September 8, 2013

Maine boxer takes on the fight of his life

A light welterweight boxer from West Forks Plantation will fight his third professional bout – with his community's firm support.


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Brandon Berry is turning to a professional boxing career in the hope that it will help him save his family’s general store in West Forks Plantation.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

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Brandon Berry stocks shelves during his afternoon shift at the family’s general store.

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WHEN: Thursday

WHERE: Verizon Wireless Center, Manchester, N.H.

TIMES: Silent auction starts at 5:30 p.m.; boxing begins at 8 p.m. Event raises money for at-risk and disadvantaged children.

BOUTS: Six-fight card: three amateur, three professional.

The event is headlined by two welterweight matches: Danny "Bhoy" O'Connor of Framingham, Mass., will fight Raul Tover Jr. of McAllen, Texas; Chris Gilbert of Windsor, Vt., will fight Anthony Chase of Providence, R.I.

In the light welterweight match, Brandon Berry of West Forks Plantation will fight Jesus Cintron of Springfield, Mass.

Berry also has no insurance, something that came into play when he suffered some rib contusions sparring in Stockton Springs in July. The friend driving him that day took him to Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, closer to home for Berry, to get fixed up. He's covered during a fight, but all other medical expenses come out of Berry's pocket.

At Berry's General Store, a note taped to a plastic jug invites customers to donate their change to defray Berry's training expenses.

Hoping for a brighter future, some buy lottery tickets, while others put their change into Berry's collection jug. Some do both.

All day long, pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters drop into the jug with a clink, the sound of the community's faith in its hometown hero.

The community supports Berry in other ways as well.

One of his financial sponsors is Three Rivers Whitewater, a rafting company. Co-owner Tony Rinaldi said he and his business partner are happy to support Berry because his success would reflect well on the area.

"What's good for one is good for all of us," he said.

Another business owner, Chuck Peabody of Crab Apple Whitewater rafting company, gives Berry a ride to the gym when he can. Others make small donations or buy Team Berry T-shirts.

Berry said the support would never come in a larger city such as Portland, where no one knows him.

"It's like a big family, is what it is," he said.


The community may need Berry's General Store as much as Berry does himself.

In addition to being a cornerstone of the community, the store provides vital amenities to those who come to spend their money at area businesses.

The store is the only one within 25 miles that sells the kind of things the customers of the region's rafting companies, wilderness guides and lodging owners need.

A snowmobiler or ATV rider, coming in on trails from Rangeley, for instance, would be disappointed to find there was no place to fill up the gas tank, Rinaldi said.

Berry may be a long shot, but the people of West Forks believe.

"He'll do whatever it takes to get there," Christopher said. "I think they truly believe that he can do what he set out to do and that's why they support it. It's an investment."

Berry isn't the cliche of the tough street kid. Clean-cut and soft-spoken, he was raised with the love and support of his family and neighbors. If he were taller, he might seem broad-shouldered; but at 5 feet 5 inches and a little over 140 pounds, it can be easy to overlook the light welterweight's strength.

It's more apparent in the boxing ring. When he wears his trunks, Berry's pale skin looks heavy and solid, like modeling clay on a frame of thick wire. During his fights, his upper body is a blur of activity, a flurry of jabbing, ducking and torso-swinging, as he looks for an opportunity to unload a knockout punch.

His technique is not perfect. When dancing around the ring, he doesn't float like a butterfly, but trundles like a beetle. Berry admits he wasn't born with boxing talent.

"If I make it, it isn't going to be from natural ability," he said. "It's going to be blood, sweat and tears."

He spent years in the amateur circuit at fights throughout New England before being accepted into professionally sanctioned matches.

He won both of his two professional fights, both times beating Bill Jones of Berwick.

When the two met in May at Skowhegan Area High School, even the fight's taking place was a long shot. It was the first professional boxing match in Maine since 2005. Professional boxing had been illegal in the state since 2007, when the board that regulated it dissolved. It's now making its way back, but the May fight was fought under special emergency rules.

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Additional Photos

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A trophy case highlighting the boxing career of Brandon Berry lines the main aisle in the family’s store.

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Brandon Berry’s home gym is in the former service garage next to his family’s general store in West Forks Plantation.

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The former service garage next to the store where Brandon Berry works out.

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