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Bengal Bouts: Motivation and patience drive Burns’ fourth trip to finals

Bill Brink | Friday, February 26, 2010

Sometimes the “science” in “sweet science” goes out the window and chance takes over.

That’s what happened to Pat Burns in last year’s championship bout against Benford Begay. Begay threw out his right shoulder in the first round, relegating his right arm to dead weight. But when he started throwing his right later in the fight, he caught Burns off guard.

“He kept coming over the top of my left hand with that right hand and that’s why I eventually lost the fight,” Burns said.

Burns, a senior captain and co-president of the Bengal Bouts, has made it to the final bout in each of the last three years but has not won a title. And he likes to remind himself of that by watching DVDs of each of his championship losses before he fights.

“I just watch it for the motivation, knowing that if you don’t come out with 100 percent, trying as hard as you can, going to the final bell this is what could happen,” Burns said. “I watch it with that kind of mindset.”

The Michigan City, Ind., native’s path to three straight finals appearances began quietly. His sister Meredith attended Notre Dame and competed in Baraka Bouts, then witnessed the Bengal Bouts spectacle. She recommended he try it when he got here, and he took her up on it.

Burns played soccer and baseball in high school and played Interhall football in the fall of his freshman year, but said he was out of shape when he started Bouts.

“I hadn’t really worked out after high school so it was sort of a perfect thing,” he said.
Burns said he liked the way Bengal Bouts turned an individual sport into a team effort, and he found it funny that the boxers helped each other get better when they might face that same person in the tournament. Dragging his sore body to practice every day was tough, he said, but as he got better it became easier.

“I’m sure there were times on Fridays when I decided not to go in but as I kept going more and more I got more and more motivation to do it and get better,” he said.
The first time he stepped in the ring gave him the biggest adrenaline rush he’s ever felt, he said. The nerves disappeared, however, once he got hit.

“Get hit in the face once, and everything goes away and your body takes over,” he said. “My first fight, it wasn’t pretty, it was a brawl, but after that first fight I knew it was something I wanted to keep doing.”

After his sophomore year, Bengal Bouts president Hunter Land named him and senior Chris Cugliari to be junior captains, something Burns said he was proud of. The new responsibilities of teaching the novices took time away from Burns’ workout, but he said he found quick workouts to do at high intensity to save time.

As a mechanical engineering major taking 16 credits, Burns said being co-president takes good time management skills. He and Cugliari joked separately about the juxtaposition of Cugliari’s 10-credit business course load and Burns’ 16 credits, and Burns said that as a result Cugliari handles more of the administration issues while Burns focuses on training the younger boxers.

When he finally does get in the ring after his duties and class work, his style reflects his personality — calm and level-headed.

“I try to keep control of the fight, I don’t go out and brawl with people,” he said. “If everything is slow and controlled I feel most comfortable.”

“I’ve seen it on numerous occasions where it would seem that Pat’s in a very close fight. It’s almost a battle going on,” Cugliari said. “And then all of a sudden Pat will throw one punch and the fight’ll be over. They stopped and they’ve gone over to check his opponent and his eyeball’s pointing one way or something like that.”

Something similar happened Tuesday in the semifinals against Jason Healy, which Burns won with patience and well-timed aggression. He waited until the third round, when he saw Healy drop his left hand after a jab, then unleashed a flurry of punches that chased Healy around the ring and sealed the fight.

“I told my cornermen I had to throw a billion punches and that’s the only way I was going to win,” he said after the fight.

Burns faces John Tchoula, one of his best friends, in the finals Saturday.

“It’ll be one of those things where we’re messing around with each other right up until we get in the ring,” he said, “and then after the fight it’ll be all over.”