Sitting backwards on a chair, one arm stretched out in front of him, Jaylon Pridgeon watches his trainer wind gauze around his hand. Next comes the tape, between the fingers and then around the wrist …
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Sitting backwards on a chair, one arm stretched out in front of him, Jaylon Pridgeon watches his trainer wind gauze around his hand. Next comes the tape, between the fingers and then around the wrist and palm. Then they’ll do the other hand.
It’s December 7, a Saturday night, and Jaylon is about to fight for his first professional boxing championship.
He leans his head forward and stares at his fist, then he closes his eyes.
It’s been a long road.
Eight weeks of training camp led up to this night. Eight weeks of conditioning in the morning, skill work—punching accuracy, head movement, cutting off the ring—in the afternoon, sparring on afternoons and weekends. The undefeated twenty-two-year-old welterweight prospect from Columbia—nicknamed “The Horseman” for his long-time love of horses—is facing the most important fight of his career, and he’s pushed himself harder than ever before in preparation.
Training camp was at the Robinson-Neal Boxing Academy, a converted trucking garage near Two Notch Road in Columbia. Robinson-Neale is named for its founder and Jaylon Pridgeon’s trainer, Dominic Robinson-Neal, who coaches some of the South Carolina Midlands’s top boxing talent. The one-room gym has iron scaffolding up and down the sides and rubber mats covering the floors. There’s no ring, just a section of the room roped off for sparring.
“The workouts were something else,” says Pridgeon. “I think we started out with 13 people, and we got down to five of us at the end. Just five of us were left. It was intense.”
In another sense, Jaylon Pridgeon has been preparing for this fight since March 2014, the first time he walked into a boxing gym. “That’s the first time I put gloves on. Dates and stuff, I don’t really remember like that. But I remember that date. I believe your purpose will find you, and that’s what happened to me.” Since then, Jaylon has had 40 amateur fights, a handful of professional victories, and countless hours spent training, working, keeping himself laser-focused on his craft.
All for this one night. But that’s the way it always is in boxing, when each fight can make or break a fighter’s professional career. Especially a career as young and promising as Pridgeon’s.
Tonight, Jaylon is fighting for the vacant American Boxing Federation Atlantic Welterweight Championship. His opponent is Agustin Cicero, nicknamed “El Aguila” (The Eagle), a veteran fighter from Mexico with 16 wins, 16 losses, and three draws on his professional record. None of Jaylon’s previous opponents had more than two professional fights, and Jaylon himself has only seven.
Agustin Cicero is backstage, stretching in a corner of the dressing room. He and his two cornermen don’t say much to each other; after nearly 40 professional fights, there’s not much left to say. He’s respectful of his young opponent, but he doesn’t seem intimidated.
“I have 36 fights,” Cicero says, through a translator. “I’m going to take advantage of my experience. He [Pridgeon] is still very green, he’s still learning. I’m going to frustrate him.”
After Pridgeon’s coach wraps his hands, an inspector from the South Carolina Athletic Commission checks the wrapping job, and also the ten-ounce Reyes boxing gloves Pridgeon will use. It’s 9:30 pm. At around 10:30 pm, the gloves go on, and just after 11 pm, Pridgeon and Cicero are in the ring.
The bell rings, and Cicero comes out aggressively behind a strong jab. Pridgeon is patient, catching punches with his palms and jabbing at his opponent’s body, and it seems like he’s probing for weaknesses. In the second round, both fighters begin to land in earnest, Cicero making contact with a sharp right hand, and Pridgeon connecting with straight rights and left hooks to the body. In Pridgeon’s corner, his coach catches his eye and motions with his hands: Calm down.
In the third round, Cicero turns up the heat, coming forward and landing a strong right hand. “Siguelo! Siguelo!” (Follow him! Follow him!) Cicero’s corner shouts. “Al cuerpo!” (To the body!) When Cicero sits down between rounds, his cornermen splash water on his face and urge him to press his young opponent. Prigeon’s corner, meanwhile, is calmer. His coach issues few instructions during the round, and when the bell rings they give Jaylon sips of water and speak quietly into his ear as he nods.
If there was any sense that Cicero’s third-round assault had left Pridgeon rattled, it dissipates in the fourth when “The Horseman” floors his opponent with a right hand. Cicero is back on his feet quickly and survives the round, but in round five Pridgeon begins to dominate the fight, advancing steadily behind chopping right hands and hooks to the body. Cicero is off his feet again in the fifth and once more in the sixth, dropped both times with short right hands. The veteran beats the ten-count both times, but now the rhythm of the fight has settled, and Pridgeon spends the next two rounds doling out a steady beating before earning a unanimous eight-round decision victory.
After the fight, Pridgeon straps the championship belt around his waist and goes to greet his fans. This was his toughest fight, he says, and it was a challenge to keep a cool head. “He’s a veteran, so that fancy stuff wasn’t going to work with him,” says Pridgeon. “I just had to keep to basic boxing. Jab, parry, catch punches. Shoot the right hand, go to the body. Win the fight.” Cicero had tried to press in the early rounds, and had landed some solid punches. “But once I hit him, he wasn’t trying to come forward anymore.”
From here, the expectations for Jaylon Pridgeon will only increase. “He’s a very, very talented young man,” says 38-year veteran referee Bill Clancy, in Columbia to work the fight card. “He’s got good people behind him. He’s very disciplined. And he takes it very seriously. If he stays in that vein, I see him taking a major title from somebody at some point.”
“The Horseman,” meanwhile, is taking things one step at a time. He’s won his first championship, a milestone in any fighter’s career, and he’ll take two weeks off and then go back to work. What’s next for Pridgeon, now that he’s got a championship belt?
Pridgeon smiles. “Now it’s time to defend it,” he says.
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