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Bengal Bouts: Over 200 ready to rumble at Joyce

Kyle Cassily | Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Two days before the opening blows of the 77th annual Bengal Bouts will resound throughout a darkened Joyce Center Fieldhouse, over 200 boxers crammed into the bowels of The Pit to get in some last-minute conditioning for what will be the largest Bouts tournament ever.

The amateur boxers were led Monday by junior and senior captains through calisthenics in the basketball gym, while others jumped rope, shadow boxed and hit the heavy bag in an adjoining room underneath the Joyce. Among the group were eight returning champions, dozens of experienced fighters and a large number of novice boxers who will conclude months of training when the preliminary round of the Bouts begins Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. and continues at the same time Thursday evening.

Bengal Bouts President and senior captain Andrew McGill said that the 200 and plus boxers that will compete this year blew away the previous record of 150 set last season. The Bouts captains were faced with so many prospective boxers that they considered holding a preliminary competition in The Pit to narrow down the number of contenders that would fight under the lights and before the crowd, senior captain Dan Ward said.

But, as it happens every year, at least 20 boxers dropped out of the bouts on weigh-in day and a spot was found for every fighter in the main events, Ward said.

“Logistically speaking, we can’t fight from 6 p.m. till 4 a.m. two nights in a row,” Ward said. “It wound up working itself out.”

The preliminary round, which will begin with 47 fights Wednesday from the 129-pound to 160-pound weight classes and conclude Thursday with 45 fights from the 163-pound class to the super heavyweights, marks the culmination of over six months of planning, conditioning and training for the Bouts’ captains and boxers.

Six months during which the captains pushed the boxers to their physical and mental limits, sometimes in an attempt to lower numbers.

“There were even times, as captains, where we would take a week and try to limit the numbers, to try to work them so hard they’re not going to want to stay,” McGill said. “We really pushed the guys and to give the guys a lot of credit, they stayed with it. We made it enjoyable but at the same time challenging.”

The planning for the Bouts began soon after school started in August, McGill said. The captains coordinated schedules and held meetings to garner interest in the Boxing Club, in preparation for the novice season for beginning boxers that began after Fall Break.

McGill and the other captains, six seniors and three juniors, taught the young boxers how to throw punches, the mechanics of their stance and movements and how to block opponents’ attacks in the latter half of the fall semester.

“We really push them hard with pushups and sit-ups,” McGill said. “We really try to condition them as much as possible.”

Then, during study days, the club brought in EMTs and referees to workouts so the novices could spar and get a feel for the ring. Upon returning from winter break, it was time for the meat of the season, when the veterans and novices combined, to begin.

“Everyday we decide what we want to work on,” McGill said. “At the beginning we’ll have a day where we work on legs, a day where it’s all upper body – running, conditioning. We change it around a little bit.”

In order to accommodate the increased numbers in the Boxing Club this season, they set up two rings for the first time so that double the amount of boxers could spar everyday, McGill said. The senior captain also said the length of the training season and its intensity lends itself not only to better boxers, but in developing better people.

“You can really see their character develop as they progress through the program,” he said. “You can see everyone mature. As the season progresses, you can see everyone become best friends. The best thing about the Bengal Bouts is that it takes an individual sport, in boxing, and turns it into a team sport.”

There will be no rematches of last year’s semifinal or championship bouts in the preliminary rounds because of the bracket system the Club uses to separate the main contenders, McGill said. It will, however, be the proving ground for many inexperienced boxers.

“The first round is a lot of guys getting in and getting the butterflies out of their stomachs,” McGill said. “It’s pretty different boxing down here, training down here and then going upstairs and being in an atmosphere where the entire arena is dark. You’re in a ring in front of a thousand or so people or more and all the lights are focused on you and your opponent.”

Senior Nathan Dyer, who has fought since his freshman year and made it to the semifinals in the 145-pound division last year, remembered how nerve wracking it was to step through the ropes for the first time.

“I was completely nervous, scared, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing. I was going purely off adrenaline maybe, instinct maybe, I was just a wreck. I just walked in there and tried to remember how to fight.”

Ward, who will compete in the 180-pound class and who already has won a championship, has his own approach to the ring.

“Personally, I kind of black out for a little bit,” he said. “You don’t think – you just react. The best I can describe it is just going blank for a little bit, and praying that your body knows what to do when it’s moving different ways.”

McGill quoted from a book called “The Power of One” that the captains and coaches use to preach mental toughness for those about to step into The Sweet Science.

“Boxing is as much mental as it is physical,” he said. “To quote from the Power of One, ‘First with your mind, then with your heart.'”