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The Revival of Collegiate Boxing

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I walk into a matted room on a Wednesday evening inside the Intramural Activities Building, a fitness facility for the University of Washington student body. Inside are a couple dozen student-fighters strapped with headgear and handwraps moving in circular unison to train their footwork. They are the University of Washington Boxing Team, a squad of fighters that formed five years ago and is the Northwest’s bid to bring boxing back to its collegiate heyday.

College boxing was once followed as closely as its professional counterparts, much like how NCAA basketball and football have held a committed following outside of the NFL and the NBA. The famed example goes back to March 29th, 1940, where Joe Louis defended his heavyweight crown against Johnny Paycheck in front of a crowd of 11,620.

On that same night, over 15,000 spectators tuned in to watch the pugilists of Washington State face off against the University of Wisconsin, proving that collegiate boxing viewership operated on an even, if not greater, level as the professional ranks. The sport enjoyed a firm following until 1960 when Charlie Mohr of the legendary University of Wisconsin squad died in the hospital after suffering a KO loss. Though studies have suggested his death to be caused by unrelated pre-boxing conditions, a ban was put on nonetheless.

Sixteen years later years, boxing reemerged onto the college landscape, though nowhere near its former heights of notoriety, as today most of the public is not even aware that boxing continues to be a collegiate sport. Part of that is due to the general decline of the sport. The other is because it is no longer sanctioned under the traditionally recognized NCAA and instead operates under the sport specific banner of the National College Boxing Association (NCBA) and later the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association (USIBA) in 2012. Between the two the organizations, almost 80 universities have reinstated boxing into their athletic curriculum, and about five years ago, the University of Washington joined what seems to be a growing list of competing universities.

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Boxing Outclasses the Competition at Shippensburg University

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A looping left hook from Haziz Self landed flush to his opponent’s jaw, buckling his knees as the referee stepped in to signal that the fight was over.

The third-round TKO brought the roaring crowd to its feet, highlighting a wildly successful annual event held by the Shippensburg University boxing team this past Saturday from Henderson Gymnasium.

“Overall I am very happy about the event,” Shippensburg coach Travis Wylie said. “I thought it went great for my fighters. Winning 5 out of 7 matches was impressive, and even our 2 losses were close but my fighters just ran out of steam.”

Twenty fights were scheduled, and seven schools came out to compete in the annual event. Fighters from Army, Navy, Penn State, West Virginia University, Lock Haven University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the Miami University of Ohio participated along with SU.

Five out of seven fighters for Shippensburg won their fights; the two that lost had never set foot in the ring before. All of the Raiders’ heavy hitters won their events, including an upset by senior Emily Appleman over national champion Shannon Reilley in the main event.

From the first punch thrown it was clear that the SU boxing club had put together something special for its fans. The fighters looked concentrated as they went through their warm-up routines, and the energetic crowd loudly voiced its approval as the fights commenced.

The first Raider to take the ring was female fighter Ada Ibe, fighting at 139 pounds against Navy boxer Portia Norkatis. Ibe, who battled hard in her first career match, came out in a fast-paced first round but looked fatigued by the final period and ultimately dropped the decision to her opponent.

Nafis Brown also debuted in the event, fighting at 130 pounds. As the crowd screamed his name the elusive boxer used great footwork and head movement to keep his opponent, UMass’s Andrew Cho, off balance. Brown ultimately lost the match, but showed heart and battled until the end despite showing signs of fatigue.
From that point on the Raiders did not drop a single fight.

Sophomore Brett Pastore was the third and final Raider to make his ring debut, taking on LHU’s Tim Ford three fights later. Pastore currently wrestles for Shippensburg, and has a background in Jiu-Jitsu. His fighting background clearly aided him, as he demonstrated excellent cardio and good ring awareness. His wrestling team fans screamed their approval as he scored a knockdown in the third round and backed his opponent into the ropes, pounding him with body shots as time expired. The judges awarded him the decision at 165 pounds.

“Brett impressed me because he boxed a very smart match and listened to everything I said in the corner,” Wylie said. “He made his first fight against an undefeated Army guy and looked like he was an open class fighter. I knew the guy he was fighting was tough and it wasn’t going to be easy, but he lived up to my expectations and executed great on fight night.” [click to continue…]