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Bengal Bouts: Former wrestler learned his boxing at Golden Gloves

Ken Fowler | Friday, March 2, 2007

Chris Calderone came to Notre Dame as a wrestler, but those days are long gone.

Calderone, one of five senior captains for this year’s Boxing Club, is the man to beat in the 163-pound weight class.

He took the title at 155 as a junior captain and moved up eight pounds for his senior season.

Now he’s an administrator-boxer, working on a second consecutive crown – a far cry from his grappling days on Long Island.

As a senior captain, he spends an extra hour or two a day in the gym to take care of the business and charity aspects of Bengal Bouts. He even found himself in the depths of the Joyce Center late on a Saturday night squeezing in a workout whenever he could.

But back in high school, things were different.

Calderone finished second in New York in his wrestling weight class as a high school senior.

When he came to Notre Dame, a former wrestling teammate at Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York – Stephan Vorovina – prodded him to join the Bouts.

“I thought it was the closest thing to wrestling,” Calderone said. “I actually fell in love with it more than I did wrestling.”

Calderone said he likes being in the limelight of a spectator sport. In high school, he would have a few friends watch his wrestling matches. In Bengal Bouts, the arena lights are dimmed on hundreds of fans as the spotlight shines on him and an opponent.

Before he joined the club, he was hardly a boxing fan. Now he watches “Friday Night Fights” every week and scours YouTube and ESPN Classic for clips of Muhammad Ali’s bouts.

But it’s taken time to get to that point.

As a freshman, he took to the regimented workouts and the thrill of the competition.

“Any time I got in the ring, I expected to win,” he said.

That year, Calderone won his first bout on a decision in three rounds but fell in the quarterfinals to Colin Kerrigan. Kerrigan went on to win the weight class.

“To lose really sets you back because you go from a senior in high school to the lowly freshman out there,” Calderone said.

After a week of low spirits following the loss, Calderone picked himself up and decided he better start training for his sophomore Bouts. He worked out on campus for the two months following Bengal Bouts and then joined a gym half an hour from his home in Floral Park, N.Y.

Every weekday, he would train from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. – after his workday – with the two professionals and the slew of Golden Gloves fighters at the facility in Hempstead, N.Y.

“The first year was really motivating,” Calderone said, elaborating on how the summer helped him. “I was the only white guy in the whole place, but the [other] guys knew what they were talking about.”

Calderone might not have been in a comfort zone at first, but the talent around him and his new mentors made it a perfect fit. He learned proper techniques and styles at the gym and came back to Notre Dame on par with the juniors and seniors, rather than his sophomore classmates.

“I got the feel for how they did in Golden Gloves fights,” Calderone said. “I put in a hell of a lot of work.”

During that second season of boxing, he lost to two-time champion and former Boxing Club president Galen Loughrey in the semifinals after earning a knockout in the first round and a decision in the quarters.

He honed his skills as a junior and took the title in the 155-pound weight class.

“Last year my technique kind of came together,” he said. “I became less of a brawler and more of a boxer.”

In essence, he studied the sweet science rather than boxing with abandon.

He remembers the two losses he’s had and takes them as a lesson.

“In order to succeed, you need to lose a few times,” he said.

That’s why he’s happy he joined early.

He took his lumps from the best and learned from the defeats. He has gotten rid of most of the wrestler and replaced it with a boxer.

His wrestling days are gone, but he’s still got one more fight left in him.