Gov. Doug Burgum today announced celebrated professional boxer Virgil Hill, a repeat world champion in both the light heavyweight and cruiserweight classes, as the 48th recipient of the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, the state’s highest commendation for its citizens.
Raised in Grand Forks and Williston, Hill has represented North Dakota in the boxing ring with immense skill and courage, captivating and inspiring North Dakotans and boxing fans around the world. Hill won a silver medal in the middleweight division during the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, was a five-time world champion, set the record for the number of light heavyweight title defenses and was a first-round inductee into both the National Boxing Hall of Fame and International Boxing Hall of Fame. He holds a career professional record of 50 wins, 7 losses, and 23 wins by knockout.
“Virgil Hill's career was one of exceptional achievements and contributions. His journey from a talented amateur boxer to renowned professional champion and role model for youth exemplifies the power of dedication, determination and a strong connection to one's roots,” Burgum said. “His impact extends far beyond the boxing ring, making him a champion not only in the sport but also in his commitment to his community and the causes he holds dear.”
"North Dakota means so much to me. My whole life has revolved around everything I learned as a kid in North Dakota and trying to pass it on to the next generation,” said Hill, who recalled learning about the Rough Rider Award as a boy and always aspiring to be added to the list of award recipients. “It's a huge honor, and I appreciate everyone in North Dakota so much. This award is bigger than any title, any belt or any medal. To be acknowledged by my home state is amazing. My heart will always be in North Dakota.”
Hill's boxing career is a testament to skill, longevity and dedication. His journey to the top of the boxing world took off when he turned pro in 1984, following an impressive amateur record of 288 wins and 11 losses and his silver medal finish in the middleweight division.
As a professional boxer, Hill quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the light heavyweight division. In 1987, he captured his first World Boxing Association (WBA) light heavyweight title by defeating Leslie Stewart in a hard-fought battle. Hill's defensive skills, technical proficiency and powerful left jab made him a formidable opponent in the ring.
Hill successfully defended his WBA title multiple times, demonstrating his ability to overcome challenging opponents and maintaining his position as a dominant champion. Hill's career was marked by high-profile fights against top-caliber opponents, including his memorable clashes with boxing legends such as Thomas Hearns and Roy Jones Jr. Notable victories against the likes of Frank Tate, Bobby Czyz, Fabrice Tiozzo and Henry Maske solidified his status as one of the best light heavyweights of his time. While he faced some defeats during his career, Hill always bounced back with determination and resilience.
Hill proudly represented his home state and Native American heritage. Hill became a Native icon and enjoys a close relationship with and the support of MHA Nation, inspired by the positive image he presented throughout his career. In fights in North Dakota, across the United States and around the world, Hill carried the North Dakota state flag into the ring while wearing a tribal headdress, and often credited the state for instilling in him positive core values and a strong work ethic. Thousands of North Dakotans packed venues in Bismarck, Minot, Grand Forks and Fargo for his home state fights to witness Hill’s prowess and support a fellow North Dakotan showcasing his immense popularity and influence in the region. Ending his career with “One Last Stand” in Bismarck, Hill demonstrated his appreciation of his North Dakota roots, once again bringing the world stage to North Dakota and North Dakota to the world stage.
Beyond his boxing achievements, Hill's philanthropic endeavors further cemented his legacy. He actively engaged in charitable works, supporting organizations focused on youth sports development, anti-bullying campaigns, veterans' assistance and cultural preservation. Since his retirement from boxing, Hill has continued to train athletes and promote North Dakota, going out of his way to train young Native American athletes and provide opportunities for them to excel in their chosen sport.
The Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award recognizes present and former North Dakotans who have been influenced by the state in achieving national recognition in their fields of endeavor, thereby reflecting credit and honor upon North Dakota and its citizens. Established during the 1961 Dakota Territory Centennial, the award was initially given as an honorary rank of Colonel in the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders. North Dakota Secretary of State Michael Howe and State Historical Society Director Bill Peterson both concurred with Burgum’s selection of Hill for the Rough Rider Award.
The award will be presented later this year with Hill in person at a date and location to be announced soon.