Abdelnour seeks first Bengal Bouts title
By ANDREW SOUKUP
Three years ago, Dennis Abdelnour stepped into the boxing ring as a wide-eyed freshman and stared at his opponent in the other corner — senior co-captain Fred Kelly.
It would be nice to say that the young underdog upset the defending champion in his Bengal Bouts debut. But as Abdelnour will readily say, that didn't come anywhere close to happening.
"I got out of the ring and felt I got beat up, destroyed, and made a fool out of," he said.
It took an unexpected comment to jolt the freshman out of his disappointment — a comment that Abdelnour still remembers three years after his first fight.
"The first thing someone said after that fight was, `You did unbelievable," even after I took a beating," he said. "It really surprised me. I guess everyone was just really proud."
At that moment, Abdelnour realized that fighting in the Bengal Bouts was more than just a charity boxing tournament or a fight with another boxer.
It was a measure of inner strength.
"I wanted to get in there and prove to myself and prove to everyone else that I wasn't just a bum," he said. "I wanted to prove that I could stand in there with the best and stay standing - and I did."
Abdelnour so impressed Kelly that he got a phone call later that night from the senior.
"I was still a little dejected, but Kelly called me and said, `Hey, listen, you did a great job. I hope you come back next year.' It was then that I realized that I've got to work if I want to succeed," Abdelnour said. "I think that's been my attitude that year and every year after."
He's certainly come a long way since he showed up to boxing practice as a tall, skinny freshman. Abdelnour, who is left-handed, didn't even have a jab or any strength in his right hand for that matter. He spent the next six weeks training hard and improving his technique.
But that didn't make getting in the ring for his first match any easier.
"I had only been boxing for six weeks. I just didn't know what was going to happen," he said. "Every year, it's just as hard to get in the ring in front of all those people."
Although Kelly beat him solidly, Abdelnour didn't get disappointed. He had already fallen in love with the positive. The uplifting response from his fellow boxers and the Kelly's phone call inspired him to stick with Bengal Bouts for the rest of his life at Notre Dame.
Abdelnour was looking forward to his second season of competition when a stress fracture in his left arm — he thinks it was from hitting the punching bag too hard — knocked him out of the charity tournament.
"I kept training with it, and a few days before it started, I tried sparring with J.R. [Mellin, one of last year's captains]," he said. "I couldn't use my hand to block, and right then, I knew it wasn't going to happen."
Even though Abdelnour couldn't fight, he gained something more useful to him as a boxer.
"I think it was that year that I developed my right hand as a weapon," he said. "I couldn't use my left hand for much."
For Abdelnour, what hurt worse than his stress fracture was the pain of feeling that he might have hurt his chances for something far more prestigious than a Bengal Bouts title — the honor of being named a captain of the boxing club. At the end of the season, three captains were named — and Abdelnour wasn't among them.
Abdelnour and some of his friends spent the fall semester of his junior year studying in London, but he knew that if he wanted to be a captain, he would have to work harder than he ever had before.
This included maintaining his fitness level and keeping up with his training in England.
"If I came out my junior year and showed them my dedication and my junior year, they'd have no choice but to pick me," he said. "It was something I'd wanted since day one."
Although he was living an ocean away from Notre Dame, that didn't stop Abdelnour from thinking about boxing. He was determined to be a captain.
"They picked three captains," he said, "and I really felt they saved that last spot for me."
Abdelnour's work ethic and improvement caught the eye of the boxing club. Although he lost in the finals of the 165-pound weight class last year to Mellin — who Abdelnour called "the best boxer in the club" — didn't get upset about the loss. As he said, "I know it was a great fight and I've been feeding off that."
His hard work paid off as he joined Josh Thompson, Brian Hobbins, and Peter Ryan as one of the four senior captains of this year's squad. And the senior knows the responsibility that comes with the leadership role.
Abdelnour, who is competing in the 160-pound weight class this year, is hungry for his first title, but he knows that there is only a certain amount he can do to win. And as he will quickly tell you, the most difficult thing about boxing isn't about beating your opponent.
The real battle is just getting into the ring in the first place.
"When I was a freshmen, getting in the ring was one of the hardest things to do," he said. "When I got out, it made me stronger."
For those who are able to step into the ring, he says, the personal rewards will be well worth the struggle.
"When you come out all your friends are looking at you not because you lost, but because you got in there in the first place," Abdelnour said.
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, February 28, 2001