Moen’s friends mourn a life lost too soon

There was no devastating punch, no clear indication that something was wrong with Jerimiah “J.J.” Moen. But early into his super-heavyweight bout last Saturday in East Grand Forks, Minn., the 29-year-old started showing signs of fatigue.

Around 30 seconds into his scheduled three-round match against Matt “Bubba” Fowler at the East Grand Forks Legion Club, Moen took a hit that changed the direction of the fight but was nothing unusual.

At the end of Round 1, his corner man asked Moen if he was OK. After smiling and trying to sit down on the stool, Moen had what his trainer described as a seizure. His body stiffened up and he lost consciousness.

Despite the best efforts from medical personnel, J.J. Moen never regained consciousness. He passed away Wednesday in Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, where he had been in critical condition since Saturday.

“Everybody’s affected,” said Eddie Obregon, the owner of Forks Fighters in Grand Forks, N.D., and Moen’s trainer for the past three years. “He was a good guy and a good person.”

Moen boxed in high school, Obregon said, but gave up the sport for a while. He returned to the ring when he decided he wanted to get in shape. Competing as an amateur, Moen wasn’t in it for the money. He worked in agriculture and had a job on a nearby farm.

Weighing in at slightly more than 200 pounds, Moen became the Upper Midwest Super Heavyweight Champion for the Golden Gloves of the tri-state area, Obregon said. He was also the oldest member of Obregon’s gym, which has fighters ranging from 8 to 29.

Mike Sweeney, Moen’s uncle, told the Grand Forks Herald that the family learned this week that Moen had “serious trauma” from previous injuries, including concussions. “We don’t know if it was from boxing or other things,” Sweeney told the newspaper.

After Moen’s death last weekend, Obregon shut his gym down for a week. He also met with his boxers to talk about the devastating ordeal.

“I told them what we were doing and for them not to ever think that this was anything to be reflected upon them or anybody in the gym,” Obregon said. “It’s just something that happened, yet I have to deal with it because I’m the one in charge of the gym and in charge of the matches. I have to be one that’s going to be able to make the decisions from now on.”

Obregon wasn’t sure exactly how many boxing deaths there have been in the state of Minnesota, but noted that it’s “very rare.” Moen was wearing all the protective gear required of amateur boxing, including headgear, a mouth guard and gloves.

“I don’t know how we would change anything right off the top of my head at this point,” Obregon said on the safety of the sport. “But it has changed our gym. We’re going to feel this thing for a while because it’s tough. I don’t remember anything ever happening like this, and I’ve been around it 40-some years.

“No one saw it coming, least of all the people around him. If he had an inkling, he never said.”

Making the loss especially tough on the community is the fact that Moen was planning on getting married to his fiancee, Megan Link, this spring. Link posted a message on her Facebook page Wednesday, offering her thanks to those who showed support after her Moen’s death.

“We were so lucky to have him in our lives,” she wrote. “I would definitely carry this heartbreak a thousand times for a single day in that man’s shadow.”

Moen was an organ donor, so the loss of his life may help preserve the life of someone else. There will be a celebration of life service for Moen this Sunday. Those who knew him remember the impact he had as not only a boxer, but also a friend and loved one.

“Life was good for him,” Obregon said. “Life was on track. It was cut short by this unfortunate incident.”

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