Excell Holmes is preparing for what he calls "a battle of attrition."
The Buffalo super heavyweight will face Roy Burns of Niagara Falls for what is being dubbed the Western New York amateur championship in a five-round main event during the opening night of the third annual Nickel City Challenge.
The event takes place at 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday at the Hamburg Fairgrounds, Gaming & Raceway, 5600 McKinley Parkway. A ring will be set up in a large tent in the parking lot in front of the Gaming Center which can be reached from the entrance off of South Park Avenue.
Tournament organizer Don Patterson extended the Holmes-Burns bout to five rounds to make it a little more demanding for the fighters. That's fine with Holmes, who said he's ready to go the distance.
"The rounds are only two minutes, and if you do four anyway the extra round shouldn't be that bad," he said before a workout at the Northwest Buffalo Community Center. "Whether it's three, four or five rounds, you've got to be more active to beat the guy. I just want to keep the jab on [Burns], make him work at my pace and try to wear him down. It should be exciting."
Holmes has experienced a rise in national prominence over the past year. Even though he lost in the semifinals of the Midwest and Western Olympic trials, his performances earned him the respect of USA Boxing, which gave him a share of the No. 2 national ranking in its current poll.
Holmes has spent most of his amateur career as a heavyweight, but he moved to the higher class so he wouldn't be concerned with having to drop weight to meet the 201-pound limit. Since moving to super heavyweight, Holmes' energy level and endurance have increased, Patterson said. So has his punching power.
"Now he's starting to knock a lot of these guys out because he feels so much better," Patterson said. "It took Excell a little time to pull things together, but he's an immensely hard worker and it's paying off for him now."
Holmes and Burns should be one of several competitive matches at this year's Nickel City Challenge, which features nationally ranked fighters and Golden Glove champions from Western New York, Rochester, Albany, New York City, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio in the super heavyweight (over 201 pounds), heavyweight (201 pounds), light heavyweight (178), middleweight (165), light welterweight (141), and lightweight (132) classes. There also will be novice division bouts and matches with local kids.
Patterson is amazed how quickly the tournament has grown in such a short time. He gets calls from boxing clubs throughout the country wanting to participate. He had to turn down teams from New Jersey, Philadelphia, Tacoma, Wash., and Minnesota that inquired about coming to Buffalo this year.
"I didn't think I would ever get to the point where I had to turn people down, but I did think we could build a tournament that would be desired to participate in," said Patterson, who trains Holmes and other young boxers at NWBCC. "The word is spreading that it's a good tournament. The competition is great. People like the city of Buffalo and we try to show them a good time. It's really taking shape to what I want it to be."
The always strong New York City contingent will be led by lightweight Sadam Ali and light heavyweight Will Rosinsky of Brooklyn's Starrett City Boxing Club.
Ali, 18, is one of the most decorated boxers in the amateur ranks and has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Houston in August. He owns Junior Olympic national and world championships, won the PAL and Under-19 national titles and is a two-time New York City and National Golden Gloves champion. He also captured the Golden Gloves National Tournament of Champions in Chattanooga, Tenn., last month.
Rosinsky, a former national champion and three-time New York State Golden Gloves winner, was named the outstanding fighter of last year's Nickel City Challenge.
Andres Taylor of Johnstown, Pa., ranked No. 1 nationally at 201 pounds by USA Boxing and the Western Olympic trials winner, is expected to appear.
Also scheduled to compete is Albany's Mike Faragon. The co-No. 1 ranked light welterweight in the country, according to USA Boxing, is a three-time state Golden Gloves champ and recent winner at the Western trials. Aleem Whitfield of Geneva is back to defend his 165-pound title. Whitfield has wins at the national PAL and Eastern Olympic Trials championships this year and defeated Rosinsky at last month's U.S. Boxing Championships.
The best known of the Buffalo-area fighters is Lionell Thompson, USA Boxing's second-ranked light heavyweight. Thompson fell just short of qualifying for the Olympic Team Trials, but won his fourth state Golden Gloves title and captured the 178-pound title in the Olympic Western Trials in Salt Lake City, Utah, this year. Another local fighter to watch is Buffalo's Justin Keith, the state junior Golden Gloves champion at 152 pounds.
"The competition should be intense," Patterson said. "With the fighters we have coming in, this could be our best tournament yet."
General tickets cost $12 in advance and $15 the day of the event. Ringside seats are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the event. Tickets can be purchased at tickets.com or all Tops Market locations. For more information, go to www.diaab.com or call 400-9697.