Carl "Josh" Durden has dreamed of this opportunity for too long to start getting nervous now.
The 15-year-old Midland Valley sophomore will be fighting this week in the National Junior Olympic Championships in Marquette, Mich. Going against the top boxers in the 15/16-year, 112-pound division, Durden exudes confidence rather than nervousness.
Representing the North Augusta Boxing League, Durden is the only South Carolina boxer to qualify for the nationals, which begin today.
"I'm ready," Durden said. "I've been training real hard, and I'm not going up there to lose. This is something I've been waiting for since I started boxing when I was nine."
Jason Pinckney will be representing the Augusta Boxing Club in the same championship, fighting in the 15/16-year, 132-pound division. Pinckney earned his trip to the nationals by winning his division in the Junior Olympic Southeast Coast Region bouts in Kingsland, Ga., the same place where Durden was crowned a region champion.
When Durden was 6 years old, he found himself watching one of the Rocky movies one day. From that day forward, the youngster couldn't get boxing out of his head.
After watching the entire movie series over and over, Durden harassed his parents until one day they took him to see Noah Newman at the North Augusta Boxing League.
Since then boxing is all the teen-ager finds time for other than school and church. His achievements include five South Carolina State Silver Gloves and five South Carolina State Golden Gloves. He also has captured three Region 3 titles, including a title at the 1998 National PAL at Disney World in Orlando Florida.
"My parents didn't want me to box at first, but now they like it," said Durden, who has a 19-8 record. "I love boxing. It's like I can't stay away from it. I train five days a week, and run two miles every day. Training has helped me win some pretty big fights."
Durden's last fight, in winning in Kingsland, may have been the biggest of his young career. In late May he worked his way to the division finals, where he faced hometown favorite Eric Taylor.
"In the junior boxing tournaments you never have a crowd boo a kid, but that went out the window down there," said Jo-Anne Newman, who assists husband Noah at the North Augusta boxing club. "We were shocked, and I'm sure Josh was too, when the crowd started to boo and chant. We didn't know how he would respond."
But even with the crowd on his side, Taylor couldn't stop a determined Durden, who became energized by the fans' reaction. After 26 bouts, Durden earned the first stop of his career when the referee called the fight midway through the third round.
"It was exciting," an unfazed Durden said. "It was a lot of racket going on in there. But my focus was on the fight. I could hear them but I wasn't fighting them, so I didn't need to worry about how much they yelled."
A victory in the nationals would earn Durden a spot in the international championships, which also will be held at Northern Michigan University in Marquette on July 3-7. That will be following USA Boxing's week-long Elite Training Camp, also in Marquette, which Durden was selected to attend along with teammates Carl Tapley and Noah Newman III.
Reach Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395.