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Pat Dillon: humble boxing hero

Luke Busam | Friday, March 5, 2004

A dominating right cross. A lightning-quick left jab. A relentless work ethic.Those are just a few of the more recognizable traits that earned Pat Dillon a club captaincy as a junior and the club co-presidency as a senior. Those are also just a few traits that make Dillon an outstanding boxer.But ask him about those stand-out traits, and he won’t admit he has them. And the fact that the boxer has never taken credit for any of his success or any of his talents nearly says more about his character than all those qualities combined.”I have zero talent,” Dillon says. “I’m just a slow guy that keeps his hands down” Ask him about his style in the ring, and he’ll say, “I’m stubborn in the ring. I don’t change strategy enough to fit my opponent.” Constantly self-evaluating, complacency just isn’t in Dillon’s vocabulary. Even after winning his first fight in the Bengal Bouts as a freshman in February of 2001, Dillon refused to pat himself on the back. After the fight, he said, “In the second round, the corner really helped me out.” Keep in mind that this was after completing six weeks of the most intense training he had ever experienced. He pushed himself harder than he ever had before in order to secure that first win, and where does Dillon put the credit? To someone else – his cornerman. While personally critical outside the ring, he is actually a dynamic specimen inside. Even in his earliest days with the club, Dillon was dominating opponents. He drew blood on one of the first punches he ever threw in sparring sessions. “I remember bloodying my opponent’s nose in my first sparring session,” Dillon said. “It was a good friend of mine who happened to have a weak nose.” Over the years, he has grown from a brutish slugger to more of a technical counter-puncher. He has maintained a willingness to take a punch throughout his career, believing it will open a chance for a strong counter-attack. At times his style in the ring says to opponents, “Hit me. I’ll hit you back, harder and more often.” Dillon picked up the counter-punch style during a fight his freshman year, a fight that Dillon refers to as a turning point. “In between the 2nd and 3rd rounds, my cornerman, Edward Hernandez III, told me that I was going to have to start being the aggressor and to take one punch to score three more.”Dillon lost that fight to then-captain Brian Hobbins, but he had an important realization before its end. “I came out and threw as hard as I could. I was able to back Hobbins into the corner. I saw him back up and saw myself take control,” he said. “For those few seconds in the ring, I realized what people meant when they said that boxing is about one man imposing his will upon his opponent.”Since that day, Dillon has been imposing his will upon his opponents more often. Both as a sophomore and as a junior, Dillon advanced to the semifinals. On Wednesday night he earned his first career trip to the finals, improving his overall record to 6-3. Though Dillon is at his most self-deprecating when he recaps his fight history, he is never dismayed or second-guessing. The focus is always on the next step. Dillon said his most recent loss to Charlie Gough in the semifinals of last year’s Bouts was especially motivating. “I felt out of shape going into the tournament. It was my personal worst performance. It has me extremely motivated for this year to be technically perfect and in better shape than anyone in the program,” Dillon said.Dillon has fought his career best in this year’s tournament, successfully balancing his co-presidential duties with training. “Being a captain has really totally changed everything about practice for me. Four [p.m.] to 6 [p.m.] no longer belongs to me, and I never plan on getting any of my work in during the regular practice time,” Dillon said. The change in training hours has not altered his dedication at all, and Dillon believes his personal training is a responsibility of his as captain. “I feel a responsibility to be in the best shape I can be in and have the best technique possible in order to set an example for some of the younger guys. I also never want anyone to think that I don’t represent the program well as a captain,” he said. “I have a long history of outstanding boxers and leaders as captains to live up to. I don’t want to let down the guys who came before me.”Growing up in South Bend, Dillon had the chance to see firsthand many of those who came before him. “I grew up hearing about and watching the bouts with my grandfather and my dad, who both went to Notre Dame, too,” Dillon said. “Watching the fights and hearing stories about the fights with them is what really got my interest going. And it’s the work ethic that they both have instilled in me that has kept me going these four years.”Dillon has certainly come a long way since those early days as a spectator, but he characteristically denies any major achievements or tremendous growth in ability. “I think it’s easier for me to relate to a kid who is really struggling with boxing because I didn’t come in and immediately dominate in my first or second year the way most of the captains do,” he said. “I’ve struggled and continue to struggle to become a decent fighter, so the guy who is struggling with his first year of boxing can relate to me and see that you don’t need much skill to have some success in the program if you are willing to put in the time.”He is a senior captain, club co-president, possesses tremendous talent in each hand, has earned the respect of every boxer in the club, and will be fighting in the 2004 Bengal Bouts finals Mar. 17. Yet Dillon still claims he doesn’t have much skill. He just wants to be a decent fighter with some success and says that, maybe, if he puts in the time, he will. Humility is an understatement. There is a famous quote written on the wall of the Joyce Center boxing room which reads in part, “The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”Every boxer in the program has read it numerous times and can probably recite most of it from memory. Dillon has seen this quote for every day for the last two months and too many times to count over the last four years. One would think it would have sunk in by now.