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Johnny Link learned from scratch how to box. Now, he’s at the forefront of the club’s fundraising goals

| Thursday, February 13, 2020

For senior Bengal Bouts captain and Westfield, New Jersey native Johnny Link, his boxing career started during his freshman year.

Like many members of the Notre Dame men’s boxing club, Link arrived on campus with an athletic past but limited boxing experience. But with a will to stay active and compete, Link joined some of his dorm mates in attending the first Bengal Bouts practice of the 2016-2017 season.

From there, he was hooked.

Nola Wallace | The Observer
Senior captain Johnny Link warms up on a dummy during a Bengal Bouts training session on Feb. 6 at the Joyce Center

“I didn’t know much about boxing at all, I didn’t even know that Notre Dame had a program, much like a lot of the members of the club,” he said. “But I was introduced to it by some friends in my dorm who knew I liked to play sports and wanted to stay fit somehow. I went to the first workout just expecting to get a good workout in, and I immediately fell in love with the camaraderie.

“From day one, I could tell that this club was, at its core, run by the junior and senior captains who just demonstrated incredible leadership in terms of running the workouts, teaching the technique, which was necessary for us to learn how to box from scratch. I never turned back from there — I fell in love with the community.”

But despite a newfound passion, things didn’t come so easy in the actual bouts for the eager-novice Link. The eventual captain lost in the first round, walking away from his first season without a win. But for Link, the trials of Bengal Bouts left nothing but positive feelings.

“Freshman year I lost in the first round [and] 0-1 was my record after a year of boxing, but I had no regrets,” he said. “It was the best experience of my entire life. It was weird walking away after losing my first ever bout with an attitude of, that was the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life, I can’t wait to start next year and I’m so proud of everything this team did this season.”

Expectedly, Link came back poised for success his sophomore year, a year in which he not only managed to prove himself in the ring during one of his most memorable bouts, but also come to a full understanding of the club’s pride.

“Sophomore year during the quarterfinals, I was up against a really good boxer. The week leading up to the tournament, everyone had told me that I would probably lose,” he said. “He wasn’t a captain, but he was a senior and he was extremely talented. He worked harder than most people in the club, and I was lower in the seeding.

“But, the experience of having all of my friends there … and the amount of respect we had for each other after the bout, even though I edged him out in a split decision — it all just went to show that the club was a family.”

Link decided to study abroad during his junior year, missing the Bouts in the spring, and with such a decision came certain reservations about his fitness for a leadership role within the club. He had dreamed of being a captain since the start. But Link’s peers didn’t hold the same reservations about Link’s commitment that Link himself did, so he was given the opportunity to assume a captain position in his senior year.

“I’d always dreamt of being a captain as a senior, but honestly I was a little nervous that I hadn’t shown the commitment to the team, the commitment to the fundraising that was necessary as a freshman and sophomore,” he said. “And then, with going abroad, I really didn’t think I had shown the commitment to the club to be qualified as a captain.

“Lucky enough, a couple of guys vouched for me I guess, and since being named a captain, it’s been the most humbling experience. I’ve really learned to buy into the club, buy into the mission, and I never thought it’d be such a fulfilling experience.”

With this change in position came a change in mindset for Link, who’s focus has shifted to others within the club as well as the fundraising mission.

“The focus is just so much less on yourself [as a captain]. While you do have to find time to work on your own personal development, you realize that the club is much more so about the greater cause — the missions in Bangladesh,” he said. “I think a lot more about where our fundraising numbers are as a club, our goal of $200,000 dollars, our progress in reaching that goal and all of the different components of that than I ever have before.“

This goal is clearly at the forefront of Link’s mind, as he made a pitch for the 90th Bengal Bouts reunion event following the upcoming bouts. Alumni, family and friends are invited to a reception in the Foley’s lounge in the Notre Dame Stadium to honor the anniversary of the bouts.

“Being that it’s the 90th year, not only is there an expectation to fundraise for the sake of this team and compete for the sake of this team, but there’s the expectation and the honor of being able to raise money on behalf of 90 years of Bengal Bouts fighters,” he said.

Men’s boxing at Notre Dame has managed to take a largely individual sport and turn it into a profoundly impactful community experience, Link believes.

“That was not something which I expected going into it freshman year,” he said. “But if you‘re looking for something to buy into, to be a part of, meet some brothers that you’ll know for the rest of your life — this is the place.”

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