ST. LOUIS - The 33rd annual Guns 'N Hoses is still three weeks away, but dozens of first responders stepped into the ring Tuesday (Nov. 5) to see if they have what it takes to be fighters. The box-off, held at the St. Louis County Police and Fire Academy, paired up hopeful fighters by age, weight and skill level.
Circuit Judge Troy Cardona, who has fought in Gun 'N Hoses five times, was there to watch the tryout. Cardona said after months of intense training, the fighters' emotions are high.
"It's the adrenaline that's kicking in tonight," said Cardona. "Now, they're fighting and sparring with people they haven't sparred with before."
Audrey Christopher, an EMT with St. Louis Fire Department, grew up in a firefighter family and has been hoping to win a fight at the main event for two years. Even though she has been training for months, she said it was nerve-wracking stepping into the ring at the box-off.
"There's hundreds of eyes looking at you, half of my family is here, all of my co-workers. My partner even showed up," said Christopher.
Like Christopher, many of the fighters said they have been training several hours each week for months to build strength, stamina, and skill. The training has been in addition to their physically demanding jobs.
"The training's tough, especially after coming off a long day's work," said Darrell Cain, a Probationary Police Officer with St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Cain said on those days, he pushes himself harder to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
"It's definitely not fun getting punched in the face, but for a cause like this, you're willing to do it," he said.
Money raised at Guns 'N Hoses benefits The BackStoppers which supports families of first responders killed or catastrophically injured in the line of duty. The organization is supporting the families of five first responders who died just this year.
To date, the event has raised more than $7.6 million.
Josh Phillips, a firefighter/EMT with St. Louis Fire Department, said he has lost friends on the job, and The BackStoppers has been there to support their families. He is showing his support by coaching fighters for this year's event.
Event organizers said judges for the box-off are not as concerned about winning and losing, they are looking for the best fighters. A loss at the box-off does not disqualify a fighter from the main event.
"Whether they win or lose, they're champions for an unbelievable cause," said Cardona.
Gun 'N Hoses organizers expect to announce the lineup for this year's event in the next week.
Tickets are on sale now. The event is expected to sell out again this year.