The call came to Leonard Gabriel as he was on patrol at 2:30 on a recent morning. A fellow Vancouver police officer noticed lights on inside Fisticuffs Gym, the boxing and mixed martial arts training center that Gabriel runs.
When that officer investigated, he discovered Virgil Green inside, wreaking havoc.
Gabriel’s reaction was blunt: Tell Virgil to turn off the lights and go home.
Green, 22, is perhaps the most promising of the young fighters training at Gabriel’s gym near the Westfield Vancouver shopping mall. On Saturday at the Clark County Events Center, Green will try to improve to 4-0 as a professional boxer when he battles Jesse Isais in the main event of the Vancouver Police Activities League Fight Night.
This is, Green acknowledges, a big opportunity.
He is headlining a show in his hometown. He is fighting for a belt for the first time as a pro, the Northwest Junior Welterweight Championship. It is the first time Green (3-0, one knockout) has been scheduled to go six rounds. Isais (2-1-1, one knockout) isn’t coming from San Diego to lose.
If all of that wasn’t incentive enough, Green will be performing in front of his idol, Sugar Ray Leonard.
Leonard, of course, is boxing royalty. He is an Olympic gold medal winner, and the only boxer to win world titles at five different weight classifications. Leonard will be at a pre-show VIP event, then mingle with participants and fans.
“I’ll have to try not to be one of those star-struck fans, and realize that I’m there to work,” Green said.
Keeping his focus hasn’t always been Green’s strength. Even when he was finding success as a young amateur boxer — winning state and regional PAL and Golden Glove titles — his commitment was, well, hit and miss.
“He’s matured a lot as a boxer, both in the ring and outside the ring,” Gabriel said, pointing to full-on commitment as the best measure of that maturity.
In a sense, Saturday is an opportunity at payback for Green. This Fight Night show is being staged to raise money and awareness for Vancouver Police Activities League programs, which exist to assist at-risk young people. If not for the Vancouver PAL boxing program, Green might never have gotten to take a swing in the ring.
An incident that Green has described as a stupid prank landed him in some trouble as a teenager. Without PAL boxing, Green admitted, he might be on a much different path.
The youngest of Pamela Green’s 12 children, Virgil said his mother is his hero. She raised the family on her own.
“That’s probably where I got a lot of my heart from, seeing her not giving up,” he said.
Virgil Green’s heart didn’t really settle on boxing until last year, when Gabriel told Green that he would help him enter professional boxing only if Green would commit to showing up at the gym every day.
At that point, Green said, he was partied out and ready to dedicate himself to a long-range goal.
“I’ve been to the clubs, and all the parties. It didn’t satisfy my hunger,” Green said. “Being able to get in that ring and control everything is the thing I hunger for.
“It feels like what life is supposed to be like when I’m in there.”
As Gabriel recounts the night he had to tell Green to leave the gym at 2:30 a.m., the coach cannot help but smile a little.
“It just shows where his mind is,” Gabriel said, adding that nervous energy about fighting in front of family, friends, and Sugar Ray Leonard is adding to Green’s zeal to train.
Since Green has committed to full-time training, Gabriel said improvements with footwork and the angles of his punches have made the 6-foot-1, 145-pound Green a more dangerous fighter.
“He’s always had speed,” Gabriel said. “Now, he’s all over you and fast, not just in front of you and fast. You go to hit him and he’s somewhere else.”
Not long ago, Gabriel was using similar words to describe Green’s elusiveness outside the ring. But in the year since he turned pro, Green has been reliable. He’s still young, still has a lot to learn and plenty to prove. But Green has seen enough to know he does not want to miss this opportunity.
“God blessed me with these skills, so I don’t want to waste them,” Green said.
IF YOU GO
Vancouver PAL Fight Night
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Clark County Events Center at the Clark County Fairgrounds.
Special guest: Sugar Ray Leonard will be signing autographs between bouts.
Tickets: General admission ($18.50) and preferred seating ($28.50) available through www.ticketsoregon.com, or at the door.
On the web: www.vancouverpal.com.