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Bengal Bouts: Hennig vents agression in the ring

Greg Arbogast | Friday, March 2, 2007

His arm reared back, ready to strike, and the end result was a blow of such force that the victim needed stitches. Two-year old Bobby Hennig had just been hit by a launched toy car, and the thrower, older brother Mike, was in a lot of trouble with his parents.Nineteen years later, senior co-captain Mike Hennig is throwing punches instead of projectiles, but the tenacity and aggressiveness that caused Hennig to fight with his two younger brothers on a daily basis is still present more than ever.Initially, Hennig found an outlet for his aggression in another sport with high levels of physical contact – hockey. A figure skater growing up, Hennig’s mom enrolled her sons in figure skating at age two. From the moment he saw other kids playing hockey, Hennig realized he was only meant to be on the ice if he was holding a stick. In high school, Hennig played for his school’s team all four years, and he also was a member of a club AAA team from his sophomore through his senior year. Many members of AAA teams proceed to play one year in Juniors before obtaining a scholarship with a Division I school.Hennig appeared ready to follow a similar route as he searched for a Division III school that would allow him to continue his hockey career, but he ultimately decided to sacrifice hockey for the opportunity to attend Notre Dame. “It came to down to hockey at a Division III school or going to Notre Dame, and it really wasn’t a hard decision,” Hennig said. “Notre Dame gives you so much more opportunity.”With hockey no longer in the picture, Hennig needed to find a new scratch for his aggressive itch. The answer came during his freshman year when Hennig attended Bengal Bouts and realized the emotion inherent to the competition.”It was really intense and exciting, and you could tell the guys were competing with all their heart,” Hennig said. “That’s ultimately what sports are about.” With a new outlet for his aggressive side in hand, Hennig set out to learn a sport in which he had never participated save for the occasional punch thrown between siblings. Hennig joined Bengal Bouts his sophomore year, along with close friends and now fellow captains Stephen Hansen and Stu Stypula.Although a rough and unfinished product the spring of his sophomore year, Hennig managed to make the finals in the 140-pound weight class before falling in a split decision to junior Mike McCann. Hennig credited his success that year to his “natural tenacity.””Watching the Bouts my freshman year helped me realize how much of it is natural tenacity,” Hennig said. “Seeing the success people had just being aggressive made me realize that I could be successful even if I wasn’t the best technical boxer.”That’s not to say that Hennig was unconcerned with the finer points of boxing. His loss to McCann left him hungrier than ever to improve his technique with the goal of taking his success one fight further. Over the next year, Hennig transformed himself into a smart boxer to complement his tenacity, competitiveness and aggressiveness. He learned to dictate the pace of the fight by conserving his energy rather than throwing as many punches as he could. This change left Hennig fresh rather than exhausted in the final round. The end result was a smart, hungry and technically sound boxer, and the results were seen the following year. In his junior year, Hennig dominated the 140-pound weight class winning every fight by unanimous decision or knock-out on his way to the title. This season, Hennig has moved up to the 145-pound division, but the results have changed little as he has breezed his way into the semi-finals.While Hennig admits to feeling more pressure to perform this year, the title(s) will not even be his fondest memory of his participation in Bengal Bouts. That honor instead goes to the close relationships that Hennig has formed with his fellow boxers.”Bengal Bouts has been my best experience at ND, and other than the money that goes to charity, the training is the best part of the Bouts,” Hennig said. “I think pushing yourself and pushing others – working toward the common goal of improving yourselves – brings you all closer together, and I have met some of my best friends through boxing.” The solidarity that Hennig feels with the other boxers will keep him involved with Bengal Bouts after graduation. Living in Chicago next year, Hennig said he hopes to return to Notre Dame during next year’s Bouts to give advice to the new class of Irish boxers. Hennig also talked of finding a gym in Chicago that would allow him to continue boxing in some fashion.For someone with the attitude of Mike Hennig, that’s just the outlet he needs.