WATERVILLE — Jake Knowles was alone in the ring, shadow boxing. He used all the space, attacking an invisible opponent. Classic heavy metal was Knowles’ soundtrack as he went through his workout. First Metallica, then Danzig, then Iron Maiden. Trainer Mike Leary sat about 10 feet from the ring and watched, occasionally shouting advice to Knowles.

“I’ve never had a fighter like this,” Leary said.

Knowles, 26, was a few days removed from a dominant win in the semifinals of the Northern New England Golden Gloves championships. On Saturday night at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex, Vermont, Knowles will fight Dustin Stewart of Rochester, New Hampshire, for the 152-pound title. As a 5-0 amateur, Knowles is nearing the point where he’ll need to make a decision on his boxing future. Does the Canaan native want to go pro? It’s a big decision. Knowles already balances his amateur career with his full-time job as an electrician, a job that often finds him working 60 hours per week. Knowles and his wife Megan are expecting a baby girl in May.

“I would like to go pro, but it totally depends on my record, really,” Knowles said. “If we think we can go somewhere with it, we’ll try it. I always said 10-0. If I went 10-0, I think I could go pro and try it out.”

A 2009 Skowhegan Area High School graduate, Knowles took up boxing two years ago. He was 24, and figured if he didn’t give it a try then he never would.

“I was just running out of time. It was either now or never,” Knowles said. “It’s just something I always wanted to do.”

First, Knowles approached Carroll Ware, a longtime boxing trainer in Skowhegan, but Ware was no longer training fighters. After looking around, he found Leary’s gym in Waterville.

“I came in one day, and we clicked. We’re more friends than anything. (Leary’s) a top notch trainer. One of the best in the state, I think,” Knowles said.

Knowles’ first fight came against Brandon Doyle, a Vermont fighter who Knowles happened to meet again last weekend in the Golden Gloves semifinals. Knowles remembers Doyle coming at him like the Tasmanian Devil. Knowles won when the ref stopped the fight in the second round.

“He was kind of crazy. He came all at me. It was a lot to take in. I didn’t know what to think,” Knowles said.

The rematch last weekend was all Knowles. About a minute into the first round, Knowles caught Doyle with a left hook to the body, and Doyle went down, writhing in pain. At first, the official thought Knowles may have sent Doyle to the canvas with a low blow. He didn’t, but it didn’t matter. Knowles won via TKO 53 seconds into the second round. When the fight was over, a ringside doctor informed Knowles he had to inspect his hands.

“He said ‘You threw a lot of punches,'” Knowles said.

Leary watched Knowles go through his workout, from shadowboxing in the ring to speed bag work, and noted Knowles’ biggest asset is his dedication.

“I haven’t had to motivate him at all. That’s the biggest thing. He’s coachable. He wants this,” Leary said. “I don’t have to ask him to do anything.”

In Knowles, Leary also sees an innate talent for the sport.

“He can punch. He’s got great defense. This early into the game, it’s unusual. Between fights six and 10, they start to really get relaxed. Him being 5-0 is unusual, for any amateur,” Leary said. “He picks up things really, really quick. He can box.”

Knowles thinks his greatest asset are his legs.

“That’s where all my power comes from. Hopefully it helps with the cardio,” Knowles said.

Before Knowles and Leary can begin to plan a pro career, there’s Saturday’s fight against Stewart, an unknown opponent. All Knowles knows of Stewart is that he will be well-prepared as he fights out of the respected Seacoast Boxing Club.

“They’re a tough club,” Knowles said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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