After being banned on campus for almost 54 years following a student’s death, boxing is making its return to the University of Wisconsin.
Boxing was one of the most popular UW sports through the 1960s, and the university won eight national championships when no other school had won more than five. Second only to football, boxing matches drew crowds of 10,000-plus students, and UW quickly became a national powerhouse.
On April 9, 1960, reigning national champion Charlie Mohr, a UW student, climbed into the ring in the Field House to defend his NCAA title. After winning the first round, the fight was stopped when Mohr looked like he could no longer defend himself after a severe blow in the second round.
Mohr left for the locker room, where he began convulsing and was rushed to the hospital. Doctors found a blood clot and a tear in a major vein of his brain and despite stopping the bleeding, he fell into a coma.
Mohr died on April 17, 1960 from the detached blood vessel he received during the fight.
A little more than a month after Mohr’s death, UW eliminated varsity boxing as a sport on campus. The NCAA followed suit in January 1961 with a vote to stop sanctioning the sport.
Decades later, Chandler Davis, a UW junior and amateur boxer, has successfully reincarnated boxing on the UW campus, starting an off-campus boxing club for students that practices at Ford’s Gym.
While digging through the university’s archives, Davis said he discovered the boxing ban and realized it did not apply to club sports. Davis began to petition for a return of boxing to campus, and Recreational Sports approved the club in December.
Aaron Hobson, assistant director of Rec Sports, said the body would not have supported the club if officials did not think it was safe.
Davis said the club will have to take numerous safety measures and precautions. Students will only practice under the supervision of two highly-experienced coaches and sparring between students will not occur unless the coaches feel students are prepared and capable of participating, he said.
Davis said boxing deserves its place on campus, despite the high risk associated with the sport. Students must be “approved” for sparring and cannot simply walk in and decide they want to spar, he said.
Darian Chavira, a UW senior and member of the boxing club, described boxing as a “controlled sport.”
“No sport is completely safe,” Chavira said. “Football is scientifically more dangerous. There are more head injuries in football than there are in boxing.”
Holly Hovanec, a UW senior and captain of the women’s lacrosse team, said she supports the inclusion of the Boxing Club as a recreational sport on campus.
The sport inflicts less harm than other popular sports, Hovanac said. Most people prefer to work on punching bags as opposed to sparring with another person, she said.
The Boxing Club is designed for beginning boxers and to introduce students to the world and rules of boxing, Davis said. The club met for the first time Wednesday, with around 25 students in attendance.
The club does not plan on having members participate in National Collegiate Boxing Association competitions, Davis said, although he added that it may be a possibility to have UW boxers compete in the association’s sanctioned events in the future.
“Right now we just want to get kids introduced to boxing. We don’t want to scare them away,” Davis said.