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Opinion: Local boxer in biggest bout yet

April 12, 2013

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Marcus Oliveira can’t come to the phone right now, his trainer, Eric Riley, informed Thursday afternoon. He’s in the sauna of the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, dropping a few pounds so he can make weight on the eve of the biggest fight of his life. It just so happens to be southpaw Ryan Coyne’s biggest bout as well. The unbeaten winner gets a title shot against WBA light heavyweight champion Beibut Shumenov of Kazakhstan.

Riley was in the process of telling me how the Las Vegas oddmakers, who opened with Coyne as a 3-to-1 favorite, have it all wrong. His fighter not only is bigger and stronger than Coyne, he assured, he’s more skilled. Riley stopped in the middle of his next sentence.

“Whoa,” he said. “I’ve never seen that before.”

What? What are you looking at? A photo of Wayne Newton’s face, pre-lifts? The ghost of Danny Gans? David Copperfield with nothing up his sleeve?

No, better.

“Coyne just walked in the sauna,” Riley said.

Two undefeated boxers sharing a sauna on the eve of sharing a ring and a dream.

I had to know: “Can you hear anything?”

Riley: “No. I watch a lot of tape. I have no fear of this guy. I was nervous about a few others Marcus beat. Not this guy.”

The suspense was killing me. Was a boxer going to be taken out of the sauna on a stretcher? I stayed on the phone learning more about how things have gone for Oliveira (24-0-1, 19 knockouts), the former Haskell Indian Nations University basketball player, since he turned pro six years ago after more than 200 amateur bouts. He grew up on a Menominee Nation reservation in Wisconsin. He trains in Topeka, works at Prairie Band Casino in Mayetta and brings six-pack abs into the ring.

Our talk was coming to an end. Riley informed me that Oliveira had walked out of the sauna, and they were on their way to the weigh-in. Presumably, Coyne walked out later.

The WBA ranks Oliveira as the No. 7 contender. Coyne, a St. Louis native who attended Missouri, is ranked No. 2.

“Marcus has devastating power in his punches,” local amateur boxer Armond Enclarde said. “I’ve seen him make a lot of fighters quit because they just couldn’t handle the power. I watch a lot of fighters who slowly wilt away as the fight gets more intense. Marcus, his confidence never leaves him. He always has the tiger in his eyes.”

Tonight’s Oliveira-Coyne bout is on the under card of a Don King promotion and isn’t part of the TV coverage. Starting time?

“Probably 10 minutes after they tell us it will start,” Riley said.

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