March 13, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. - If on November 11, 2004, the day Avery Gibson was honored in Senior Day Ceremonies at Carter-Finley Stadium, you had shown him a snapshot of what his life would look like 10 years, he might not have believed it.
Gibson, who saw action in 38 games at linebacker and fullback for Coach Chuck Amato from 2001-04, had a pretty typical finish to his college career. He completed his eligibility, finished his degree, moved back home to Alabama, and started coaching high school. After a couple of years he got married and it seemed like he was settling in to a nice, predictable future.
Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t work out so well. Fortunately, the result is that Gibson has now found his true passion and is pursuing it with all he has over 2,000 miles away from his hometown.
“I was the strength and conditioning coach at Hoover High School for a bunch of different sports,” he recalls, “but I needed to do something for stress relief. So I started boxing.”
The stress level must have been high, because Gibson began to spend many hours with the punching bag. Soon it became a hobby. After a while, he and others began to realize that he was pretty good and it became a dream.
“I was sparring in the gym with other boxers and I was holding my own,” he says with obvious enthusiasm. “I fought a couple of amateur fights and I won, so my coach convinced me to move from novice division to open division. Then I started fighting Golden Gloves and then U.S. Men’s Nationals. I would put my name into tournaments all over the United States.”
For a while, the boxing was still something Gibson did in his spare time and his day job coaching at the high school paid for his boxing jaunts. But before long, his competition schedule was so full that he decided to make boxing his full-time pursuit.
“I love it,” he says. “Boxing is just mano a mano. It’s you against another man. Sure there’s a judge but when you’re competing, someone else doesn’t determine how many tackles you have or how many times you carry the ball. It’s just you versus the other guy.
“Football is about team, but boxing is a ‘me’ sport. In boxing, your team ain’t out there! It’s you taking the punches. There are advisors who can help you, but when it comes down to it, you’re taking all the chances. When you lose, you’re the loser. But when you win, you’re the winner!”
In February of 2012, Gibson was invited to the Olympic Trials for open class fighters. He won his district tournament, then his regional tournament and then was invited to nationals at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
At nationals, he was outpointed by Charles Martin, who is now 14-0 with a dozen knockouts as a professional. A few months after that bout, Gibson decided to turn pro himself. He picked up and moved to Lancaster, California - about 45 minutes north of Los Angeles because he says “Cali is the mecca of boxing.”
A heavyweight, Gibson weighs in around 240 now, around 15 pounds more than the weight listed on his senior season roster. He says that although many of the skills needed to excel on the gridiron are useful for the sport of boxing, his new sport is much more difficult.
“I have to say that this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he continues. “It takes so much time and so much conditioning. I weight train, but now I do it for muscular endurance more than brute strength. In football, my longest run was almost two miles, but in boxing a short run is three miles. I run six days a week and that’s outside of my two-a-day training, Monday through Saturday.”
Although boxing seems like a brutal sport, Gibson says his worst injury in the ring has been a black eye. “My worst injuries were in football,” he laughs. “I had two ankle surgeries, which made my career take a different turn.”
Gibson has packed what usually takes a decade into a few short years when it comes to perfecting his craft. “I was 27 years old the first time I stepped into the ring so it’s been a crash course. The first couple of years, I was learning on the job - learning how to fight by fighting. Last year, I won all my fights and went to a whole bunch of training camps with a lot of seasoned pros. I’ve grown so much in the last year and a half. I’ve only been boxing for four years, but a lot of people are amazed because they think I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
In two weeks (March 21), Gibson will fight the biggest bout of his short career when he takes on Razvan Cojanu, a former Romanian Olympian, in California. The event will be broadcast on ESPN2 as a part of the network’s “Friday Night Fights.”
Because he doesn’t have a promoter or manager, Gibson has been the opponent in all of his fights. He has already met two Olympians in the ring, losing to one in a split decision and defeating another. He is hopeful that if he is victorious on March 21, the promoter of the fight might sign him.
In the meantime, he’s supplementing the money he makes boxing by doing personal training and this fall, he’ll coach the defensive line at a nearby high school.
“I want to become champ,” Gibson states simply when asked about his goals. “I’m trying to pick the right fights, but I’m impatient because I’m 31 and just started boxing professionally two years ago. Since I started so late, I’ve only got a certain window of opportunity. I have to make sure I make the most of it.”