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Bouts ‘the most influential’ part of Brawer’s ND career

Sam Werner | Friday, March 14, 2008

In an era when Mike Tyson got more headlines than any active fighter, most kids gravitated towards sports like football or baseball – but not Jesse Brawer.

“I can remember sitting on the floor watching ‘HBO Boxing After Dark’ with [my dad],” Brawer said. “So that’s the sport I grew up with. I grew up wanting to be a boxer.”

But with the nearest boxing gym 45 minutes away from his home in Westwood, N.J., it wasn’t easy for Brawer to get involved in the sport on which he was raised.

Upon arriving at Notre Dame, Brawer – who had no idea of the University’s boxing club – discovered Bengal Bouts and knew it was a match for him.

“As soon as I found out about it, I jumped at the shot,” Brawer said.

Despite his natural affinity for the sport, Brawer was in for a rude awakening in his first fight freshman year. Just 40 seconds into the first round, Brawer’s nose was broken by a jab to the face. Brawer went on to lose the fight, but he learned a valuable lesson about boxing in the process.

“The most important thing I learned about boxing is experience,” Brawer said. “You can take someone that barely has an ounce of athleticism, and you give them a couple of years of experience, and they will be able to handle themselves in a boxing ring better than an incredible natural athlete.”

After that first fight, Brawer resolved to come back stronger the next year.

“The biggest learning curve is between your first and second year,” he said. “[My freshman year opponent] had one more year experience than I did and he made it look easy.”

Experience turned out to be a key for Brawer, as he advanced to the semifinals his sophomore and junior years, losing both fights by a split decision. This year, Brawer was also ousted in the semis, losing by a unanimous decision. He referred to this streak as “a semifinals curse.”

Over the years, though, Brawer has been able to hone his boxing abilities and discover what works best for him as a fighter. Because he is shorter than most of his opponents, Brawer said the “straight-forward, go-for-points style” doesn’t work for him. Instead, he focuses on his defensive and counterpunching abilities.

“Everybody can punch. It’s easy to punch,” Brawer said. “It’s not quite as easy to defend yourself.”

Brawer said that all the way up until this year, his goal was the same.

“To get my defense to a level where I was confident in it to counterpunch effectively,” he said.

This year, Brawer was named one of the senior captains. His duties included running practices and teaching the new fighters, many of whom had never boxed before, the fundamentals of the sport.

“It’s important at the beginning of the year for each of us as captains, specifically the seniors, to establish ourselves as people who are not only knowledgeable in the sport, but who are absolutely willing at all times to share every bit of info that we’ve learned in the past four years with the rest of the guys in the program,” Brawer said.

Brawer noted, though, that even though the captains are teaching younger fighters the basics, the senior fighters learn a thing or two themselves.

“It’s easy for us to teach basic technique to them,” Brawer said. “And unknown to them, it’s just as easy for us to pick up on little things.”

In addition to teaching fighters how to box, the captains must also get involved in the fundraising of the club, which last year sent over $60,000 to Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh.

“It’s great to see that all the fighters in the program understand that there’s a dual responsibility that goes along with being part of the team,” Brawer said.

Brawer stressed the importance of the money this year, after a cyclone ravaged the country and left over 10,000 dead.

“Especially here in the United States, it’s hard to comprehend a natural disaster would cause something like 10,000 deaths,” Brawer said.

Combine the boxing and the charity work, and you get the club Brawer called “without a doubt, the most influential, important experience these four years.”

Brawer said he often had to forego his social life to work out and improve his skills in the ring. Don’t feel too bad for his sacrifice, though. It’s the sport he loves.

“People watch the sport and think that it’s barbaric, it’s primal and it’s all a big testosterone contest,” Brawer said. “It’s really not. It’s called ‘the sweet science’ for a reason.”