Professional boxer and Upshur County sheriff's deputy Dakota Linger with his son, Finn, who turned one year old on the same night Linger won a top rank boxing match. / Photo courtesy Hannah Linger

He wanted to win for Finn: Upshur sheriff’s deputy triumphs in nationally televised boxing match

BUCKHANNON – This past Saturday night proved to be a spectacular one for Upshur County sheriff’s deputy and part-time professional boxer Dakota “Lone Wolf” Linger.

It wasn’t because he won his first professional boxing match since 2020 at the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York — not really. Or that Linger, the underdog going into the contest, handily defeated his heavily favored opponent, 5-foot, 9-inch Josue “The Prodigy” Vargas, 24, of Puerto Rico.

Linger, 27, won the match via technical knockout at the 2-minute, 6-second mark in Round 2, and he was also grateful to pick up new fans since the match aired on ESPN and ESPN+.

All the exposure was wonderful, but at the end of the day, what was most special to him was that he defeated his opponent on the night that his infant son, Finn, turned 1 year old.

“What was really exciting about this fight is that I have a son named Finn Linger, and he turned 1 year old on the same day I fought, June 11,” Linger said Thursday. “More than anything, I wanted to win for him – I wanted to win for Finn. I wanted to win on his birthday.”

And win he did. After just over 2 minutes, Vargas couldn’t answer back, losing his footing and eventually stumbling into the ropes in the second round. Referee Ron Lipton finally called a TKO at 2:06, but by then, professional boxing fans and the Twitterverse thought he had waited far too long, and Linger agreed.

“I think [the referee] should have called it sooner because his legs were not there,” he said. “I don’t think they should have let him continue after that.”

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Vargas underwent medical evaluation and treatment after the June 11 match. Linger left the match feeling proud of his performance.

“It’s one of my biggest accomplishments and one of the biggest fights I’ve ever been in,” Linger said. “He has the best record of anyone I’ve ever fought. He was 20-2 going in … I like to fight people better than me just because it gives me that challenge – I want to see if I can beat you. I want to test my limits. Every time I do this, it just makes me better.”

With a 12-5-3 record entering the contest, Linger had improved it to 13-5 by the time he left New York.

He knows consistent improvement means missing out on the occasional special occasion; it’s part and parcel of the grind that goes with being a professional boxer who’s aiming to garner more invitations to fight in top-rank boxing matches. Linger works dayshift as a sheriff’s deputy, and often his Monday through Friday is the repetition of “go to work, go the gym and go to bed,” he said.

Linger trains at the Tommy Thomas Boxing Gym in Clarksburg and runs three or four miles on most days at a seven-minute-per-mile pace.

“I actually do a lot of running – three to four miles a day – and I do it at six or seven-minute miles, most of the time seven,” he said. “I have to be ready for a fight like this, for eight rounds, so I do a lot of rounds on the bag.”

Much of the preparation involves agility, endurance and overall fitness, but another portion of it is strategizing. Linger said he and his coach, Tim Wheeler, developed a game plan — a central piece of which was patience — and he was able to successfully execute it when the pressure was on.

“We actually had a game plan and that was for me to go out there and feel the guy out,” Linger recounted. “I wasn’t going real hard at first; I was seeing how fast he was, how much power he had. After I got a feel for [his fighting style], I felt I could take his power. I knew I wasn’t going to outbox him, so I had to get in on the inside fighting. I’m better at inside fighting, so I knew I had to get in on him because he would beat me if I was on the outside – he’s a little more skilled than I am from the outside.”

Together, Linger and his coach also reviewed how to handle a left-handed fighter like Vargas over the six or seven weeks Linger had for training leading up to the fight.

Then, on the big night, Linger’s dad, Dewaine, was there to wrap his hands just right – “he’s the one who wraps my hands, he’s really good at it,” Linger says – while his mom, Charlene, cheered from the audience. Hannah, his wife, and Finn rooted for him from home.

Linger was sad to miss his son’s first birthday party, which featured an icing-smeared smash cake, but he got to FaceTime with him when Finn was diving into the confection.

“He had a little smash cake at home, and he loved it,” Linger said.

Sometimes, sacrifices are inevitable when you have a dream, Hannah said.

“I’m super excited and super proud of him,” she said. “He’s a great dad and he manages his work life, home life and boxing career and balances it all really well. He was a little disappointed when he realized he was going to be missing Finn’s first birthday, but it was what he needed to do to help move our family forward. He got to see Finn with his smash cake and he was happy about that.”

And thank goodness for technology because Linger isn’t giving up his professional boxing aspirations anytime soon.

“I feel like I’m getting better every day, and I want to see how far I can make it,” he said.

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