Kentucky Basketball Moves From Fighter To Boxer

You may have heard of the man who said, “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them. A desire. A dream. A vision. They have to have the skill and the will but the will must be stronger than the skill.”

That man’s name was Muhammad Ali and he had a little insight into what it takes to be a champion.

When you talk to Bill Yates, you find his story epitomizes true blue-collar grit and determination, a trait he attributes to his Eastern Kentucky roots.

The 32-year-old Willard native and union boilermaker isn’t quite as flashy as Ali in the ring. He is more of a “speak moderately loud and carry a booming left uppercut and right cross/left hook combination” kind of fighter.

Those qualities earned him is first knockout in his most recent bout. He says he broke an unspoken boxing rule when he went in hell bent on getting that first KO.

“That night was my first main event and I was determined to take it out of the judge’s hands and put on a show,” said Yates, who boasts a 2-1 record in with one knock out in his first three fights.

Like his main boxing influence Mike Tyson, Bill almost always enters the ring as the smaller fighter, in both stature and reach. It is a scene that echoes all the way back to Yates being an 18-year-old trying to make weight to get into the Toughman Contest in Huntington, W. Va.

“I went in without a clue - no training, no conditioning and first time in the ring,” Yates said. “I had to weigh in wearing steel toed boots, a hoodie and a letterman's jacket just to make weight.”

It was a semi-successful venture as he won his Friday night match then, due to the grueling nature of boxing in back-to-back bouts, he tired out and dropped his Saturday night fight. But, he learned a valuable lesson.

“It’s weird but you almost have to welcome being hit,” Yates said. “You can’t be afraid of it. It’s what you do after you get hit that counts. If you run you are waving a white flag.”

A lot has changed since then. Yates is still slightly smaller than most opponents, but he won the Golden Gloves Championship in 2014 and became a professional boxer.

He attributes his success to a dedicated team of trainers and sparring partners led by Phil Clark, John Jarvis, and fellow East Coast Production Pros including the dynamic brother duo of Travis “The Rattlesnake” Hanshaw and T. “Hillbilly” Hanshaw.

“You are only as good as the people you spar with,” Yates said. “When it comes to boxing you have to spar and train with people who make you better.”

Yates hopes all the hard work will pay off in a big way as he enters his next fight in late February or early March.

“All fighters have a certain window and I know mine is more limited,” he said. “I wish I would have started earlier but my goal is to soon be fighting for the Kentucky State Championship then move on from there to bigger fights. I can’t stand to lose. That drives me. When you are not training, they are. Hard work beats talent when talent does not train hard.”

Yates has an extensive support system led by his parents and two sisters, close friends and extended family who never miss a fight, Local 40 boilermakers, Phil Clark’s Martial Arts Academy, and lifelong friend and corner man Chad Gee.

Boxing enthusiasts may want to keep an eye on “Bill “The Kentucky Brawler” Yates.

Author Keith Bays is a Grayson business owner and freelance writer.

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