Fargo boxer changes overweight lifestyle, making pro debut this weekend
FARGO-Jake Henriksen walked into Fargo's Barbot Boxing & Fitness in February of 2015 at 233 pounds and with very little boxing experience. He could sense the odd looks, laughs and snickers from other fighters.
Those type of reactions didn't stop much, either, when he started his amateur career losing his first five bouts.
"It was looking pretty bleak," he said.
These days, it's Henriksen who is getting the last snicker. The Fargo boxer is making his professional debut in Grand Forks Saturday night, April 1, at the Quicksilver Hill Championship Boxing event at Purpur Arena.
It's the promotional arm of former world champion Virgil Hill, who hopes to put on two more events in North Dakota this year including one in Fargo. Henriksen is taking on Justin Likness in one of the undercard bouts.
"Pro debut, the start of a professional career," Hill said. "You want to start out with a big bang. I'm grateful to give him the opportunity to go forward with it. I know exactly how he feels."
At 29 years old, Henriksen is getting a later start than most. But his story is bigger than just a guy getting in the ring and displaying some boxing skills. It's more about a lifestyle change and the results he's seen from it.
He's dropped 74 pounds since that first day.
"I felt like something was missing," Henriksen said.
It was a gradual change. The first things to go were chips and pop. Slowly, he built a healthier diet into his training.
He got some motivational help from gym operator Jesse Barbot and boxer Tommy Ray, a cruiserweight from West Fargo who last fought professionally last summer. Moreover, the 0-5 amateur start was somewhat misleading considering he faced three state champions and a Canadian national champ.
"I was definitely fed to the wolves that first year of amateur boxing," Henriksen said. "To be honest, I got divorced last summer and with two kids, geez, I knew I needed to provide stability. More so than being 0-5, the feeling of providing for my kids was bugging me and I was almost ready to hang it up at that point. But I knew I could do it. The second year I just said I'm going to get in real great shape, go seek and destroy, see what happens and it's paid off."
The 2006 graduate from Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton works with Record Keepers during the day. He dabbled in mix martial arts about seven years ago. He took the nickname "Jake the Snake" from one of his favorite former pro wrestlers.
The strategic aspect to boxing, however, has come into focus in the last year. He beat the defending Upper Midwest Golden Gloves champion at his weight, which was a the biggest stepping stone to turning pro.
"Every once in awhile you find a guy with that hunger and desire," Hill said. "Frankly, that's a little bit of what's been lost."
Henriksen admits 29 years old is a late start for a pro career.
"Absolutely it is," he said. "And especially when you come in at 233 pounds and tell people you want to be a boxer." He also has no expectations for the future, he said.
"The mental confidence and the mental strength I've gained has just been great," he said. "There's nothing like it."