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Bengal Bouts: Villalba refocuses on training after championship loss

Matt Gamber | Friday, February 27, 2009

So much for summer break.

After losing to his now-fellow senior captain Mike Lee in the 176-pound division title fight last year, Andres Villalba rededicated himself to perfecting his technique during the summer months back home in New Mexico.

“I just tried to fine-tune everything I’d learned in years past,” said Villalba, who will face Bernardo Garcia in the 170-pound final Saturday. “It doesn’t take that long to learn the basics – hands up, knees bent, stuff like that – but it really takes a long time to find your niche, to define the style of boxing you’re going to do.”

Villalba even went toe-to-toe with a professional, sparring in an Albuquerque gym with a boxer who had delivered three knockouts in three career fights.

“That helped a lot because it’s not the same when you’re not actually getting punches thrown at you,” Villalba said.

Villalba’s training program included morning runs and mid-afternoon lifts designed, he said, to add weight for interhall football. He had never received any boxing training outside of that provided in Bengal Bouts practice, and Villalba said the strict regimen improved his footwork, head movement and endurance.

“I think it’s safe to say that last year I was a little bit more raw. I threw a lot of big punches and didn’t pick my spots,” Villalba said. “I think I do a much better job this year of keeping my eyes up and seeing the punches come and doing a lot of place with my punches. I try to be more effective and waste less energy so I can step it up each round instead of tapering down.”

Villalba’s development in the ring from last year to this year mirrored that he made in wrestling in high school.

“The same thing happened with that – the transition from junior to senior year was a big step for me,” said Villalba, who finished seventh in the state as a senior. “I was really raw my junior year, really trying to overpower people, and my senior year I transitioned into more of a technical wrestler, kind of the same thing I did with boxing.”

His father was a two-time state champion wrestler in Arizona, so Villalba had been around that sport from a young age. His experience on the mat helped him make the switch into the ring.

“With wrestling it’s a lot of balance, so I had a lot of the footwork when I transitioned over to boxing,” Villalba said.

Though he’d never done any organized boxing before arriving at Notre Dame, Villalba had put on the gloves and thrown some punches at least once before.

“At home in my room, I have a picture when I’m about six years old,” Villalba said. “Me and my cousin are in my backyard with boxing gloves on and we’re hitting each other.”

Villalba hopes he’ll leave the ring Saturday night with a Bengal Bouts title, but either way, he said boxing will be one thing he carries with him when he leaves.

“I think it’s something I can do as long as I have a punching bag at home,” Villalba said. “I’ve been a competitor my whole life starting probably with tee-ball and Pop Warner [football], so I don’t know what I’ll do after I graduate. I’m going to have to get hit somehow.”