Top Gun Boxing

Promising amateur eyes nationals

by Chris Goltermann

Even at a young age, Nick Rochester knew he liked boxing. He watched the Rocky movies - the good ones, at least - non-stop, with only a mother's love keeping him from a busted nose or two before he graduated Newnan High School.

But the itch to fight in the ring never completely left him, even if his constant smile and a friendly demeanor - much like Balboa's, to go with the same southpaw stance - shines through in his personality.

At 27, following a stint in the Marines that included two tours in Iraq, the parttime fitness trainer has joined forces with the Top Gun Boxing Team and coach Greg Elder with hopes of making a push toward the Georgia USA Boxing Championships in December.

Rochester had known of Elder's son Ebo during his standout career, even taking in a fight or two with a group at their home. But it wasn't until recently that he looked up the longtime trainer with hopes of building on a decent start as an amateur.

In their first outing together last weekend in Jonesboro on a local card, the 185-pounder improved his amateur record to 7-1 with a decision over Mengistu Zarzar, one that further supplanted Elder's earlier impressions of his natural ability despite using awkward techniques. They included using his good left hand to lead into his jab and a stance that left him susceptible to a strong cross. Regardless, his only loss has come in the Georgia Golden Gloves in a decision during a bout where he forced a standing eight count in the first round.

'Very rarely does a guy show up and understand how brutal fighting is, and say, this is what I'm going to do. He started late and had pretty much trained himself up until recently. He was doing things that I had never seen. A lot of it was wrong, but he was effective with it,' said Elder, who's nicknamed Rochester 'Napalm Nick.' While Rochester's early record was good, especially for an unattached fighter, Elder still needed his own evaluation, using a trip to Atlanta to see just how well the 27-year-old reacted to opponents he knew were well respected.

'I asked him what his record was and I said, 'I'm going to put you in front of someone good. I took him to two different gyms in Atlanta and he held his own against very good fighters,' Elder said. 'He didn't win, but the guy didn't get in his head. You don't win six fights doing everything wrong like he was.'

Rochester initially got a boost in his quest to enter the ring from local boxer and coach James Lavin, who recently picked up his second World belt at the Ringside Championships.

'It was a huge blessing for those two to just get together because James is a giver,' Elder said. 'You don't find many trainers who'd be willing to let another person step in and help. But that's the type of person James is.'

The pair happened to meet at the Newnan library, oddly enough, both while researching boxing. They eventually decided to start training together, sparing occasionally, with Rochester picking up a win under his guidance at this year's Georgia Games. His only loss came in a decision during the finals of the Golden Gloves Georgia tournament with Lavin and his trainer, Randy Duke, in Rochester's corner.

'Even when I was in the Marine Corps I watched all the big fights. I used to have the DVDs sent, so I feel like a got an understanding from watching that. When I got out, I started looking for a trainer and I started actively working out myself,' Rochester said. 'I started doing what I thought was correct. One day I was in the library looking the local gym up [on the Internet] and saw their boxing coach. The guy beside me looked just like him.'

According to Elder, Lavin initially was apprehensive on changing Rochester's unique style having already had plenty of success. During sparring, the Masters champion found it tough to get a glove on him.

'When I asked James why he didn't change some of the things he was doing, he said, cause I couldn't hit him [in the ring] … and he could hit me,' said Elder.

What may have been fate started a possible Olympic dream in motion. The goal, for now, is to head into the Open Division in the upcoming Georgia USA Boxing Championships with the hopes of reaching both the regional and national levels. He'll be among several Top Gun Boxers making the move from amateur status, a major step toward potentially turning pro. Open divisions are done strictly by draw instead of matching fighters by similarities in record and stature.

'The open division is a totally different animal,' said Elder.

The 6-foot Rochester admits he's been overmatched at times, including last weekend where he gave up both a few inches and at least 15 pounds to Zarzar, who was a late replacement on the card.

'That's the main thing. You've have to be able to outthink these [guys],' he said. 'They come in there and they're trying to knock you out the first time the bell rings. It took me absorbing a couple of [Zarzar's] attacks, weathering the storm, to make me think maybe I should go right after him.'

Elder admits that the newest member of the Top Gun team has come along way in the two to three weeks they've been working together.

'He's learned not to stay in that three-quarter range against some of these bombers,' Elder said. 'Nick's never fought inside. He didn't know a thing about fighting inside until the last two or three weeks. At his height and frame for a light heavyweight, he's got to fight inside.'

While making his own improvements, Rochester's influence both in and out of the ring to a younger group of fighters with the Top Gun team, has already paid immediate dividends.

'They've all changed their attitudes,' Elder said. 'They've seen what works between a coach and a boxer. He's just an exceptional young man.'

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