There was a time when Bruce Dollinger's heart simply wasn't in amateur boxing. That affected his in-ring performance to the point where he needed to take some time off and figure out whether or not he should continue fighting.
It took him 18 months to decide that he did want to box, and the Syracuse native boldly announced his comeback in a major way Saturday night. He earned a four-round decision over the United States' top-ranked heavyweight, Andres Taylor, to win the 201-pound championship at the third annual Nickel City Challenge before an estimated 750 at the Hamburg Fairgrounds, Gaming & Raceway.
At first, the New York State Golden Gloves champion didn't look like he'd be anything more than fodder for Taylor, but Dollinger recovered from the standing eight count he took just 10 seconds into the fight to win an entertaining slugfest.
"This justifies the comeback," said the 24-year-old Dollinger, who stopped fighting after a December 2005 loss to Buffalo's Excell Holmes. "To beat the No. 1 ranked guy feels nice."
Dollinger took control in the second round by using his jab to slow down a charging Taylor, a 28-year-old father of five who runs three businesses in Johnstown, Pa. Taylor was looking to win for the 24th time in 30 fights.
Taylor was philosophical about the loss.
"It's no big deal, it happens to the best of them," said Taylor, who plans to attend marquee tournaments like the Nickel City Challenge over the next year before turning pro. "I think because he's from New York State [he got the decision] but that's the game and that's what happens. You win some and you lose some."
Dollinger and Taylor weren't the only talented amateurs to attend the two-day showcase that drew an estimated 1,300 fans. The most outstanding fighter of the tournament was 17-year-old Aleem Whitfield from Geneva.
Whitfield shared the 165-pound title with Geneva Boxing Club teammate Tony Brinson. Whitfield won a title by beating New York City's Mike O'Connor on Friday night. He had kicked off June in impressive fashion at the U.S. Championships when the PAL National Junior Division and Eastern Olympic Trials 178-pound champion upset former U.S. and National Golden Gloves champion Will Rosinsky. The 22-year-old Rosinsky won most outstanding boxing honors at last year's Nickel City Challenge. Whitfield didn't advance past the preliminary stages of nationals but said the win over Rosinsky will help build him build his resume as he prepares for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Buffalo's Lionell Thompson, ranked second nationally among light heavyweights, avenged last year's Nickel City loss to Jonathan Rego by claiming a decision over his Canadian adversary Friday and taking a close four-round verdict from 17-year-old Colin Fish of Oshawa, Ont., to win the championship Saturday.
"Last year I got caught up in the crowd a bit," Thompson said. "I was more determined [this year]. I'm No. 2 in the country and I had to show people why I'm No. 2 in the country."
Holmes, Thompson's Northwest Buffalo Community Center teammate, pounded out a methodical five-round victory late Friday night over Niagara Falls' Roy Burns to win the Western New York Super Heavyweight title but lost the Nickel City title to New York's Tor Hamer in a four-round decision Saturday.