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The boxing businessman

Matt Gamber | Friday, March 14, 2008

With split-decision losses in the only two boxing matches of his life, Hunter Land, then a sophomore, didn’t think his resume to become a junior captain was impressive – but his number was called anyway.

A year later, after falling in the semifinals (again by split-decision), becoming the president of the boxing club wasn’t even something Land was considering – but still, he was the man for the job. And he couldn’t be happier to fill the role.

“I was shocked at both decisions, to be honest,” Land said. “Whatever it is they saw in me, I’m glad they did. I was just eager to prove myself, and that was a big question in my head – whether I could get 300 guys to listen to me knowing that I hadn’t really been successful in the ring.”

Though it wasn’t clear to Land why he was appointed to lead the program after his performance in last year’s Bengal Bouts, others, like senior captain Lawrence Sullivan, don’t have much trouble pinpointing Land’s out-of-ring abilities.

“The amount of time he spends, whether it be on improving his own boxing or the way the program is run, is just overwhelming,” Sullivan said. “To be able to juggle all of that with academics is just a testament to his skills as a manager.”

Land said his main role as president is to “serve as an open passageway of information” between a program that relies on a large group of people – from the boxers themselves, to a support staff composed of student managers, alumni volunteers and RecSports employees.

“When they tell you about the position, [the outgoing senior captains] say it’s your turn to run the show,” Land said. “But really, I don’t run the show at all. We have so many managers that work behind the scenes and do everything so that when fight night comes, we don’t have to worry about anything. It’s almost a clockwork machine.”

A change for the better

As smoothly as the program runs, Land’s term included a new wrinkle. For the first time, both the preliminary and quarterfinal rounds were held in two rings, not one – a decision and transition in which Land played a crucial part.

The brainstorming process began at the end of last year “because the strength of the program has been growing tremendously in numbers,” Land said.

With those growing numbers, though, comes a struggle to accommodate not just the fighters, but those who care for them.

“It was a thing where doctors are here for five, six, even seven hours a night when we’re doing just one single ring – then after they do check-ups here, they’d go back to the office and have boxers come in if they have concussions,” Land said. “It was really to kind of help out everybody in the boxing program who has helped us out so much, being able to do them a favor.”

The boxing program needed a favor of its own, though, to get the plan off the ground. A pair of Bengal Bout alums, Terry Johnson and Tom Suddes, answered the call by donating an additional boxing ring.

“They are the big forces behind the program organization-wise,” Land said. “They were the brains of the operation as far as getting a different-sounding bell [for the second ring]. It was just a lot of people’s ideas and suggestions, and it worked smoother than I ever could have imagined.”

Though Land is always quick to divert praise for the program’s success, others believe it’s no coincidence that it has flourished under his watchful eye.

“[Running two rings] goes to his ability to work with people and really be on top of things, to care for the details to make sure things get locked down,” Sullivan said. “He’s just an awesome kid … really easy to work with.”

While Land has been able to avoid “any big bumps” in his year-long stint as president, he is constantly receiving feedback, combining what he hears with what he feels is best for the program.

“There’s always problems and there’s always complaints, especially when you’ve got 200 guys boxing, so you have to take those and listen to them as constructive criticism, change what you can and what you think you should, and then move on,” Land said. “It’s hard to pinpoint one [complaint], but probably running, or push-ups, or arm circles – those are complaints we got on conditioning. But then at the end of fights, [fighters] are … thanking us for it, so it’s a little cycle like that.”

An educational experience

As president, much of the responsibility of teaching novice boxers the ropes falls on Land. It’s not all about jabs, hooks and haymakers, though.

“[The training] goes incredibly beyond boxing,” he said. “Besides teamwork and discipline, it’s such a competitive environment, such a unique environment, to be a part of a team in an individual sport. Being a friend in that competitive environment, being a leader in that competitive environment, and being a coach when you’re coaching people who are eventually going to beat you in the tournament – it’s challenging.”

Land’s point is made clear by the end of his run in this year’s tournament. Land was defeated in the quarterfinals by Scott Whalen – a freshman whose first boxing experience came this fall under Land’s guidance.

“I’d say he was an integral part in my development as a boxer, from learning the fundamentals to improving on my technique,” Whalen said. “He has been a really good role model throughout all of training, and without his help, I wouldn’t have made it as far in the tournament or enjoy boxing as I much as I have.”

Land hasn’t just been a teacher; he’s a student of the program as well.

“I hate to knock Notre Dame’s academics at all, but this has been the biggest learning I’ve ever had, period: high school, grade school, kindergarten, whatever,” he said. “This is it. Being in charge of and responsible for turning so many guys into boxers and successful people – well no, I don’t do that; they come to us like that. Our job is just to give them something to shoot for.

“Bengal Bouts has taught me that the real world is a competitive environment itself, so I’ll get used to that and hopefully carry on what I’ve learned here as far as building relationships to maintain them and grow them in the real world.”

Though the relationships he has forged through the program, especially with his fellow senior captains, have been priceless, the attitude Bengal Bouts helped to instill in Land as an individual is now a defining trait of his character.

“The No. 1 thing boxing has taught me is about challenging myself,” Land said. “There’s a lot of things that we do in Bengal Bouts that if you say it or write it on paper, you think, ‘Oh, absolutely not, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do that’. It’s all about challenging yourself, setting that goal, and just going for it.

“Bengal Bouts has taught me to challenge myself, whether it’s academically, in the boxing room, in the weight room, or on the road running. Anywhere it is, set that challenge, try to beat it, then set another one higher.”

Land has already applied that concept during his time as a Notre Dame student. He graduated in December and is currently enrolled in the Mendoza College of Business’s Master of Science in Accountancy program, from which he expects to receive his degree next December.

To graduate early (in three and a half years), Land took 18 credit hours this past fall to go along with the 19.5 credit hours he took in both the fall and spring semesters of his junior year – all while running one of the biggest, most widely recognized clubs on campus.

But rather than view his two major commitments – his pursuit of a graduate degree and his responsibilities as boxing club president – as conflicting, he sees them as having a somewhat complementary role.

“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own company along down the road after getting some savings together,” Land said. “And this has been a great experience in being in charge and has proven to me that it’s possible, you can definitely do it. It’s given me the relationship skills and the people skills to know that I can.”