The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Bengal Bouts: Co-president hopes to leave legacy from time in Bouts

Jared Jedick | Friday, February 26, 2010

For co-president Chris Cugliari, the Bengal Bouts are all about passion for boxing, vision into the future and the development of young men beyond even their own expectations.

Nothing is more satisfying to Cugliari than to watch a fighter change from a scared young freshman, full of doubts, into a self-confident man ready to face the challenges of life.

“I have seen a lot of people come down here in their first couple days and be very nervous, but I have never seen someone step out of the ring at the end of the process without a smile on his face,” Cugliari said.

The Bouts are about teaching, and that is the common thread which drives Cugliari in everything he does for the program, from researching new techniques and training methods to passing on life lessons.

“You have 18- to 22-year-old kids come in here, and some of them might have self-doubts, or things about themselves that they are just unsure about,” Cugliari said. “And they come down here and they have the huge challenge of going through a rigorous training program and stepping through the ropes in front of hundreds of people and putting it all on the line. And that says a lot about their growth and character development throughout the process.”

Cugliari first got involved in the Bouts when he heard about it from his cousin, Michael Kane. Cugliari entered into the program as a freshman in 2007 and excelled beyond even his own expectations, making it to the final round and being named Freshman Boxer of the Year.

“That is what really got me hooked,” Cugliari said. “I found a sport here at Notre Dame that I not only really enjoyed doing and training for, but it was something I picked up on pretty quickly and was successful at.”

Hailing from Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Cugliari played football throughout his high school career. Finding a sport that he could excel at became important to the undersized Cugliari, who did not have the physical build to play football at the college level. In boxing, Cugliari was able to find his niche.

“I wanted something that could fulfill my competitive drive, something I could spend time on, and just compete here at Notre Dame,” Cugliari said.

And compete he did, rising quickly through the ranks of the Bengal Bouts’ hierarchy, becoming only one of two junior captains last year, along with current co-president Pat Burns. Cugliari said he believed it was a great opportunity to get some leadership experience and to learn how to teach boxing.

As co-president this year, Cugliari made it his mission to push the Bouts to take a step up in terms of the technical boxing aspect.

“I really wanted us to step it up a notch in terms of what we were teaching, how we were training,” he said. “Not to say that in the past it was bad, but the sport had modernized a lot, but I wanted the Bengal Bouts to take a step up.”

To achieve this goal, Cugliari wanted everything from a training standpoint to be done with the primary purpose of developing the fighters into better boxers. You did not condition simply to condition, Cugliari reasoned, but to improve your performance in the ring.

To bring these fresh new ideas into the program, Cugliari made it the mission of his captains to learn all they could about the sport of boxing.

“We just encouraged everyone to go out and learn as much as possible, to bring it back to the Bouts, and really share it with the entire program,” Cugliari said. “A lot of stuff may not take effect right now, but hopefully in a couple years their impact will be felt.”

Two boxing mentors shaped Cugliari’s experience: friend and training partner Mike Lee and personal trainer Paul Scianna.

Lee, a 2009 captain and three-year champion who has since signed a professional boxing contract, provided Cugliari with an insight into what it takes to be a great boxer.

“I just think that Mike and I just share a great love for boxing, and so when I was able to work out with him this summer, I cannot thank him enough for all he was able to expose me to,” Cugliari said.

Scianna has been Cugliari’s personal boxing coach for several years, and Cugliari said that his secondhand effect on the Bengal Bouts has been substantial.

But Cugliari said his greatest influences in his life are his family. His parents have always taught him to set goals in life and to make a difference.

“My father raised us with this idea that we need to dedicate yourself to something, you need to find a reason to get out of your dorm room everyday and get active in society,” Cugliari said. 

The other great influences in his life are his brother Brian and sister Meghan. Cugliari defines his role as their older brother as setting an example of responsibility and kindness for them to follow.

No greater example can be found, he said, than in the Bengal Bouts’ dedication to supporting the Holy Cross mission in Bangladesh.

“This is not a fight between two boxers, this is a fight between two nations trying to end poverty,” Cugliari said. “You can really see that these people have taken it upon themselves to really strive to better themselves.”

If Cugliari could leave only one thing behind, it would be that he helped people succeed.

“I hope that my legacy would be that there are a handful of guys in the program right now who will be able to look back a few years from now and say to themselves, ‘I’ve seen myself grow as a person, and I have seen myself overcome these challenges, and I can thank someone like Chris Cugliari as someone who showed me that I can overcome the boundaries in my life,'” he said.