Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- It was love at first fight.
"I won my first fight in a 41–second knockout," said Duluth's Ryan Watson. "I was like, oh, I kind of like this, you know."
Fast forward eight years, and now Watson is among the sport's elite amateurs.
"He's one of the best in the country," said Watson's assistant trainer, Tim Perrault.
"Ryan's right there competing with the best of them now," said head trainer Aaron Resperg.
He wasn't always among the best, though. During his middle school years in the Twin Cities, Watson struggled to stay afloat.
"I was getting in trouble a lot through about eighth grade." he said. "I got expelled from my schools. Just getting in trouble non–stop. Especially down there, trouble just finds you everywhere."
To get away from that trouble, Watson moved to the Northland to live with his Dad.
It was then that he found his second home at the gym.
"It just keeps me busy," Watson said. "If you're in here, you can't be in the streets. You can't be doing other things, you know. Boxing is such discipline."
It's that same discipline that might make Watson a national champion.
Besides moving from Minneapolis to Duluth, Watson also made another move: from super–heavyweight to heavyweight. He says that's made all the difference."
"I was weighing in at 220, fighting guys 6'5", 265 or 280," he said. "It was a little much so I took a step down and got in better shape. I feel like a whole different fighter at 201."
"The last guy he fought at super–heavyweight was 6'6" so that's a pretty good–size guy," Perrault said. "Ryan's 6'1", but he's not that huge. The guys he's fighting now are in his same height range."
Finally matched against guys his size, head coach Aaron Resperg likes his chances in Vegas next week.
"He's been in with all of the big boys and big names in amateur boxing in the United States. When they draw him, they know they have a fight," he said.