Biggest loss will occur outside the ring
Letter to the Editor
Those of you who attend the 70th annual Bengal Bouts this Friday will see the biggest loss in recent tournament history. That loss will not happen in the ring. The loss is the absence of Edward "El Papoose" Hernandez — last year's 145-pound champion.
Dominic "Nappy" Napolitano started the Bengal Bouts to raise money for the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh and to provide students with the opportunity to box. The boxing club evolved into an organization where student athletes formed a fraternal bond through pushing their physical limits and, in turn, helping those in need.
The annual Bengal Bouts tournament has never been about winning or losing, It is about the pugilist leaving his comfort zone and entering the ring.
Any Bengal boxer will tell you, the fight is internal. It's about overcoming personal fears, expanding physical and mental capabilities and sharing this endeavor with 100 teammates with whom he has trained and competed throughout the year. This, combined with an amazing charity effort, has made the Bengal Bouts one of the greatest sporting traditions on Notre Dame's campus.
The 1999 Bengal Bouts were a coming-out party for freshman prodigy Edward "El Papoose" Hernandez. The Lubbock, Texas, native thrilled fans and fellow boxers alike with his unmatched boxing skills. In his first two fights, he fought calculated and controlled bouts against less-skilled opponents.
Despite Hernandez' unmatched boxing ability, his first fight went all three rounds and his second bout was stopped with less than 10 seconds remaining because of a body shot. In the finals, Hernandez faced junior captain J.R. Mellin.
Mellin was a returning champ and the media hyped the match to great proportions. The fight lived up to its billing as the two Notre Dame gentlemen gave their all. In the end it was the freshman's skill that gave him the unanimous decision. His precision punches and unequalled footwork left the stone-jawed, hard-punching Mellin bloody and smiling as he left the ring. Mellin claims the fight was more satisfying than his championship in 1998.
Amidst the brawls and slugfests of the Bengal Bouts it was apparent that Hernandez had boxing experience prior to coming to Notre Dame. In fact, he has been boxing since the age of eight. While most Notre Dame participants have never boxed before coming to Notre Dame, Hernandez' situation is not unique. Recently, John Christoferetti and Lucas Molina both served as captains of the Notre Dame Boxing Club and both had prior fighting experience.
Much attention was drawn to Hernandez for his past experience in the ring and apparently someone got scared. In return for helping make the 1999 Bengal Bouts the most successful in tournament history, the Notre Dame Boxing Club is not letting Hernandez box in the spring of 2000.
Apparently the exposure given to the Hernandez/Mellin fight and the subsequent media attention on El Papoose's past boxing exploits caught the attention of the high-ups involved with the boxing club. Words like "liability" and "law suit" were whispered between the boxing coaches and the athletic department, and now "El Papoose" will never dance under the lights of the Joyce center again.
This will do terrible wonders for a team that is already disliked by the University administration. By dropping the quality of competition more wild haymakers will send concussion-headed boxers to the canvas. Quality amateur boxing rarely sees a knockdown, but tough-man competitions thrive on novice combatants disregarding their defense and eventually getting knocked out.
The same people who claim to be looking after the boxing club's best interests claim that with boxers like Hernandez mismatches will be prevalent. This is true, it is unlikely that the majority of Bengal boxers can beat someone of Hernandez' ability, but it is also true that each and every Notre Dame boxer could lose to him respectfully.
The Bengal Bouts are not about winning or losing. Hernandez' fights last year demonstrated this. Each opponent went the distance with him. El Papoose did not go looking for a knockout, he did not try to hurt anyone, he simply boxed. His sportsmanship and politeness exceed his boxing skills in quality and that was evident in the ring.
Having people like Hernandez in the boxing program only helps the cause. It brings in donations and increases attendance at the fights. Last year more than 20 fans wore shirts with "El Papoose" boldly printed across the chest. More importantly, Edward helps other boxers. His advice and work ethic encourage those around him to work harder and push their limits.
If you ask any Bengal Bouter he will tell you that he would rather give his all and loose to a reputable boxer like Hernandez than beat a no-name with little effort. Ironically, the people who decided not to let Hernandez box argue that it is the logical decision to keep him out of the ring. What do logic and boxing have to do with each other anyway? Who can argue that it is logical to enter a contest where your opponent is supposed to hit you in the face?
Hernandez choose to apply to Notre Dame because, along with an excellent academic reputation, it had boxing. Now they want to change the rules because of him. The truth is Bengal Bouts needs boxers like Edward — boxers who bring civility, compassion and kindness to a sport marred with problems. Keeping him from boxing will tarnish the program's image, result in a drop in attendance and severely degrade El Papoose's Notre Dame experience.
The Bengal Bouts tradition lives in the students who duck under the ropes as they enter the ring. They face the fears created by the male psyche in order to better themselves. They risk injury to their body and ego to help those in need. The Bengal Bouts are boxing, and boxing is about risks. Every time a boxer slips his gloves on, he is taking a risk.
Now the coaches and administrators should take a risk with the boxers to help continue a great Notre Dame athletic tradition.
2000 Bengal Bouts Captain
February 23, 2000
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