By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

Dan Dunn-coached boxers won two more belts at the Ringside World Championships on July 24-29 in Independence, Mo.

But that’s not the number Dunn keeps track of.

“I have 498 bachelor’s degrees, 18 master’s and five doctorate’s from kids that have went through my program,” Dunn said as of March. “That’s what I’m most proud of. I’ve got national champions but it’s not about the sport. It’s about helping people become better people.”

Dunn’s two most decorated Wildcat boxers, Brittany Sims, of Salem, and Omar Murillo, Beaverton, are amateurs and waiting to finish school to turn pro. Sims is getting her master’s in business administration online from the University of Phoenix. Murillo has one semester left in his bachelor’s program from Portland State and then plans to move to Keizer.

“He’s (Murillo) so good that the professional fighters they’re always asking for him because they need sparring partners but the deal I have with them is I’m not going to turn them pro until they’re done with college.”

Dunn was first introduced to boxing as a student at Willamette High School in Eugene. The sport kept him out of trouble.

Sims works out with Dunn at the Kroc Center. (KEIZERTIMES/Derek Wiley)

“I’d probably be in jail if it wasn’t for boxing,” Dunn said. “I was an extremely violent kid. I came from a broken home. It helped me focus my temper. Boxing coaches historically have been the consistent sport to help kids with temperament issues, focus issues from whatever economical background they’re from.”

After high school, Dunn decided to join the Army after watching First Blood in a second-run movie theater.

“The recruiting station was right there and I said, ‘dude, I want to blow things up.’” Dunn remembers. “And then they found out I boxed.”

Dunn took part in the Army’s World Class Athlete Program and boxed wherever he was stationed—Fort Bragg in North Carolina and California.

Dunn chose a full-time military career and guaranteed retirement plan over becoming a professional fighter. He spent seven of his 25 years in the Army as a recruiter.

“It civilized me a little bit and gave me the chance to be in front of people,” Dunn said.

But Dunn never planned on coaching.

“As a boxing coach, you’re a public speaker, you have to be able to articulate,” Dunn said. “I had no desire to be a public speaker. I had no desire to be in front of a crowd. I just wanted to hide and go do my thing, go hunting, go fishing. I was a classic country kid.”

Dunn’s first coaching opportunity came as a volunteer at King’s Gym in Oakland after a rib injury forced him out of a bout.

“It (coaching) became this really freaky thing that I was naturally gifted at,” Dunn said. “I didn’t have a plan. Everybody has things that click. For me, it’s organization, motivating, getting people to see beyond what their daily woes are.”

Dunn then spent three years coaching Oregon State University students at the Corvallis Boxing Club. Again, he was a volunteer.

“I’ve never been paid to coach,” Dunn said. “I’ve always been a volunteer. I’ve never really needed it. I’m not a money guy. My wife and I, we’re fine. Army was the job.”

Two years ago, Dunn began getting phone calls from Quandray Roberts, a former professional boxer Dunn trained who was friends with Kendall Reid, director of operations at the Kroc Center in Salem.

Dunn had moved to Keizer in October of 2016.

After meeting with Reid, Dunn decided to open a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Wildcat Boxing, in collaboration with the Kroc Center. Dunn had never started a nonprofit before.

“I wanted to make sure that the funding wasn’t going to get twisted up,” Dunn said. “I wanted to be able to fundraise on my own and manage my own accounts. We’ve had around $20,000 donated. One guy donated $10,000 and said they’ll be more.

“I don’t get paid for this. Neither do any of the coaches. We are all 100 percent volunteer. All the money goes back to the kids.”

Dunn bought $20,000 worth of equipment and donated it to the club.

Getting participants into the gym was easy.

“They came in like droves,” Dunn said. “I had to slow it down and say I don’t want any more people.”

Murillo, who Dunn knew as a freshman at Oregon State, followed, as did Sims, who Dunn met during her first ever boxing match at a Golden Gloves tournament in Redmond.

Murillo was a four-sport athlete in high school and Dunn immediately saw the potential.

“He’d never boxed but I saw how athletic he was,” Dunn said.

Murillo won the 2016 World Ringside Championship and then repeated as the 165-pound champ on July 29 to win his fourth title belt.

“It keeps me grounded and motivated to keep getting better,” Murillo said of boxing.

Sims was a track and field athlete at Marietta College in Ohio and then Eastern Oregon University.

She started in mixed martial arts before moving to boxing in January of 2016. Sims lost her first Golden Gloves match to Angie Ornelas.

“She was really good,” Sims said. “She schooled me. I usually knocked people out pretty easily in MMA but I did my thunder cookie (signature right cross) and I hit her and she looked at me, smiled and kept going forward. I got beat up.”

Sims lost her second bout as well and then tore her Achilles practicing, which turned out to be just what she needed.

“Me hurting myself was actually a blessing in disguise because I was able to study boxing,” said Sims, who watched the greats like Joe Lewis, Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns. “They studied boxing and worked hard. Boxing was their life. I was just a raging dog but I learned to slow down and I learned how to be a hunter.”

Since the injury, Sims was named Oregon’s Golden Girl and has won two belts at the Women’s National Golden Gloves in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. on July 15 and the Ringside World Championships on July 29. She has a 16-4 record with 13 knockouts.

Sims has four classes left to take to get her master’s degree and then plans to turn pro. After boxing, she wants to go to law school.

A focus on education comes from her parents, who both have master’s degrees. Sims’ dad grew up in Alabama, during the Jim Crow era.

“I just want to make them proud and show them what you do for me is not going to waste and I really appreciate it so that’s why I wanted to get my bachelor’s and that’s why I want to get my master’s and I want to continue on with school,” Sims said.

Boxing has been a confidence boost.

“I was really quiet,” Sims said. “I used to stick by myself in a corner and the more I boxed the more I realized I don’t have to stay in that corner that I had in my little comfort zone and I need to talk to other people.”

Sims and Murillo are just two of more than 30 participants, nine to 38 years old, who consistently compete at Wildcat Boxing Club, including Mateo Alvarado, an incoming senior at McNary High School.

On a Friday night in late July, members shadow boxed and then split up into pairs to spar before finishing the session in a group prayer.

Dunn was named the 2016 Kroc Center Volunteer of the Year.

“I’ve always had a motto and believed that you have to make a difference everyday, one person at a time and you take care of anybody that is in front of you and if you do that, life is going to take care of you,” Dunn said. “If you take care of those people, no matter who they are, do the best thing for them, it’s all going to work out.”

Anyone who wants to donate to Wildcat Boxing can do so at www.gofundme.com/wildcatboxing or email Dunn at dandunn@wildcatboxing.com.