Nine fights into his professional boxing career and Ron Aubrey is still working on transforming his reputation from brawler to bona fide boxer. His ambitious quest no doubt flies in the face of the old adage about the rigors of teaching old dogs new tricks, considering the Oklahoma City-based fighter turned 43 back in September.
However, Aubrey isn't just some guy who suddenly decided to take up boxing without any consideration for type of punishment to which he might be subjecting himself. In some ways, he spent a great deal of time in his previous profession " that of a pro hockey player " honing the very skills he now deploys in the ring.
"I was in the middle of over 500 hockey fights during my time in that sport. I know I can deliver a punch and take a punch," said Aubrey, who played for 26 different teams during a 22-year hockey career that included two stints with the Oklahoma City Blazers. "Of course, boxing and hockey are two completely different worlds. I'm still learning what it takes to become a really good fighter, but I feel like I'm on my way."
His road to boxing has been anything but traditional. Although he did some fighting as a youngster growing up in Portland, Maine, his passion for sports centered on the puck from the time he was old enough to perfect his left-handed slap shot.
STATE PREP RECORD
He signed his first pro contract at age 18 " a few months after setting a state prep record for goals scored as a senior at Cape Elizabeth High School " and eventually matured into an intimidating force on the ice who never saw a fight he didn't like, no matter how many teeth were flying or how many penalty minutes were being handed out.
"In hockey, I was an enforcer. Part of my job when I played for the Blazers was to protect teammates like Joe Burton, the team's top scorer," said Aubrey, who played in the NHL farm systems of the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres.
Wherever he played the game, he was there to do one thing: flex his muscles. At 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, he had few equals when it came to dropping the gloves and mixing it up.
When he finally retired from hockey after the 2000-01 season at the ripe old age of 34, Aubrey had a wife and two daughters (three now), and had long since put his roots down in OKC. His post-ice career included ownership of a drywall company that served more than 40 builders in the metro area.
That's what he was doing when a chance meeting with former world champion boxer Sean O'Grady opened his thinking to a new possibility: prizefighting.
"I met Sean through the pastor of the place where my daughter was attending church. We talked and basically two or three weeks later, I had my first fight," said Aubrey, who made his pro boxing debut on June 15, 2007, with a first-round knockout.
He had continued to skate on a regular basis even after hockey, because it offered a way to stay in shape and because it had for so long been such a big part of his life. And he initially believed the transition to boxing would be a fairly smooth one, despite being retired for almost seven years.
"I discovered pretty fast I had no idea what I was getting into. I was still strong and I looked like I was in pretty good shape, but I couldn't even run half a mile " and running is the No. 1 method of training in boxing," Aubrey said. "And the actual boxing is much harder than it looks. There is a skill and an art to it that you don't learn overnight."
More than two years later, Aubrey has forged a 7-2 record and readily admits he's still in learning mode. But instead of whaling away with 40 punches a round as he did early in his new career, he has made major strides in becoming a real boxer.
Thanks to his history with the Blazers and his blue-collar sensibility, he's a fan favorite.
"We love having Ron on our boxing cards because he's got a great fan base, he trains hard and he always comes to fight. He's a really exciting fighter," said Bill Zuhdi, CEO of catBOX Entertainment, the largest fight promotion enterprise in Oklahoma.
Despite the fact he finds himself going toe-to-toe with fighters almost half his age these days, Aubrey believes he has what it takes to compete successfully.
"I feel good. I'm more relaxed. I'm in better shape. I'm doing the extra work needed to give me an edge where I need it, and I've made good progress over the last two years," said Aubrey, who is appropriately nicknamed "Iceman."
Ultimately, his goal is to work his way up the ladder and into the top-20 world rankings, where the real opportunities in his new sport exist. For now, he's got an expanding support system filled with people anxious to see him succeed. "Jay C. Upchurch