When amateur boxer Teddy Mrkonja was stepping into the ring this month in the final bout in the 85-pound classification for 14- and 15-year-olds at the National Silver Gloves Championships in Independence, Mo., he remembered something local professional fighter Paul Spadafora had said.
"He told me, 'Anytime your fight is a brawl, it's a bad fight,''' said Mrkonja, 14, an eighth-grader at Brentwood Middle School.
That philosophy served Mrkonja well as he earned a 4-1 decision over Adrian Alvarado, the defending national champion from Los Angeles. Alvarado wasn't just someone who had stepped in off the street.
"[Mrkonja] had to beat a guy who won the national championship in that division a year ago," said Scott Bradley, a Baldwin resident and president of the state's Silver Gloves organization.
Mrkonja's father, Ted, thought his son had one big advantage going into the fight.
"Teddy is left-handed, and that helps him a lot," he said. "He has good head movement, moves well and is a good puncher. The knockouts will come later. But in his last 13 fights, he's gone 11-2."
Just two other fighters were in his class at the national championships when Mrkonja arrived: Alvarado and Miguel Junes of Omaha, Neb. Mrkonja won the draw, which meant he had to wait while Alvarado bested Junes when the referee stopped the fight in the third round.
Mrkonja thought he fought a good fight in the championship event, but he didn't know what to expect, especially considering Alvarado had won the national championship in the same classification a year earlier.
"He'd been there before, and he had come out of a big region," Mrkonja said. "I simply hit, and I didn't get hit. I thought I used my jab more effectively than he did. And because I'm a left-handed fighter, I think it gives me an advantage. Right-handed fighters aren't used to what they are seeing from me."
Mrkonja fights out of the Pittsburgh Boxing Club along Route 51 in Overbrook right by Maytide Street. He is coached by his dad, who was a Golden Gloves fighter when he was younger, and now drives a truck.
Teddy Mrkonja said he's still coming to terms with his national championship.
"On some levels, it has sunk in," he said. "I'm still getting congratulated and being recognized. I think other people are happier about it than I am."
Those "other people" include Bradley.
"We've had several boxers from Philadelphia win national Silver Gloves championships, and we've had a few from Pittsburgh place second or third," he said. "But until Teddy came along, we've never had a national champion [from Pittsburgh]."
Mount Washington's Hugo Garcia came the closest to winning a national Silver Gloves championship when he was defeated in 2010 by Jonathan Navarro of Los Angeles by decison in the 125-pound classification of the 12- to 13-year-old division.
"What this shows is that our guys are now in the game, and they are starting to get some respect," Bradley said. "Now when the younger guys start moving into the Golden Gloves, they'll have a reputation preceding them into the ring."
Dividends are flowing to Mrkonja. Because he won the Silver Gloves national championship, he automatically advances to the Junior Olympics National Boxing Championships scheduled to take place in June in Mobile, Ala.
"That means he won't have to fight as many fights," said Ted Mrkonja. "If he hadn't won the national Silver Gloves, he would have had to fight at least in the local and [multi-state] regional championships."
"Kids at this age aren't going to knock anyone out," Bradley said. "But to have a national champion come from Pittsburgh is really impressive."sportsother