Local Airman teaches boxers to be thinkers

Airman Edward Drescher
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***A boxing match is more than a test of guts and strength; it’s a battle of wits and skills and can be the ultimate chess match between two warriors.

Ladell Heath, who has been boxing off and on for 15 years, believes his ability to outthink his opponent is key in his success. This is what he teaches to the young boxers he trains.

Heath started boxing when he arrived at his first duty station, Homestead Air Force Base, Fla. He attended boxing camps in downtown Miami and focused hard on training. In 1995 he won his first tournament in Springfield, Fla.

His toughest fight came in 1996 at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas during a boxing camp. With only two fights under his belt he was pitted against Ron Simms, the 10th ranked light-heavyweight in the nation. Despite losing the fight, Heath’s efforts attracted attention.

Heath disappeared from boxing for the next six years. He was bothered by a nagging hand injury and had no opportunities to train and fight because of his duty locations.

“I was very frustrated that I couldn’t train or receive proper guidance,” said Heath.

In 2002, he resurfaced in Europe at Ramstein and found an opportunity to continue boxing.

***image2***“I was on leave and I saw a flyer for a tournament so I decided to give it a shot,” said Heath.

With only 10 days to train before the tournament, Heath put his training into overdrive. It didn’t take him long to return to his old form and Heath captured the 2002 U.S. Forces in Europe light-heavyweight championship for the novice division.

“I never worried about my skills; they will always be there,” said Heath. “It’s more about what type of shape I’m in.”

Heath was back in the U.S. Forces in Europe Boxing Championship two years later; this time in the open division for boxers with 10 fights or more. Heath again was victorious throughout and claimed the 2004 light-heavyweight championship.

“No matter how much pain you endure during a fight, you can’t feel any of it after a victory,” said Heath, who is 6-0 in fights in Europe.

Preparing for Saturday’s Main Event Tournament, Heath found himself in a familiar position. With only eight days remaining Heath was just recovering from illness and had to begin training twice as hard.

“I’m going to hit it hard even if it means double hours at the gym,” said Heath.

The Main Event is 7 p.m. Saturday at the Kleber Fitness Center and Gymnasium on Kleber Kaserne.

“Events like these are a basis for Soldiers and Airman to get a shot at amateur boxing,” said Bob Bigelow, 415th Base Support Battalion sports and fitness chief.

At age 35, Heath has begun to focus more of his time on coaching and plans on only a few more fights in his career. Heath has been actively coaching and training young boxers when he isn’t fighting or training himself. He teaches his boxers the same thing he uses himself, which is to outthink opponents and dictate the action in the ring.

“I tell them it’s not a strong man competition,” said Heath. “Be the matador not the bull.”

A boxer Heath took under his wing is Michael O’Neill, who will also be fighting in Saturday’s Main Event. O’Neill has made tremendous strides under the guidance of Heath and has the potential to do big things.

“It’s flattering to watch him use the things I taught him in the ring; there’s no doubt in my mind he has the ability to make it professionally,” said Heath.

It will be hard for Heath to spend all his time in the corner as a coach once he hangs it up, but he believes he can handle it.

“There will always be that itch to get back in the ring but it’s the best way for me to stay focused on the sport,” said Heath.