St. Davids boxer crowned national champion

St. Davids boxer Mckenzie Wright went into the Elite National Championships in Brampton with one goal — to win.

And with her signature uppercut, she did just that.

Wright scored a third-round technical knockout Saturday night after repeatedly rocking her opponent in the finale.

With only three women qualifying in the 48-kilogram weight class – Naomie Larouche of Quebec, Priyanka Dhillon of Manitoba and Wright representing Ontario – it meant one would draw a bye and automatically fight in the championship bout.

Wright got the bye and Dhillon was set to fight Larouche on Friday night. But things didn’t go exactly the way Wright hoped.

She’s had her eyes set on fighting the Winnipeg boxer ever since Dhillon, who took bronze at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, was ranked ahead of her at the national championships a year ago.

COVID cancelled last year’s nationals and the Canadian team was picked based on a pushup and burpees challenge along with a previous boxing video.

Many boxers, including Wright, felt that was unfair and it should have been decided in the ring, she said.

Last weekend in Brampton, “rumours started going around that (Dhillon’s) injured. So, she actually withdrew from the tournament on Friday,” said Wright.

Larouche won by a walkover and fought Wright on Saturday night for the national title.

This is the second time an injury has forced Dhillon to drop out before a match against Wright.

“Priyanka was the fight that I was training for specifically. I already knew that I could beat Naomie on my worst day,” she said.

At 5 foot 4, Wright is the taller of the two, describing her opponent as a “short, stocky, inside fighter,” who wanted to brawl.

The NOTL boxer knew it would be a match of range and she was ready for it. After all, she is fast, skilled and extremely determined.

With her parents, Dow and Judy Wright, and close friends in the audience cheering her on, she was determined to reclaim the national title.

She used the first round to “get settled and comfortable.”

Once the bell rang for round two, she didn’t hold back.

“I started landing and I got my first combination in and made her miss, and then came back in with the second combination,” said Wright.

Wright would throw in a strong uppercut with every combination.

She could hear her coach, Jesse Sallows, and her friend, Olympic boxer Mandy Bujold, screaming from the sidelines to “throw the second combination.”

“That’s where I got my first eight count and then the round ended so I knew what I had to do,” she added.

For Wright, who also won titles in 2010 and 2011, it was time to become a three-time national champion.

In round three, focused and determined, Wright landed a “one, two double left hook,” causing Larouche’s chin to pop up. The referee called another standing eight count.

Wright went back to her corner, pumped up.

“I run back to the centre of the ring and then I tagged her with the biggest uppercut of all time,” said Wright.

That sealed it. The referee ended the match and Wright won by third-round technical knockout. To say she was excited would be an understatement.

“It was like mission accomplished,” she said.

Now, Wright will move into the 50-kilogram weight class and fight in Montreal at the Canadian Pan Am Games Elite Qualifier this July for a chance to compete at the Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile, in October.

“The person at 50 kilos I know she’s coming for me, but I’m coming for her. So, it’ll be a good match,” says Wright.

Fighting in the Pan Am Games Games would be one step closer to competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

For a few days, Wright is taking a much-needed break to catch up on her work toward her nursing degree at Niagara College.

But she’ll be right back in the gym by the end of the week.

Not before she takes a moment to celebrate her victory, though.

“I think I’m going to do something fun this weekend after my homework’s done, then I can really relax,” she said.

Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report