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Ultimate Fighters Goose the Boxing World

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Chicago's historic Golden Gloves boxing tournament continues tonight. It'll wrap up later this month. In recent years, the famous amateur tournament has struggled with dwindling attendance and fewer competitors. But recently a wave of boxers has breathed new life into the competition and they're coming from an unlikely place.

The Golden Gloves is all about boxing, but there's a new crowd moving in.

TV ANNOUNCER: Two of the world's biggest mixed martial arts superstars will finally collide.

That's mixed martial arts, or MMA. It involves many styles of fighting, boxing's just part of it. And it's used by so-called ultimate fighters. If you're not familiar with MMA, imagine a street fight between two beefy guys. In a steel cage. It's real. And it's not for the faint at heart.

TV ANNOUNCER: Look at that welt on Gonzaga's body just from that one kick…CRACK…yelling...

Ultimate fighting's exploded in the past couple years, raking in millions of dollars through Pay-Per-View events on cable TV. And it's overflowing into the boxing industry.

Blaine Padkowa is just starting his fighting career, by entering the Golden Gloves. Although he hasn't had a mixed martial arts fight yet, he's using boxing to learn how to take a punch. A couple hours before his match, Padkova's eating a hot dog and drinking Powerade. Granted, he's got time for the food to settle. While it does, he shares his description of ultimate fighting.

PADKOWA: Beating the (expletive) out of each other. Yeah. Blood. A lot of blood. Maybe broken bones. Whatever happens, happens.

Padkowa says learning to box is an important part of ultimate fighting, but there's also...

PADKOWA: Jujitsu, wrestling, kickboxing and boxing.

In a typical fight, he'll use all of those. Fighters start a match on their feet, punching, kicking, grappling, and it usually turns into wrestling. They try to get on top of their opponents to pummel them with punches, or hold them in a painful enough position that they submit, or even pass out.

PADKOWA: The fighters who get to the top level are the best athletes in the world. What they have to put their body through and conditioning, it's totally different than any other sport.

CURRAN: Golden Gloves is just a way for people to come down kick off the year for boxing and get started and get ring experience and go in front of a crowd maybe before they lock inside in front of an octagon or a cage.

Jeff Curran is one of the top-ranked ultimate fighters in the world. His cauliflower ears are a sign of his years in the ring. He also runs a gym in north suburban Crystal Lake, which trains people like Padkowa in mixed martial arts. Curran says boxing is good training for mixed martial arts, which in turn is bringing the crowds back to traditional boxing.

CURRAN: Competition breeds success and that's all that's happening. Mixed martial arts and boxing are toe to toe keeping it alive.

But Curran and others are quick to add, when MMA first started getting big, some of the old-timey boxers would give them the stink eye.

Jack Cowen says it's different now. Cowen's been around boxing since the 1950s and he's run Chicago's Golden Gloves for more than 15 years.

COWEN: I boxed for a short time many, many years ago, enough to learn that I couldn't.

So he switched to managing boxers, which led him to the Golden Gloves. He says the tournament's had a changing history, especially when it comes to the audience.

COWEN: I find you're getting more upscale people that are coming to the shows. We're getting the people coming from Northbrook and Evanston, and this is happening in a lot of places.

Cowan says for whatever reason, suburbanites are drawn to ultimate fighting, which is bringing the bigger crowds back to the Golden Gloves. Even an old-timer like him is ok with that.

Meantime, Blaine Padkowa, the north suburban boxer just beginning his fighting career, says he doesn't care who he fights, he just wants some ring time. He ended up winning his first match of the Golden Gloves, but it wasn't pretty.

PADKOWA: I know I hurt him to the body. Had a couple low blows that they took a point away from me for but I still put the W away. So it's real good. I'm real happy.

Padkowa says he needs to work on controlling his power, but he says after he does, then he'll be ready for a real test in the mixed martial arts ring.

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