Last Thursday, the UCLA club boxing team took part in a tournament of firsts: the first-ever national tournament of the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association, which was also the first national collegiate event to recognize a female champion.
Among the competitors who came together at the University of San Francisco to contend for this inaugural title were third-year communications student Rachel Luba and third-year philosophy student Mei-Le Keck.
“Women have been competing in college, but this is the first year that they are getting any recognition,” said UCLA boxing coach Ramon Espada. “It’s an opportunity for (Luba and Keck) to make a mark.”
Espada, who is also the marketing director of the USIBA, said the organization was created primarily because women had previously been excluded from national competitions.
At the end of this weekend of firsts, both Keck and Luba placed third in their respective divisions – results they said were more than satisfactory given their limited experience.
“It was my first fight ever officially competing, so I was pretty happy,” Luba said.
But firsts are nothing new for the two boxers. They are also two of the first three women ever to compete for UCLA’s boxing team – and to Luba and Keck, the chance to contend for a title is part of the sport’s appeal.
“It was long overdue in my opinion, but I’m stoked about it,” Keck said.
Despite the pressure of participating in an unprecedented event, both female boxers said they concentrated on remaining poised and confident for their individual fights.
“I was just focusing on what I had to do and not hyping it up. I just needed to go in, do what I know how to do, put up a good fight and see what (happened),” Luba said.
Luba said that the new aspect of tournament competition only added to the appeal, offering more of a thrill for the self-described adrenaline junkie.
Despite the landmark event, Keck was quick to point out that the spirit of boxing has always been enjoyable for her.
“The setting of boxing is so different from anything else. Everyone is so nice and respectful, but as soon as you get in the ring all emotions come out and it’s just crazy and hectic,” Keck said.
With the thrill of competition in their blood, both boxers said they are eager to start training again – despite the fact that boxing’s demanding nature necessitates competing less often.
And though these Bruins may not know exactly when they’ll compete again, fighters and coaches alike said the changes to collegiate boxing are very promising for the sport as a whole.
“This organization was created to make things right,” Espada said of the USIBA.
“I think it’s a great thing for boxing.”
Source: Sam Demello, DailyBruin