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HAMILTON — When most people watch boxing, they often lose sight of the important aspects within — and beyond — the fight.

There's technique — punches are only scored when they hit the right spot, head or body, and move the opposing boxer. There's a discipline that goes completely unseen — countless hours training and working out for a match of just three 2-minute rounds.

And there's respect. Respect from the crowds that watch two fighters go toe-to-toe, and a respect between the two competitors that stand in opposing corners after each bell.

None of those elements were lost on the parents, fans and participants that swarmed Hamilton's Ravalli County Fairgrounds First Interstate building Friday and Saturday for the Montana State Junior Olympics Boxing Tournament.

While a few fighters left slightly bloodied, almost all embraced after their matches, a testament to hopping in the ring with one another.

"...Anybody that watches and sees how these kids are when they come out (of the ring), can see. Our kid, our little guy Roland (Bennett) he came over and bought his (opponent) ice cream after," Hamilton Eagles boxing club coach Bret Taggart said. "That's the kind of kids we're raising in this sport."

Roland won both of his fights over Friday and Saturday, as did his older brother, Evan Bennett.

Evan also had high praise for his opponent, Johnathon After Buffalo, when their fight was over on Saturday.

"I saw strength (in him) and I saw courage and I saw him trying to beat me and I saw me trying to beat him," Evan said. 

With the wins, the two both stamped their ticket to the Region 10 Junior Olympics in Casper, Wyoming on May 3-4.

Joining them from the Hamilton Eagles' club will be David Ponce, who had a thrilling split-round fight with Eli Wroblewski of Blackfeet Nation boxing club. Judges ruled that Ponce dropped the first round to Wroblewski but Ponce battled back to take Rounds 2 and 3.

"I'd just fake him with that jab, and most of the time he'd raise his hands up and leave open his gut," Ponce explained of his fighting strategy in the win. "The key to fighting tall guys like that is to fake them out and aim for the body."

Wroblewski was fighting in his first official fight, but he came out strong as Ponce sized up his opponent.

"A lot of these kids, while they may not have official matches in their books but they do a lot of sparring," Taggart explained. "A kid like (Wroblewski), he came out, and you'd never know it was his first fight. He did great for his first fight."

Saturday's last match of the night was between two kids that not only have plenty of matches under their belt, but have seen each other once before.

And both are nationally ranked in their respective countries.

The main event between Hamilton Eagles' Bryson Kearney and Janick Lacroix of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada was explosive, just like the billing.

Lacroix, the reigning light-middleweight National Champion in Canada, was just a little too explosive for Kearney — ranked No. 7 in the U.S. at the youth 165-pound age and weight division.

Lacroix had over 10 pounds on Kearney at weigh-ins, and he had a brutal combo that put Kearney against the rails at the end of Round 2.

"He had a lot more combos, definitely," said Kearney, who fell in a Montana State Silver Glove boxing card last December. "He definitely is stronger. Last time we thought we were closer in weight. This time he's way up.

"And his body shots slow you down. He just has a way to get in."

After the fight, though, both fighters found each other at center ring and embraced. Lacroix said the two have nothing but admiration for each other and the work they put in to be at the level they are.

"We fought before, that was a tough fight and this one was even tougher — he came back a lot stronger," Lacroix said of Kearney. "We're both skilled. We respect that and we respect the sport of boxing."

Added Kearney on falling in the fight, "It sucked (losing), but after you get out of the ring, it was definitely worth it. The whole thing is amazing."

Despite the loss, Kearney will still advance to the regional tournament as well since his fight with Lacroix was a match bout and not a tournament fight.

There, Kearney, and the rest of the fighters advancing out of the Montana Junior Olympics, will compete for Nationals held June 22-29 in Madison, Wisconsin.

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