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.