huff, was the 2014 lightweight runner-up.
“My family has always been involved with boxing – my dad, uncle and brother and now my sons,” said Green.
Green initially started a gym to help his sons, Ronnie Jr. and Ronell, get started on their own fighting careers. After teaming up with Mike Napples, James Tui and Justin Hastings, the Bullpen – which features both boxing and mixed martial arts – was born.
“I wanted to get them started, and I wanted a gym around this area, so they could train locally,” he said.
Green has trained several area fighters, including another two-time Toughman champion, Monica Gray.
“I’ve only trained two women for Toughman, and both of them won their fights both years,” he said.
Green also has trained Josh Baker, Todd Bevins, Eric Bledsoe, John Wright, Travis “The Terror” Clark and Kenny Wilson.
“(Wallace) trained hard and always pays attention and listens,” he said. “She’s focused in the ring and has a winning attitude.”
Wallace didn’t train solely at the boxing gym.
“I ran 30 miles a week,” Wallace said. “People don’t realize how much cardio boxing takes.”
She also takes classes at Cindy’s Fusion Fitness in Follansbee and Weirton, including Zumba, Tone and Tighten and High Energy Athletic Training classes with instructors Bev Thomas and Cindy Roberts. Wallace lifts at D.Mac’s Gym in Wellsburg.
“I trained up to six hours a day,” she said.
She also frequently participates in obstacle course races.
“I’ve done the Fugitive Mud Run, Mud on the Mountain and the Warrior Dash,” Wallace said, adding she will participate in the Warrior Dash for the second time May 31. “We get a group of women and we go together. We usually wear crazy socks, tutus and bandannas. We just do it for fun – no one gets left behind. We’ll stop, mess around, take pictures. It’s a fun thing to do as a group.”
Wallace had big shoes to fill when she came to the ring – before all of her bouts, it was announced she is the niece of the original Toughman.
“It’s a family thing,” said Wallace.
Garey Wallace won the first Toughman in Wheeling in 1980 in a contest that the Wheeling Intelligencer billed as “David versus Goliath.” At 6 foot and 200 pounds, Garey Wallace was the David to David Gallagher’s 6-foot, 3-inch, 225-pound Goliath. After winning the heavyweight title that year, Garey Wallace returned in 1984 to win the light heavyweight title.
“I won because I had more experience – much more – than the guys I fought,” Garey Wallace said. “Running 20 miles a week since eighth grade helped. Winning that made me a big fish in a small pond. I got to travel around some. I went up to Cleveland to fight, I was way over my head, but I got to go to the game. I was never a world-class athlete, but my knowledge and love of the fight game never suffered. Any good, strong athlete can throw a punch, but those who can stand in there, take it and throw a punch with composure – that separates them from the rest.”
Garey Wallace was later followed into the ring not only by Sasha Wallace, but his own sons, Garey and Cotey. Even into his 50s, Garey Wallace continues to coach and spar. He is currently training his youngest son Hunter, a member of the Air National Guard, who intends to fight with Angelo Magnone’s Made Men Productions in Weirton.
“Boxing is like playing chess. There is no one move,” Garey Wallace said. “You don’t teach kids how to fight. It’s like anything else. You teach them the basics and then let them go off on their own.”
He has visited several gyms in the area over the years and is interested in starting his own and re-kindling interest in boxing in Brooke County youth.
“I might know more than you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have something to teach me,” he said.
Training others to box improves a fighter’s own ability, Garey Wallace said.
“Putting on those gloves is like meeting an old childhood friend,” he said. “All the old memories come back.”
“It all started with an Army dufflebag filled with sawdust behind (Richard Wallace Sr.’s) pool hall,” said Garey Wallace.
“That was the original heavy bag,” said Richard Wallace, Sasha’s father. “It was in the back room. That was our workout room.”
“The first gym was on Sixth Street, in the back of the old man’s pool hall,” said Garey Wallace. “He and Johnny Durbin used to work out. Johnny Durbin studied in the Chuck Norris school. He’s got endless photos – photo albums full – training at West Point, Quantico and state police.”
Richard Wallace began boxing during his sophomore year at Brooke High School, in the mid-70s.
“There was a fight at Brooke Hills Park, at the Brooke County Fair, one of the first ones,” he said. “After that, we went down to see if we could get in on it.”
“Leo Paul opened up the Brooke County Boys Club and introduced a lot of the local guys to boxing,” said Garey Wallace. “He was an old boxer. His dad and grandfather had been boxers in the old style.”
The brothers boxed under the auspices of the American Athletic Union, the sanctioning body at the time.
“We worked out in the basement of the Wellsburg City Building,” Richard Wallace said. “They had a little gym set up there. It was run by the Brooke County Athletic Association.”
“I saw Larry Agin – all three of the Agin brothers, Larry, Rex and Doug – fight,” said Garey Wallace. “They probably had 300 wins between them and only 40 losses. They were the most dominant fighters in the Ohio Valley. They probably trained just about every kid at one point. Their dad and grandfather were the last of the bare-knuckle fighters.”
Garey Wallace also credited former wrestling coach Paul Billiard for encouraging area youth to pursue athletics.
“Sports helped a lot of young men,” he said.
Another popular spot for young fighters and athletes at the time was Iafrate 88’s Barber Shop on Main Street in Follansbee.
“(Owner Loreto Iafrate) used to be a fighter, and I was real inspired by that,” said Garey Wallace. “He had all these old photos of him with fighters and (boxing match) tickets on the walls. He had the barber shop, and there was a little gym, and the high school kids used to go down there and work out, and we would always go down there and watch. He’s still around, and I’d love to talk to some of those old fighters and have them share their knowledge while they’re still around.”
The fighting gene runs true – Sasha Wallace’s sons, Riley, 9, and Aiden, 6, have been enrolled in youth mixed martial arts classes at the Bullpen. Riley is a third-grader and Aiden a kindergartener at Wellsburg Primary School.
“Riley’s favorite Easter gift was a pair of sparring gloves,” said Wallace.
Wallace is a 1998 Brooke High School graduate and a 2002 Bethany College graduate. She assists with Cub Scout Pack 737 fundraisers and the Wellsburg First Presbyterian Church afterschool program. She is a member of the Wellsburg Primary Parent-Teacher Association.
Her sons participate in the Wellsburg Baseball Association, the Brooke County Library summer reading program and the Wellsburg Ministerial Association’s summer Bible school program.
(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)