Boxing is a peculiar sport. It has the potential to both fly remarkably under the radar and create some of sports’ grandest spectacles. The excitement surrounding the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight is something few people can forget. And yet, a large portion of its observants most likely went on not caring about boxing by the very next week.
But for some, boxing is much more than yet another spectator sport to use as an excuse to throw a watch party. Specifically, those who choose to spend their time at the UW Natatorium as part of the UW club boxing team take a deep dive into the world of competitive boxing. Club president Samuel Parmentier described the dedication it takes to be a part of the competition-level boxers on the team.
“You have to watch your eating. You have to be exercising everyday. You have to be training every week,” Parmentier said. “If you slip up for one weekend — which is really easy to do in college — then you lose it all.”
For those who carry on the boxing tradition here in Madison, that competitive drive to succeed is unceasing. And carry on a large tradition they must. While the last official NCAA boxing championships were held in 1960, Wisconsin cemented itself as the greatest collegiate boxing competitor in American history. They currently hold eight national boxing titles. The next closest school, the University of Idaho, has just three.
Even with such a storied tradition of collegiate boxing in Madison, the club team is an extremely recent revival of the sport on campus. In fact, the team got its start in just 2013.
“Our program started back up in 2013. We had a student here at the university who realized there wasn’t a boxing club and knew about the rich history we had in boxing,” Parmentier said. “So, he ended up starting the club back up.”
The boxing legacy of Wisconsin lives on with the club boxing team even if the team is still early in its stages of growth. But even in a short time frame, the team has been extremely successful in revamping the program to begin to compete on the national level.
Parmentier described that the first time they were able to send boxers to a competition against other schools was a year or two ago. Even as the team enters its early stages of national competition, the interest in and participation with the club has grown at an astounding rate. Club Secretary and sophomore Jerry Ding described how the club has changed since he first joined.
“When I first joined, that was first semester of freshman year, I’d say it was maybe a little less, but there was still a lot,” Ding said. “Even though we’re really young, we noticed that we’re growing a lot and we have a lot of new plans moving forward, especially as club officers.”
In fact, the club has grown to an astronomical 300 members in just the six years it has existed. An explosion in membership of that scale is driven by the club’s ability to both effectively promote itself as well as offer a unique look into the world of boxing for those who are often entirely inexperienced in the sport.
Hector Aviles, a current club member and competition boxer, touched upon how everyone who has even a slight interest in boxing is welcome to come and see if the club is right for them. There is no requirement to compete if that’s not what a member wants to get out of the club.
“One draw that we have, well, besides the competing boxers such as myself and Sam, is you don’t have to compete. If you want to just learn how to punch and just get good cardio in, you can in boxing. We don’t force anyone to compete,” Aviles said. “If you just love the atmosphere there is no problem with that.”
With a ballpark 300 members participating but only a dozen maximum competition fighters, it is clear the interest to train in boxing is there. Even if these participants don’t compete with fellow boxers from other schools, learning the sport and developing a love for it is just as valid of a reason to join up with the UW club boxing team.
While the majority of their members may be non-competition trainees, the team is currently in the process of developing its ability to compete across the nation.
“I think we’re really trying to transition towards being more competition oriented,” Parmentier said. “But I never want to lose the aspect of the club that allows people that don’t want to compete to be a part of it.”
Even with a still-forming competition aspect of the club, the dangers of boxing are certainly still present. In the final edition of the NCAA championships, a Wisconsin boxer, Charlie Mohr, collapsed and died due to a brain hemorrhage one week after the competition. The legacy of Wisconsin’s accomplishments in the sport remain, but so does its legacy of danger.
The club boxing team takes every precaution to make sure those who choose to train with them are experienced enough to enter into the ring if they choose to do so. Team members must follow a rigorous, established process to reach the point where they can spar with teammates, let alone compete against other schools.
“[Sparring] is at the intermediate level and that’s after the first semester. That’s when, if you want to get in the ring, you can get in the ring,” Aviles said.
Even if you want to spar with another member of the club — which itself is less intensive than competitive boxing — you must first undergo a full semester of practices and training. That semester includes learning the fundamentals of boxing to ensure each and every member is prepared to step into the ring.
“First, it’s obviously learning all of the basics and then the most you can do at the end of the semester is dutch. [Dutch] is similar to sparring but with minimal power. You’re definitely very prepared after the first semester,” Ding said.
With a wide variety of skill sets joining to train as well as plenty of opportunities for regulated competition, the club boxing team makes an appealing offer to those who seek to find a competitive spirit while in college. With membership in the hundreds, it certainly seems to be an effective offer.
This team has big shoes to fill given the legacy of Wisconsin boxing. In their just six years of existence, they have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the landscape of collegiate athletic competition here in Madison and are on their way to filling those shoes.
The NCAA will most likely never recognize boxing as an official collegiate sport again, but the team seems to be doing quite well without the benefit of scholarships or any of the other perks that come with being a varsity sport on campus. But they don’t need any of those things. For the dedicated members of the club, it’s the competition boxing provides that keeps them coming back.
Ultimately, it’s the camaraderie forged in the ring that drives members to push their bodies and their minds to the limit in order to triumph over an opponent. Boxing is a pure sport, and those who practice it as a member of the UW club team do so for the purest of reasons.