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Bengal Bouts: Trip to Bangladesh helps define Rubinkowski

Sam Werner | Friday, February 27, 2009

Leo Rubinkowski always knew about the charity aspect of Bengal Bouts. The senior captain sold his ads and worked to promote the cause of Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh, but it wasn’t until he actually visited Bangladesh in June of 2008 that he fully understood how much his work meant.

“Being there and seeing what Holy Cross does with the money we send, it really, really sunk in just how important the charity aspect is,” Rubinkowski said.

Senior boxer Mark Weber was responsible for organizing the trip, and Weber, Rubinkowski, senior Tomas Castillo, senior Pat Martin and 2008 graduate Pat Ryan were the first Bengal Bouts boxers to visit Bangladesh in the 79-year history of the tournament.

“We were really trying to create a stronger connection between these two sides of the world that are working together,” Rubinkowski said.

Rubinkowski said the trip to Bangladesh was easily the most memorable experience from his time in Bengal Bouts.

A trained fighter, Rubinkowski had been involved in martial arts, primarily traditional Japanese karate since he was five. When he decided to attend Notre Dame, his father mentioned that he should try Bengal Bouts.

“The more I thought about it, it just seemed like a natural thing to do considering my history with sport fighting,” Rubinkowski said.

His freshman year, the Illinois native was knocked out in the first round, and said the experience was much different from his past fighting practice.

“Contact in sport karate is not real prevalent, so I guess that would be the biggest difference,” Rubinkowski said. “It’s a good difference, though.”

Over the past four years, he developed his boxing ability and said he was confident in his abilities in both areas

“I think of it from a self-defense point of view, and it just depends on the situation,” he said. “I almost feel like I’m more comfortable with boxing now.”

Since that one-and-done his freshman year, Rubinkowski has reached the finals in each of the past two tournaments. Both times, though, he walked away without the title, losing to Dan Ward in 2007 and Alex Lough in 2008.

“It sucked,” he said. “It definitely sucked. I remember after my sophomore year I almost started crying right in the ring.”

This year, in his quest for that elusive title, Rubinkowski will fight as a senior captain. The honor is the culmination of a journey that started two years ago when he was named a junior captain.

“I feel like it really has been a meaningful experience,” he said. “Because I feel like I’ve had a closer relationship with the Bouts.”

As a senior captain, it is Rubinkowski’s responsibility to train the younger fighters, most of whom have little to no boxing experience.

“I feel like it’s a lead-by-example kind of thing,” he said. “We show up everyday, we work hard everyday, and we do it with a smile on our faces.”

Rubinkowski said one of the best feelings he’s experienced from Bengal Bouts is witnessing a boxer with little experience coming in learn to fight and succeed in the tournament.

“It is a good feeling to see someone really grab onto it,” he said. “I’m not even proud because I know that I helped them, but I’m just proud to see that they really found something that speaks to them and that they can call their own.”

Even if he doesn’t capture the title, Rubinkowski will always remember his time in Bangladesh, half a world away.

“I’d be super, super excited about [winning]. But I guess over the course of four years, it’s really sunk in how big the Bengal Bouts is,” Rubinkowski said. “The real thing that people remember is the charity aspect of the Bouts. If I win, that would phenomenal, I would love it, but, win or lose, I’m fine.”