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Bengal Bouts

After injury absence, Bryan Cooley returns to finals

| Friday, February 27, 2015

For senior captain Bryan Cooley, Bengal Bouts isn’t just a sport: it is the defining factor of his experience at Notre Dame. As the end of that experience nears, Cooley has felt reflective nearly every time he has entered the ring this year.

“Without a doubt, Bengal Bouts has been the best experience I’ve had at Notre Dame by far,” Cooley said. “Boxing is so much more than just the fights. You definitely get that nostalgic feeling when it comes over right about now. I’m stepping in the ring and really thinking this could be my last fight. Up until now, I knew that if I lost I always had next year, but every time I get in the ring now, it really could be my last time in the ring.”

Senior Bryan Cooley attempts to connect on a hook during the Bengal Bouts semifinals Tuesday night at Joyce Fieldhouse.Monica Villagomez Mendez | The Observer

Senior Bryan Cooley attempts to connect on a hook during the Bengal Bouts semifinals Tuesday night at Joyce Fieldhouse.

These thoughts take Cooley back to when he was first introduced to Bengal Bouts. When he was a freshman, he wanted to find a way to get involved. Having played football and baseball at the varsity level in high school, Cooley was looking for something more than just interhall sports. It was soon after that he learned about Bengal Bouts.

“I learned about Bengal Bouts, learned about its history — it was at 82 years at that point — and the tradition behind it was crazy,” Cooley said. “The first boxing program was started by Knute Rockne and it was sustained for so long; that coupled with the missions [made it] really seem like it was something bigger than a team sport. So I was hooked right away, started day one freshman year, and I never looked back.”

After training as a novice his freshman year, Cooley was able to win his preliminary fight before dropping his bout in the quarterfinals. The following year, Cooley progressed and managed to reach the semifinals. He hoped to continue to see progress as a junior, but suffered a back injury that prevented him from fighting in the tournament.

“Last year, I was injured,” Cooley said. “I had a back injury, so I wasn’t able to fight in the tournament. That was really a low point for me because that’s what I’m looking forward to at the beginning of every year, and that’s why this year is so special too. It’s kind of a last hurrah.”

Senior Bryan Cooley, left, defends an attack from graduate student C.J. Pruner during Tuesdays’ 184-pound semifinal bout.Monica Villagomez Mendez | The Observer

Senior Bryan Cooley, left, defends an attack from graduate student C.J. Pruner during Tuesdays’ 184-pound semifinal bout.

It was that motivation and the leadership that came from it that led Cooley to being named a captain this year. The added honor of being a captain has truly set this year apart in his mind, he said.

“It’s wonderful to be a part of that unit and part of the team, but there’s nothing like getting out in front of the guys — especially the novices — and helping them get up to speed and get better,” Cooley said. “The vets kind of take care of themselves because they’ve been here, but everyone needs work, including the captains. We’re there as guys that have some experience and are trying to bring everyone else along quickly, just like our captains did for us as novices.”

Senior Bengal Bouts captain Bryan Cooley, left, throws a jab during his semifinal victory over graduate student C.J. Pruner on Tuesday at Joyce Fieldhouse. Cooley fights for the 184-pound title tonight.Monica Villagomez Mendez | The Observer

Senior Bengal Bouts captain Bryan Cooley, left, throws a jab during his semifinal victory over graduate student C.J. Pruner on Tuesday at Joyce Fieldhouse. Cooley fights for the 184-pound title tonight.

In addition to the responsibility that goes along with being a captain, Cooley believes that the camaraderie he shares with his fellow captains has been an important part of his Bengal Bouts experience. Cooley said getting to know all of his fellow fighters has been great, but it has been the friendship of the other captains over the years that has defined his experience in the boxing club.

“The group of captains around this year, I knew these guys back when we were novices,” Cooley said. “That type of relationship has been probably the best part of the experience. Coming out of here, I can say I knew these guys through boxing, and through boxing we got to know each other so well. Now, as we’re coming to the end of it, I feel like we’re all great friends. I know these guys, and I’ll stay in touch with them. That’s probably the best part of my experience in Bengal Bouts.”

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About Benjamin Padanilam

As The Observer's Editor-in-Chief, Ben is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) who is pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics as well. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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