ELIZABETH - Come Saturday night inside Clarksburg's Nathan Goff Armory, Wirt County's Mike Sheppard will be getting a second chance to obtain something he's wanted for a very long time.
During the Clarksburg Toughman, reigning West Virginia state heavyweight boxing champion Justin Howes (12-1-0, 10 KOs) will put his title on the line against Sheppard, who first fought for the state crown back in 2001 and lost to Jeremy Bates.
As it turns out, when Sheppard (15-12-1, 8 KOs) steps into the ring late Saturday evening for the scheduled 10-round bout, not only will trainer Leon Ramsey be in his corner, but so too will Bates.
"He's in our camp," said Sheppard, who is planning on putting a halt to his three-loss slide in the ring.
"Jeremy's really smart, I'll tell you. He's boxed a lot of top-ranked guys and he sees things. He's no dummy. He's a good coach and good to have around."
Of course, when Sheppard first started out boxing - before he broke into different genres like extreme fighting and eventually to being a world kickboxing champion -the one title he wanted the most was that of being the best heavyweight in the Mountain State.
Justin Howes (12-1-0, 10 KOs) vs. Mike Shepard (15-12-1, 8 KOs)
Title: West Virginia
Nathan Goff Armory
"That was a disheartening loss for Mike and that was his first big fight," Ramsey recalled of Sheppard's loss to Bates a decade ago.
"Mike has matured so much since that time in so many ways, physically and mentally as a fighter, and he's an entirely different guy and has all kinds of ring experience in that time."
Howes, who Sheppard figures will weigh somewhere around 205 to 207 pounds come Saturday night, is coming off his first career loss back in October. Howes retired with an injury in the second round during a fight against Bobby Thomas in Beckley, which was for the vacant West Virginia state cruiserweight title, previously owned by Sheppard.
"Even though it's a heavyweight fight, and he's light, they put in the contract that I have to be 220," said Sheppard. "Heck, I used to go down to 195, but it's harder to get off now. I'll be at 220."
Sheppard has a few advantages in this fight, ranging from his ring experiences to having Bates and Ramsey in his corner.
The Wirt County school teacher said, "I kind of know what to expect. I've got his last couple of fights on video. He's awkward, but he's strong. He's nothing like the guys I've been boxing."
Although both Sheppard and Ramsey are confident the ex-Tiger has the skills needed to hoist up the state heavyweight crown, they understand anything can happen once two competitors step into the ring.
"I've seen Justin fight as a pro at least three maybe four times," Ramsey noted. "Actually, in the Toughman years ago I worked his corner.
"Mike's done everything he's needed to do to become the state champ. He really wants this and he's worked for it. I see him being crowned the West Virginia state heavyweight champion on Saturday night."
Obviously, that's Sheppard's plan and if for some reason his dreams don't come to fruition he's got a couple of potential ideas on the back burner.
"If I lose, I'm not going to box anymore," Sheppard said firmly. "If I can't beat the guy from Buckhannon what do I have to look forward to after boxing guys all over the world?
"I'm not saying I'm going to go out there and slaughter him, but if I don't win it will be my last boxing match. I'll go do something else, maybe get into some tennis or badminton or something."