“He was a real boxing enthusiast,” Ralph Davis, chairman of the festival, said. “He was a judge, he was a boxing referee, a scorer. He was just really into the boxing around here, in the area.”
Davis said that Akins, who has since died, always dreamed of holding a boxing venue during the Umoja Festival.
“He had always wanted to have some kind of boxing competition during Umoja and the year that he passed away, we had worked and worked and we just couldn’t get it to come through,” he said.
But this year, the festival committee, with the help of Roger Hensley, owner and coach of F.N.O. Boxing & Fitness, were not only able to bring a boxing event to the festival, but were also able to name it in honor of their friend — the 1st annual “Jazz” Akins Memorial Box-Off.
Scheduled to be held in the old J.C. Penney building next to Hands On! Regional Museum on Saturday, Hensley said preparation for the event has gone smoothly, as he’s been working to set up the ring and gather vendors and sponsorship.
“I’ve got seven states coming in, seven different states that are coming to compete. Right now, I’ve got 28 bouts on the card,” he said. “You’re looking at about ... 56 athletes coming to box.”
Hensley said the box-off has a wide age range of competitors, and said he’s got participants as young as 8 all the way up to 36-years-old boxing at the event.
He said kids 8-13 years old will be in the ring for 1 minute, boxers 14-16 years old will stay in for up to 2 minutes and the older age groups will stay in the ring for up to 3 minutes.
Hensley said two Johnson City boxers that he coaches — DeAundre Cole and Jose Burgos — will be boxing at the event Saturday.
“Jose is actually going to be our main event. He’s actually an 8-time national champion. He’s been ranked No. 1 in the United States for three years,” he said.
Hensley said participating boxers will also be awarded medals, trophies and belts at the conclusion of the event.
“We’re giving out medals for the first- and second-place (boxers) and then I’m also doing best Junior Olympic bout. That’s the little ones,” he said.
Hensley said awards for best novice belt will be given to competitors 17 and up who have had less than five fights. He said he will be awarding a boxer who has had 10 fights or more the best open belt and said the other award given out will be the most outstanding boxer of the show.
Hensley said he was honored and excited when members of the Umoja committee asked him to help put on the boxing event in remembrance of Akins, but said there’s also been a few nerves, too.
“It’s not that I’m nervous about putting the show on, I’m more nervous ... that I’m doing it in Jazz’s honor and in his name, so I want everything to be right,” he said.
Doors for the boxing venue will open at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and the bouts are scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
Tickets for the event are $5 for kids 12 and under and $10 for adults. VIP tables will also be available for purchase at $100 apiece. Hensley said all of the proceeds of the boxing event will go to local kids at his boxing club and will help cover costs, such as registration fees when they are signing up to compete in an event.
For more information on the event, visit the Umoja Festival website at www.umojajc.org.