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Bengal Bouts: Sayles recovers from injury to reach final round, finds love

Matt Gamber | Friday, February 26, 2010

Months after Mike Sayles broke his fibula, tibia and ankle less than three weeks before the start of Bengal Bouts during his sophomore year, he still felt a lingering pain that went far beyond his right leg.

“Missing the Bouts changes your perspective on everything because there’s so much more to motivate you, especially by the time you step into the ring,” Sayles said. “Having it taken away from me after training for as long as I did was really the motivator. I put in all that hard work and I was feeling really good heading into the fights, so that feeling is now always in the back of my mind, always there.”

And it will be again Saturday night when Sayles squares off against fellow senior captain Chris Cugliari in the finals of the 133-pound weight division.

For Sayles, who demolished his right leg playing snow football on a Sorin Hall retreat, Saturday’s finals represent his last opportunity to accomplish a goal he began to work toward after winning one fight as a freshman. It’s been a long road to return that required Sayles to work at the simplest of tasks most would take for granted.

“The worst part was that I couldn’t get into my loft, so I couldn’t sleep in my bed for a month and a half,” Sayles said. “I ended up sleeping on a futon for the first half of the semester until after spring break when I could get myself up the ladder again.”

Sayles said he began jogging at the end of June, but even then, he could only work out every other day to keep his ankle from locking up and causing an additional setback.

“It was really a gradual process of working back up. I went to novice season again in the fall to basically start over,” Sayles said. “I had to learn how to fight differently because the range of motion in my ankle wasn’t there, so it forced me to develop a different style of boxing that has carried over to how I fight now.”

Even with the bad ankle and new style, Sayles came within a few punches of a Bengal Bouts title last year, falling in the finals by a split decision. And while he was naturally disappointed to lose, he couldn’t help but reflect on how far he had come.

That’s what the Bengal Bouts are all about, Sayles said.

“Going to practice would suck. It would hurt, it would be painful, and I’d come back and have to ice my ankle or I couldn’t walk the next day. After a while, your body gets so worn out from the workouts because they’re so intense,” Sayles said. ” But I think going to practice every day, forcing yourself to go, is half the battle and kind of what makes it fun — pushing yourself to do things you wouldn’t have thought you could have done before.”

As a senior captain and a Resident Assistant in Sorin College, Sayles has served as an ambassador of sorts for the boxing club. When he speaks about the Bengal Bouts, he said he first conveys the important life lessons the sport has taught him and so many others.

“When people ask me about boxing, especially guys in the dorm, it’s always everything except boxing I mention first. And then at the very end it’s a throw-in that you get to learn how to box, which is pretty cool,” Sayles said. “It’s learning about yourself and building character. There’s just so much growth for a lot of different people, and it makes me proud to see the way some of the guys develop throughout the course of the season as they learn to take certain things a little more seriously.”

That message certainly resonated with Bobby Sullivan, a Sorin sophomore who lost a tough split decision in the preliminaries but who wouldn’t have come that close without Sayles, he said.

“When it was time to choose who would be in our corner, it was no surprise that Sayles had a problem because too many people had chosen him,” Sullivan said. “From the very start his work ethic carried over to the rest of us, always willing to work with us in and out of practice. Sayles embodied what a captain should be.”

Sayles will graduate in May with a degree in finance and political science, and he will begin his career this fall as a financial analyst in Chicago with investment bank Houlihan Lokey.

A lover and a fighter, Sayles and fiancé Maggie McNicholas, a senior at Saint Mary’s, hope to be married in the Basilica in July 2011.