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Choe finishes long journey as senior captain

Greg Hadley | Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sunoh Choe’s path to his second Bengal Bouts tournament has been a long and interesting one. It started in Hawaii, moved to Santa Clara, Calif., then to Mexico, and most recently culminated in a championship last year and a captainship this season. 

A senior from Kona, Hawaii, Choe won the 154-pound weight division last year, in his very first Bengal Bouts. It was not, however, his first experience with the sport. He started boxing as a freshman at Santa Clara University.

“I was at Santa Clara and during my freshman year, my older brother who was here started doing Bengal Bouts and he got me into boxing,” Choe said. “I did a year [of boxing] at Santa Clara and then I studied a year abroad. So I already had a year of experience when I got here.”

For his sophomore year, Choe studied in Mexico and continued to hone his boxing skills while immersing himself in the new culture.

“I boxed a little bit while I was down there,” Choe said. “I learned a little bit of the Mexican style. I was the only one from my school there, so I immersed myself with the locals. I stayed two semesters because I really wanted to learn the language fully and have a more genuine experience.”

Choe then transferred to Notre Dame as a junior and immediately got involved with Bengal Bouts.

“My brother put Bengal Bouts in my head, and it was probably about 50 percent of the reason why I transferred here, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “In terms of weather, it was a bad choice, but the school is obviously better here, I have my siblings [and] Bengal Bouts.”

Choe’s experience at Santa Clara prepared him well for Notre Dame boxing. At Santa Clara, he was part of an “intense” team that competed against other colleges and had more coaches than athletes. Still, he said he prefers Notre Dame’s boxing club and the atmosphere of the team. 

“I definitely got more individual attention [at Santa Clara], but I like the program here better because it’s going for a good cause and there are like 200 boxers…so you actually feel like you’re on a team,” Choe said. “I really like training with other people around. I feel like I get more motivated when I see other guys working out. I really like to work out with my friends as well.”

Last season, Choe and his brother both advanced to the finals in their respective weight classes, where Choe claimed the championship.

“I was really grateful to have won,” Choe said. “Originally, my brother and I, our goal was to get the leather jacket, which you get if you make the finals, so both of us and a friend of ours got to the finals, and we said ‘Now we got to win this too!’ It’s a great feeling. You get a little more credibility. I’m not the biggest guy [on the team] so it’s nice to have the credibility that you’re a boxing champ.”

After the season ended last year, Choe received a call from a graduating captain, who asked him to take over as captain for the upcoming season. His one requirement?

“He wanted me to help other guys get better,” Choe said. “His one condition was … he wanted me to start reaching out to everyone on the team.”

As a captain, Choe has more responsibilities than this though. In addition to training, and fighting, captains also have to organize advertising for the tournament and merchandise for the club. Still, his biggest responsibility remains helping other fighters. 

“I think one good thing about being captain is that if I do offer advice or corner people off [to talk to them], people don’t think I’m over my head or being arrogant,” Choe explains.

However, when he enters the ring, Choe ceases to be a captain and is solely a competitor, which means he has no mercy. His fight strategy revolves around deflating his opponent’s hopes early on in the match.

“It depends on who I’m going up against, but usually I try to be the aggressor,” Choe said. “I have this saying; ‘Everyone’s decent for the first 20 seconds until they get hit.’ So my goal is always to scare them early on. It sounds really mean, but that’s kind of a strategy. Once you bring down their morale in a spar or a fight, it’s easier for the aggressor. I also like to box rather than brawl. I prefer technique over just slugging it out.”

Of course, Bengal Bouts is about more than just boxing, Choe said. As captain, Choe helps coordinate the fundraising aspect of the Bouts. It is a duty that he said heappreciates but also finds easy, because it goes to such a good cause.

“One hundred percent  of the proceeds go to the mission,” Choe said. “That makes our fundraising easier. When we tell people, [if] we say it’s just a boxing club, most people wouldn’t buy our tickets or our ads but when I tell them that it goes to a mission and that last year we raised over $200,000 for people in Bangladesh…it makes our job a lot easier, because people are more willing to buy a ticket if they know it goes to charity. And I like that, because at least I can say I’m not doing boxing just so I can hit people.”

In only two years, Choe has learned to appreciate the tradition and mission of Bengal Bouts. 

“If I throw out those numbers, that [Bengal Bouts]’s been going on for over eighty years, there’s over 200 boxers, and the amount of money we raise, over a million [dollars] since we started, that’s the really impressive part of Bengal Bouts for me,” he said. “There was this random [stranger] from Germany who messaged me over Facebook, who follows Bengal Bouts and watches the videos and knows me. That’s the awesome thing about Bengal Bouts.”

Contact Greg Hadley at ghadley@nd.edu