An old-fashioned rumble for charity

Knockout Dayton comes back to Memorial Hall for round two

By Mark Luedtke
Photo: 2013 Knockout Dayton fighters training at Drake’s Downtown Gym; photo credit: Mark Luedtke

Boxing swings back into Memorial Hall with the presentation of Knockout Dayton by Drake’s Downtown Gym and Dayton History. This is the second year for the event, and it promises to be even more entertaining than the last. John Drake, owner and president of Drake’s Gym, describes what visitors can expect at the event, “They’ll come into a very cool venue at Memorial Hall, and we’ll have beer, wine, liquor and food. Before the fights, there will be a bar set up in the orchestra pit along with a betting window. The betting window is essentially a donation to Dayton History.”

There will be no real betting on the fights, nor will there be winners and losers. The fights are all exhibition fights, for entertainment purposes only.

Last year’s fighters put on a great show, but Drake is even more impressed with this year’s fighters, “Everybody in this group is doing real well. What we have this year is more experienced people. There’s far more people who have been here. This year we have more people who went to the gym. They went to the event last year or they volunteered at the event, loved it and I had people tell me the next day to sign them up. They wanted to do it. So they’ve trained longer.”

Drake trains all the fighters and he puts them through a serious regimen. The fighters started training in December, but that training was spotty because of the standard distractions of the holiday season. Some fighters trained more than others, but beginning in January, Drake introduced a more regular schedule, “In January, we started having scheduled workouts Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. And then the second week in January they started throwing punches at each other. We have the red corner team working together and the blue corner team trains together and we build some camaraderie within the teams. It’s pretty cool. We have a good energy in the gym when everybody’s training.”

Terry Saylor recently retired as a Montgomery County Deputy Sheriff. The author watched Drake train him at Drake’s old-school gym. The workout went from cardio training on the treadmill to speed and accuracy drills in the ring with Drake. Saylor worked on the heavy bag next, then circled the gym doing lunges. He finished with several sets of sit-ups. Most of the exercises were timed to coincide with the length of a round and the rest period between rounds. Fighters can chose their round time: either one minute, 90 seconds or two minutes. Saylor was training for two-minute rounds.

Saylor was impressed with his workout and he knows a thing or two about training, “I’m a challenge-driven personality. For example, in October I ran two marathons.” He has trained with Drake a couple of years and he wanted to take his boxing training to the next level by fighting in the Knockout exhibition. Saylor compared boxing to the difficulty of running a marathon, “It’s right up there. It’s different though. You’re going against yourself in a marathon. In the ring you’re going against another person.”

Drake believes all the training and experience of this group of fighters will produce competitive, entertaining fights because boxing builds people’s constitutions and this event puts them on display. “People don’t know how much they can take. We’re not often tested like this. I’m really proud of everybody who does this. Anybody who steps in and wants to spar and wants to experience it, I think they rock because, number one, they’re willing to risk looking silly or getting punched in the face.”

But the fighters aren’t the only attraction at the event. Memorial Hall is an attraction in itself. Memorial Hall was dedicated in 1910 as a memorial for local veterans of the Civil and Spanish-American Wars. During boxing’s heyday through the 1940s, Memorial Hall hosted boxing nearly every Friday night. The Knockout promoters chose a Speakeasy theme to celebrate that history and Memorial Hall will be decorated appropriately.

One of the inspirations for the Speakeasy theme is a famous 1924 photograph of Gene Tunney in the ring with Jack Dempsey at Memorial Hall. Dempsey, the most famous athlete in the world, was fighting a five round exhibition against two opponents. Tunney met Dempsey to set up a fight.

Tunney ended up defeating Dempsey twice. The Dayton Herald wired Memorial Hall with radio speakers for the rematch in 1927. One reporter described the broadcast, “For the more recent Dempsey-Tunney bout, also broadcast by Major White, the Dayton Herald, of Dayton, Ohio, arranged a party in Memorial Hall of that city, and invited the public to hear the announcements, blow by blow. The hall was filled and reports have it that the impersonal loud speakers, giving forth the details of the fight, 800 miles away, held the crowd tense.”

Knockout Dayton takes place on Saturday, March 2, at Memorial Hall, 125 E. First St. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Doors at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at

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