72nd annual Bengal Bouts begins tonight at 7 p.m.
By MIKE CONNOLLY
Jim Christoforetti has been dreaming about a short walk for almost eight years.
Ever since the freshman from McMurray, Pa. watched his brother John win three titles in 1995, '96 and '97, he has waited for his chance to step into the ring.
"I'd imagined it and envisioned it," Christoforetti said. "It was sort of one of those childhood dreams. It seems weird that [tonight] it's going to come true when I step into the ring."
Christoforetti is one of many first time boxers who will step into the ring tonight when the 72nd Bengal Bouts begin in the Joyce Center at 5 p.m.
The first-time boxers have many different reasons for wanting to fight but for Christoforetti, the Bengal Bouts were the main reason he came to Notre Dame. As soon as he stepped on campus, he signed up to fight.
"The second day I was here, I came on campus and went into the boxing room and signed up for it," he said.
Although Christoforetti had never boxed before, he was a veteran of hand to hand combat. In addition to watching his brother win three titles, he has also taken kick-boxing lessons for five years. He said the techniques and strategies are different in kick boxing but it did teach him one important lesson: how to take a punch.
"I am used to fighting somewhat," he said. "It's a new kind of fighting and a different technique but it never hurts to have fought someone before."
Not all the first time fighters have that experience. Sophomore Douglas Pope had never even been in a playground scuffle before he signed up for the Bouts at Activities Night.
"I am usually quite a pacifist," Pope said.
So when Pope first got popped in the face, he was stunned.
"It was a real wake up call," Pope said. "I've never been in a fight before. It was a real shocker."
Freshman John Baker had a similar reaction to his first good shot to the head.
"It was kind of funny," Baker said. "I just kind of stood there for a moment and thought `what did I get myself into?'"
After five spars, however, the shock of getting punched has worn off but the pain remains.
"It hurts a little more," Pope said. "My nose hurts a little more than I thought it would."
Pope has also been forced to battle his natural instincts in the ring. When the instinctive fight or flight reaction kicks in, Pope's first thought was flight. But now he has to fight.
"It's sort of fighting your natural tendencies that you body has to just start flailing your arms and protecting your face," Pope said. "You can't do that. I think I've gotten better through sparring."
Although many first-time fighters are freshmen or sophomores, there are several seniors stepping into the ring for the first time. After watching the Bouts from the stands for four years, they weren't going to let their Notre Dame career pass by without stepping into the ring.
"It was my last year at Notre Dame and I just wanted to be a part of it," said Kevin Conoscenti who has two roommates who fought in the Bouts before.
The experience of training and working out with the club is more important to Conoscenti than whether he wins or loses tonight.
"If you don't enjoy training, it's not worth it," he said. "You are going to be in the ring for possibly 30 seconds. I've enjoyed the training and doing something that is a big tradition and for a good cause."
Many of the first year boxers expressed nervousness about fighting in front of a large crowd. Baker said he just hoped he didn't look foolish tonight.
"Am I worried about completely embarrassing myself?" he said with a laugh. "Yes but hopefully that won't happen."
The most important thing for first year fighters to remember, two-time champion and captain Mark Criniti said, is to enjoy the experience.
"They are never going to have another opportunity like this after they graduate," Criniti said.
The most important piece of advice that Christoforetti got from his champion brother had nothing to do with technique or strategy.
"He suggested that I go to the grotto and pray and just enjoy it for what it is," he said. "Whatever happens in the fight, just appreciate the experience and enjoy it rather than focusing on winning and losing."
All Sports Stories for Friday, February 22, 2002