Tim Allen Amerson III was the first boxer to fight at the Russellville Fight Night held at the Hughes Center a few months ago. Usually the more experienced boxers go last, but Tim was fighting early that evening so he could make it to his senior prom at Dardanelle High School.
Six feet one inch tall and weighing in at 175 pounds, Tim recently turned 18 and now fights in the light heavy weight division. “I’m fighting older guys now,” says Tim. This opponent was 27 years old. They went three rounds. Tim was fast on his feet, using his long reach and creative angles to land power shots on his opponent. “He clipped my eye in the first round,” Tim says, “and it started swelling up; the second round comes around and it’s hard to see out of my right eye,” he laughs. It was a close, tough fight, but Tim won hands down. After the fight he raced back to the gym, showered and changed into his tux. He sported a black eye to prom. “Everyone was just looking at me,” he laughs. He recalls his glasses pressing on his swollen eye throughout the night.
The Russellville fight, sanctioned by the National Boxing Association and hosting fighters from four states, was Tim’s tenth amateur fight. He plans to fight again in Little Rock next month in the TITLE Boxing tournament and hopes to someday go pro. He lives in the Harkey Valley/Chickalah community outside of Dardanelle and runs six miles of dirt roads to stay in shape. He laughs about running with a headlamp in the dark to ensure he doesn’t run into any mountain lions on the unpaved country roads. He recently graduated from high school, making him the first in his family to do so. He trains diligently inside and outside the gym.
“When I was about five years old my dad and mom told me a lot about my grandpa, Tim Allen Amerson Sr.” Tim explains. “He was a Golden Glove Boxer and fought in the Army, so I kind of got interested in it.” When Tim was a kid his grandfather gave him a hat with the words “boom boom” written on it, suggesting, perhaps, that Tim would take up the fighting tradition someday. Tim was young when his grandfather passed away, and it wasn’t until the teen years that he considered taking up the sport. He had no idea where to start. “For a long time I didn’t have any internet sources,” he explains. “When I was about 15 I started Googling places to go train.” Tim also started calling gyms to see if anyone offered traditional boxing. He found Forca.
Located on West E Street in Russellville, Forca Martial Arts offers a myriad of combat sports including jiu jitsu, fitness kickboxing, MMA, and kids’ self defense classes. They are also home to a nonprofit that offers free community boxing classes every Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Tim and his family drove by the gym on a Saturday to check out the place. “There were a lot of people rolling on the mats that day,” he laughs. Rolling is a term for practicing jiu jujitsu. The next week Tim started working with coach Brian Wilson, owner of the gym. The first few times he wanted to go alone. But it wasn’t long before his mother and little brother Owen wanted to come watch. Soon Owen started training, too.
Tim says when he first started boxing he was getting D’s and F’s in school and it didn’t look like he’d graduate at all. But Brian pushed him to do better both physically and mentally. “He told me you have to be the best in everything else too. He started mentally coaching me and I started getting C’s and then B’s started rolling in, even A’s. I actually graduated on time with my class,” says Tim.
Brian says that because the gym offers a free boxing class it’s common for people to drift in and out without any real commitment. But Tim has stuck around. He’s at every practice and gets in work with Brian throughout the week. “I’m dedicated to to helping people become a better version of themselves,” says Brian. “When you start fighting it always becomes a head game. You are overanalyzing your training. There is so much mental work to do after and while you are doing the physical work,” he explains.
When asked about Tim’s first fight Brian remembers a lot more about it than Tim does. “Your first fights,” says Brian, “is an out-of-body experience.” The fighter often has the experience of being an active observer. “You’re just processing all of this chaotic, primal stuff,” adds Brian. Tim laughs and says that all he remembers of that fight was climbing into the ring. “I remember the walk up the stairs, and after that, nothing. The adrenaline is just going and you don’t remember anything. I just know I had a headache after,” he says. Tim won that fight.
There have been setbacks too. There is an emotional high after winning, but the losses can be hard to come back from. “I lost to a guy about three times a row,” says Tim. “Each time I thought I was going to get him. At the end of the last fight I thought I had him, too, and then they called his name.”
“That guy has had over 20 bouts,” explains Brian. “And Tim fought him to a split decision twice. It’s how you process those hard lessons and come back from them that really change you,” says Brian. “We have people who lose and never come back again. The mental toll of a loss takes a lot on you, and it all has to do with your team handles you, how everyone helps you deal and process. It’s emotional when you win; it’s emotional when you lose.”
Boxing is often seen as a solo sport, which is only partially accurate. The team plays a gigantic role in helping a fighter enter and exit the ring. Drills and mitt work in class build technique, form, and speed. Bag work builds power, strength, and endurance. There is an old adage that no one trains as hard as a boxer. It is certainly an endurance sport, heavy on cardio. Teammates encourage one another to keep going even when their arms feel weak and their legs feel wobbly and exhausted.
Sparring sessions — fighting amongst teammates meant to build skill and endurance — solidify skills for actual fights. Sparring is a little different than an actual bout in that teammates aren’t trying to knock each other out. But to succeed in the ring against a real opponent, fighters have to be ready. And so they must push each other, giving and adsorbing hard blows to prepare for the real fights. It might seem like there would be animosity between groups of people who like to hit one another in the face for fun. But nothing builds respect and camaraderie quite like the intensity of contact sports. Boxers are nothing without their support systems and teammates cheering one another on through the highs and lows of the sport.
I happened to be working the glove table at the Russellville Fight Night, Tim’s most recent win. All fighters have to wear the same competition sanctioned gloves, 10 to 12 ounces depending on age and weight. It was my job to make sure the guys fighting in the red corner got red gloves and the guys fighting in the blue corner got the blue gloves. I made sure they had to the correct glove weight and that the gloves were on before they headed to the ring. It was also my job to clean the gloves — sometimes wiping off blood — once the gloves returned.
Working that table I gained a new appreciation for the intensity of emotion going into the ring. The adrenaline is palpable. Some fighters pace and shadow box before they go in. Others are stone-faced, arms at their side, and silent. Some fighters are laughing and exuberant, even joking around with their coach or friends. I remember Tim came up with Owen, who then helped him get the gloves on. The fighters have trained for months for this moment , but they really have no idea how the fight will go. In all likelihood they don’t even know who they’ll be fighting until a few hours before the fight. Everything is an unknown and there is no teammate who can help a boxer shoulder the intensity. Once they call your name you walk out alone.
I asked Tim how he trains for fights. “I go through phases before a fight,” he says. “On the way there I’ll sleep the entire time. Then I’ll listen to music before I go in and pump myself up. Then I’ll eat after weigh in, and I’ll calm myself back down so I can concentrate.” He says he’ll usually go to Wal-Mart and walk around or take a walk outside to focus. “And right before my fight I’ll hype myself back up with music.”
His mother Lulu Amerson is at every fight and every practice. When asked about her memory of his first fight she says, “The first fight was incredible and beautiful. Just watching him flow through that fight was amazing.” She takes out her phone to show me a photo Owen took of Tim with his trophy from that fight. “At first it’s scary,” she acknowledges. “But it’s just like watching soccer or football. You know something could happen but you have to trust their coaches are teaching them how to protect themselves and still put out what they need to put out. So I really enjoy watching. I’m like the boxing version of a soccer mom,” she laughs. Owen agrees, noting his mom’s love and dedication to Tim’s career.
When we first started working on this story, Tim’s training schedule started early in the morning with a long 4-6 mile run, then heavy bag work, then on to summer school to complete his diploma. Later in the day he’d get back to training with strength work and maybe more bag work and sparring sessions every Tuesday and Thursday. He had also started working construction with his father’s family business. He had planned to work construction during the day and train every evening. But about midway into working on this story, Tim’s life changed drastically.
About a week after our first interview for this story, Tim’s father, Tim Amerson Junior, died suddenly. At 18 years old, right out of high school, Tim was grieving the loss of his father and having to take over the family construction company.
His mother shared a touching story about Tim’s level of strength. Tim had two days of summer school left when his father passed away. “The next morning he went to school and the day after that. And he finished with a solid A,” she says. “The principal sent me a letter. She had no idea that his father had died. The letter noted how he came in and did everything; he has been the most exemplary student. The letter was heart wrenching,” says Lulu. “You know your kids are stronger than you are at some point. They have held me together.”
Lulu’s dedication and toughness is apparent, though. And her commitment to her kids is inspiring. Tim notes that after his father’s death it was hard to think about training. He now gets up at 4:30 — not to run, but to get ready for a hard day of work in the sweltering heat. His mother noticed he wasn’t training and jumped in. “Mom makes me get up and do sit ups and push ups,” he says smiling. “She started saying she was going to get up and cook breakfast for me, and that was I was going to do a little workout before I left for work.”
Tim acknowledges that taking on the company wasn’t part of this immediate plans. He was supposed to keep his past schedule, wake up to train, run miles of dirt roads, and then start learning the business with his dad. But now it’s his responsibility to pick up the work crew and oversee the operations. “I wasn’t quite so ready for it,” he says quietly. But he is working hard everyday to see the company continue.
We talked about how to do this story, given the tragedy. Tim, his mom and Owen all wanted the story to go on, and to make sure his father was included and remembered. During our first interview Tim’s father wasn’t there because he was home getting dinner ready for the family, something he did on the evenings when Tim and Owen and Lulu were at boxing class. For Tim’s most recent fight, the one at the Hughes Center in Russellville, it was his father who helped build the ring on which Tim and other competitors from around the state fought.
“Nobody out there knew how to put the ring together,” Lulu laughs. So together with his best friend they jumped in and took over the construction of the ring. She recalls him saying, “Let’s do this,” and everyone followed suite. Lulu says Tim Jr. enjoyed every minute of the boxing world. She tells the story about how he pulled his pants legs up to flash a little skin during the benefit car wash for the boxing club. “Some old ladies came to get their car washed just because he was out there doing crazy things,” she laughs. “ He enjoyed every minute of the fights and the fundraisers. He loved what boxing was doing for our kids.”
Tim says his father could be critical and hard on him, but he was also supportive and never missed a match. Though he was a quiet guy, his voice can be heard loudly on all the fighting videos. “He was as loud as as I was,” laughs Lulu. “You can hear him saying, “Get him, Tim! Get him!” Brian recalls Tim Jr’s pride in his son: “Dude, the only time I saw your dad smile was when you won your fights,” says Brian.
Tim is training to fight in the upcoming TITLE Championship to be held in Little Rock August 1-4. “There’s a 50 percent chance you could loose unless you’re more like this guy and you tip the odds in your favor,” says Brian referring to Tim. “You have to be a worker. The longer fighters stay in the more comfortable they get, the more they can deal with the adrenaline,” says Brian. “And this guy gets better every time.”
You can keep up to date with Tim’s fights by following the Russellville Boxing Club and Forca Martial Arts on Facebook. You can support Tim and the other boxers at Forca Boxing Club with an annual membership which helps pay for transportation to and from fights and individual coaching. You can also make donations to purchase headgear, gloves, shoes and other needed materials for boxers through the nonprofit webpage at www.forcamma.com/community. The Boxing Club meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30-6:15 p.m at Forca. Sparring sessions follow the class.