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Captain Sassetti reflects on progress

Meredith Kelly | Tuesday, February 26, 2013

After a broken wrist his sophomore year, junior Bengal Bouts captain Brett Sassetti is back in the ring and ready to fight.

“Once you start getting back into it, it’s like a drug,” Sassetti said. “Especially when you win a spar or when you win a fight, it’s just something you want to keep doing.”

And Sassetti has had his share of wins. He found success in the unfamiliar sport of boxing his freshman year, reaching the finals in 2011. Although he lost in the 143-pound weight class to then-freshman Will Peterson, he said he was aware of how much he had achieved by making it to the finals.

Sassetti is boxing in the 176-pound weight class this year and has advanced to tonight’s semifinals. Reflecting on his journey in Bengal Bouts so far, Sassetti said he believes he has grown as a fighter since his freshman year.

“I was a really aggressive fighter freshman year and coach Kevin [Smith] has worked with me to be a better defensive fighter,” Sassetti said. “He helped me work on my technique and that kind of stuff, so he has been helping me this whole year.”

Entering his first year of Bengal Bouts, Sassetti was not technically experienced in the world of boxing as he ran cross country in high school. But while boxing and cross country are two very different sports, they are similar in the intensive training they entail.

“It’s kind of the same training as far as endurance wise,” Sassetti said. “But cross country is boring cause all you’re doing is running. And boxing for me is way more exciting.”

Intrigued by the sight of the boxing ring setup in the JACC on a visit during his senior year of high school, Sassetti said he decided to join Bengal Bouts his freshman year at Notre Dame.

He also found a boxing companion in his freshman-year roommate Niels Seim.

“My roommate Niels Seim boxed in high school, and he was going to do it,” Sassetti said. “I thought, as long as I had someone to go with, I might as well give it a shot.”

Seim and Sassetti continued to go to practices together, watching each other spar and motivating each other to continue with Bengal Bouts. They also made it to the finals together as freshmen. Seim and Sassetti remain close today and are in each other’s corners during the bouts.

“Being in someone’s corner is a pretty personal thing,” Sassetti said. “They talk to you in between rounds and before the fight when you’re really nervous. They just try to get your mind right and make sure you are focused.”

Sassetti said he also finds encouragement from his family, who are very supportive of his boxing. Sassetti’s parents – Bob and Aren – live in Elmwood Park, a western suburb of Chicago.

“Freshman year, my parents came to all of my fights except the quarterfinals,” Sassetti said. “And for the finals freshman year, I had my sister come out and her husband and some of their friends. [So I had] pretty good family support.”

Although always in the arena for support, Sassetti said his mother sometimes has a hard time watching her son fight.

“My mom and dad drive all the way here, and my mom sometimes doesn’t watch the fight,” Sassetti said. “She goes and talks to the managers. She doesn’t like seeing me get hit.”

Sassetti’s uncle, Jim Farina, also had a positive impact on Sassetti’s boxing career. After losing a hard-fought spar during practice freshman year to Thomas Enzweiler, who went on to win the 154-pound weight class in 2011, Sassetti’s interest in boxing began to wane. He retuned home for Christmas break wanting to quit. But he also was aware that he had a lot to consider before making his final decision.

“After the fight, I talked to my uncle and he talked me back into it. He said I should give it a shot,” Sassetti said. “He saw that deep down I wanted to do it, even though I was having some second thoughts.”

Sassetti is now fully invested in Bengal Bouts, taking on his leadership duties as a junior captain. But since he was abroad this fall in Fremantle, Australia, he does not have a specific role among the captains.

It is Bengal Bouts tradition for coaches and captains to vote on the captains for the upcoming year. Even though Sassetti said he hopes to be a senior captain next year, those aspirations have been set aside for now as he mentally and physically prepares for the task at hand – tonight’s semifinal fight against law student Joey Stromberg.

Regardless of the end result, Sassetti’s favorite thing about Bengal Bouts is the fighting.

“You get into a zone that is really unlike any other sport, a focus you don’t really get anywhere else,” Sassetti said. “When you’re in the ring everything else just gets blocked out. Its pretty unique.”

Contact Meredith Kelly at mkelly29@nd.edu