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Back to the future with Hall of Famer Virgil Hill

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Virgil “Quicksilver” Hill has gone back to the future, parlaying what he learned as an amateur boxer into a Olympic silver medal, five world titles in two weight class, induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF), and now giving back as a Los Angeles-based boxing coach and invaluable member of the USA Boxing Alumni Association.

“Winning the WBA (World Boxing Association) and IBF (International Boxing Federation) world titles were all big.” Hill spoke about his greatest boxing achievement, “But the Olympics come around every four years with only one guy from each country, if that, in each weight class. It’s very difficult. I had competed against some of the best athletes in the world, right here in the United States, preparing to represent our country in the Olympics against the best in the world. We sparred each other at camp. US fighters all have a target on their backs.

“I fought in 10 different countries that year (1984), but the best Olympics ever was held here in Los Angeles. Half of our team went on to become world champions as pro fighters and three are in the Hall of Fame (Hill, Evander Holyfield and Pernell Whitaker). I wasn’t picked to win a medal in my class. I should have won a gold medal but lost in the final (middleweight division) to a Korean fighter (Shin Joon-Sup, 2-3). Losing was tough but the opportunity to be on the US Olympic Boxing Team was the highlight of my boxing career, even more so than winning my world titles.”

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Hill grew up on a ranch in North Dakota. He watched the Golden Gloves on television and asked his father if he could learn to box. His response was, maybe if we move to a city. “Remember,” Hill noted, “a city for me back then was only 50,000 people. We did move to Grand Forks and my father asked me if I still wanted to box. He brought me to a local gym when I was eight and I started training right away.”

After capturing a gold medal at the 1984 National Golden Gloves Tournament, Hill went to the USA Boxing training facility, where he learned a lot being around so many different people and boxing styles. Although he’s part Puerto-Rican, Hill is a Native-American who grew up in a predominantly German and Norwegian state (North Dakota).

“There were not many blacks or Latinos,” Hill admitted. “We grew up poor, but not ghetto poor. I learned a lot. My roommate (at USA Boxing’s training facility) was a 106-pound Puerto-Rican from New Jersey, Jose Lazario. Jose took me for a haircut one day and, when I went back to North Dakota, I had a bounce in my step and people there were all looking at my haircut. Evander Holyfield taught me how to iron. He wouldn’t go with me to the mall unless I ironed my jeans. I sat and listened to know what to expect.”

Hill completed his amateur career with an incredible 288-11 record, married a woman who was on the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team, Denean Howard (two-time gold and two-time silver medalist), and turned professional November 15, 1984, stopping Arthur Wright in the second round at famed Madison Square Garden.

He had moved to Las Vegas to train with legendary trainer, Eddie Futch, and his assistant, Freddie Roach. “I was on my own for the first time,” Hill explained. “They were good role models who prepared me to be a pro boxer, as well as for life.

Hill fought professionally until 2015, winning 51 of 58 pro fights, 24 by knockout, with only seven losses. He won his first 30 pro fights, including a fourth-round win by technical knockout of Leslie Stewart in his 19th pro fight to capture the WBA world light heavyweight title. Hill made 10 successful WBA title defenses, including eight in Bismarck, North Dakota, before losing for the first time as a pro in 1991 to future Hal of Famer Tommy Hearns.

Hill later recaptured the WBA world light heavyweight crown and he eventually added the IBF world light heavyweight title, in addition to becoming three-time WBA cruiserweight world champion. He retired in 2007 and then make a one-fight comeback February 28, 2015, stopping Jimmy Campbell in the second round in Bismarck, marking Hill’s final fight.

During his remarkable pro career, Hill had a 24-5 (7 KOs) world title fight record, including victories over Stewart, Marvin Camel, Adolpho Washington, Lou Del Valle, Donny Lalond, Bobby Czyz, Fabrice Tiozzo (twice), Henry Maske and Hill’s 1984 US Olympic teammate, Frank Tate (twice).

Hill remains in boxing as a trainer and occasionally a co-promotes pro-am shows in North Dakota. In Los Angeles, Hill currently trains one pro and nine amateurs. “I love being a trainer,” Hill exclaimed. “There are some special kids, the real athletic ones, but it’s the others that often make it for me. Those who aren’t as athletic and really need to work hard. Once you get a few of the kids working hard, the rest follow in line. This isn’t a democracy; it’s a dictatorship and I push ’em hard. Our LBC has 180 fights a year. I do all the matching and, if they’re in too tough, I top the fight. It’s not about winning and losing. It’s striving to be better, discipline, accomplishments and competition.

“The Elite boxers are moving on to the next level, establishing themselves to make a name and enter the pros. Ninety-five percent of the others aren’t. Boxing is still a poor man’s sport and sometimes the only option for some of these kids have is boxing. And boxing is still a very dangerous, unforgiving sport. The sky’s the limited, good and bad, for these kids. Boxing occupies their time. Some kids need more encouragement, others need to believe more in themselves. This is where they come from and who they become.”

Not only is Hill giving back as a coach, he’s key member of and spokesperson for the USA Boxing Alumni Association.

“I’m happy to be involved,” Hill talked about his back to the future journey in boxing. “It’s about time we had an alumni organization. Only the top three-percent of boxers make it big. It’s great watching everybody mix and mingle at alumni gatherings. This is about respect for each other; it’s a kinship.”

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