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Baraka Bouts: On a mission

Laura Myers | Thursday, November 12, 2009

Don’t expect a lot of knockout blows when 90 female boxers take the ring tonight for the Baraka Bouts Fight Night. Instead, look for even matches and exciting finishes.

“Every fight is a close fight,” said senior Kristin Burke, president of the Women’s Boxing Club. “Every fight can go either way, which makes every fight more exciting. Each fight is really close and you never know going into a fight who’s going to win it.”

The captains set up each fight individually, taking into consideration the fighters’ height, weight and experience level before creating match ups, Burke said.

“I don’t think we’ve had more than one or two fights ended before the final third round bell each year,” she said. “Every once in a while we get it wrong and someone’s overmatched, but almost all of our fights go the full three rounds.”

The process took longer than normal this year, Burke said, because of the unusually large number of women competing.

“We have an extreme record year this year,” she said. “Having this many girls who came out originally and then stick it out is awesome. It’s a major, major step for the program.”

Just over 60 women fought at the 2008 Fight Night, Burke said. Her freshman year, there were only 40 fighters in the program.

For the first time, the club will have two rings running at Fight Night in order to accommodate all of the boxers. Burke said that if the program continues to grow, it will probably become a two-night event and may even take on a tournament aspect.

“They’re realistically going to have to move to two nights,” she said. “And if you’re going two nights anyway, you might as well figure out the logistics of having semifinals and finals. Definitely, in the near future that will happen because of the numbers that we have.”

The cause

The increase in participants has caused a large upswing in proceeds for the Bouts. This money benefits Holy Cross Missions in East Africa, an area that includes Uganda and Tanzania. The 2008 Bouts raised $15,000 for the cause.

“In my time here we’ve doubled not only the number of girls we have fighting, but along with that between my freshman and junior year we’ve tripled the amount of money we donated,” Burke said.

Two Holy Cross priests who had done mission work in East Africa came to practice two weeks ago to discuss the area and its needs, Burke said. The priests explained why the money is needed and how it is used.

Senior boxer Angela Rossi, who is in her second year with the Boxing Club, said the priests’ visit helped the boxers understand the program’s mission.

“That was really nice because it kind of brought it all home,” Rossi said. “Last year I knew the money went to the Holy Cross Missions in East Africa, but I didn’t know what they did with it. I didn’t know what the situation in East Africa looked like. We listened to them tell us about the educational opportunities they were bringing to East Africa, and how our money was helping with that.

“To hear the money we’ve raised throughout the semester, what it’s going to do, the difference it’s going to make, was really nice.”

The preparation

Practices for aspiring boxers began in the second week of September with novice training, Burke said. Returning boxers began a short time after that.

In order to participate on Fight Night, the women are required to attend at least four of the six two-hour practices held each week. The practices run from 4:30-6:30 every weekday. There is an additional one on Sunday for those who have late classes or labs.

The first hour of each practice is a straight workout — running and calisthenics. The second hour is devoted to boxing drills and partner exercises.

“I started training over the summer,” Rossi said. “I did push-ups and crunches and all of that so I wouldn’t be super sore when we finally got back together as a group and did our workouts together.”

Sophomore Michelle Hopke joined Bengal Bouts this year on what she called “a whim,” and soon found out how difficult the practices are.

“For the first two weeks I was so sore. I was like dying,” she said. “But I could definitely stick around and keep doing it. It was one of those things that I knew if I got through the first two weeks I would want to continue.”

Burke came in with a small advantage her freshman year — her father and brother had participated in Bengal Bouts and she had grown up around the sport. She had never actually boxed but did know how to throw a punch, she said.

Most students who join Baraka Bouts have never had experience with boxing before and start from scratch.

Rossi said it was much better to come in already knowing the basics from her first year.
“It was nice to know how to throw a jab, and know what blocking was,” she said. “There were so many novices this year and it was awesome that so many girls came out. It was a lot different this year being on the other side of things and helping girls learn how to box.”

Fight Night

The two months of non-stop preparation lead to a 10-minute boxing match in which the women get a chance to showcase their newfound skills for a large crowd.

“Fight Night last year was exhilarating,” Rossi said. “I’m just looking forward to being in the ring with the lights shining down on you and the crowds cheering in the background. It’s very surreal.”

Rossi said confidence is a big factor in boxing for her and the other women.

“It takes a lot to get in that ring and take punches, and stand there with someone hitting you in the face and trying to fight back,” she said.

Hopke said she is looking forward to her first Fight Night, as are the large number of novices.

“I’m excited to see all the hard work that I put in, and have my friends come and see me,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll do my best and show that I’ve been working on this for the past two months.”

The winners of each match do not get a material reward, Burke said. However, every boxer walks away with something.

“Pride,” she said. “You have to remember that everyone’s winning. You made it through a hard season with hard training. Five days a week is a lot of work. To get in a ring in front of all your friends, all your family is something to be proud of. We kind of stress that aspect. Everybody has accomplished something.”

The fights begin tonight at 6 p.m. in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse. Admission is $5, which will go toward the Holy Cross Missions in East Africa.