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Virgil Hill Jr. shows off his ND pride in a boxing victory

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GRAND FORKS – Virgil Hill Jr. stepped into the ring Saturday night wearing a University of North Dakota baseball hat, displaying pride in the state the same way his father did during his boxing career of more than 20 years.

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Then, just like dad, Hill Jr. went to work on one of his opponents, delighting the partisan crowd and earning a decisive victory.

Hill Jr. beat Nick Runningbear in a unanimous decision Saturday night outside of the Ho Sports Bar and Grill, pleasing the fans in the town where his Olympic silver medal-winning father grew up.

Hill Jr., 24, is now 3-0 in his young career, which began last fall after he retired from a pro baseball career.

“I was nervous, excited, anxious … a little bit of everything,” Hill Jr. said. “A lot of mixed emotions. It’s always good to come to my dad’s hometown – I call it home as well – and fight in North Dakota and in front of the North Dakota fans. The fans came out. It was a great show. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

With his father in his corner, Hill Jr. was dominant from the start, winning each round. Runningbear, 4-7 in his pro career, struggled to connect with any punches and was on the defensive nearly the entire six-round fight.

It appeared that Hill Jr. was on the verge of knocking out Runningbear with a set of combinations early in the third and fourth rounds, but Runningbear managed to absorb the punches and stay up.

“The guy can take a punch,” Hill Jr. said. “I thought I had him a couple times. He somehow managed to get away from it. I also need to learn how to jump on a guy when I have him hurt. It was a learning experience. But it was a good fight. He was really, really tough. Give him credit. Hopefully, he gets on our next card.”

Hill Jr. kept applying pressure in the fifth and sixth rounds, but the fight went the distance for the first time in his career.

There wasn’t much of a mystery who would be the winner. Before the announcer said who won the unanimous decision, Runningbear pointed toward Hill Jr.

After the fight, Hill Jr. put his UND baseball hat back on and was congratulated by friends and family in attendance, including UND baseball coach Jeff Dodson, who tried to recruit Hill Jr. to campus.

He then discussed what made his third fight a success.

“My conditioning,” Hill Jr. said. “It was the first time I’ve gone six rounds ever. My third fight ever. I didn’t have an amateur background. The guy I fought was extremely tough, a really good guy.”

Hill Jr. said his camp is currently trying to finalize an event scheduled for Sept. 6 in Belcourt. Yes, in North Dakota again.

“North Dakota fans are great,” he said. “They supported my dad during his career.”

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