You could have knocked me over with a gentle tap when I realized during the third match at the Notre Dame Bengal Bouts that I was enjoying the bouts.
Despite my dislike of pugilism — how is hurting someone a sport? — I decided it was a crime to miss one of the premier campus sporting events. The Bengal Bouts, now in their 81st year, raise money for Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh.
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My $10 front-row seat at the March 1 semifinals, held in the Joyce Center fieldhouse, got me a padded folding chair and a close view of the ND student boxers doing their best to score points by landing punches. It also got me an updated program, so I knew who was punching whom, a chance to buy such Bengal Bouts items as a T-shirt, hat, shorts, pendants and even a money clip, and, if hunger hit, a nearby concessions stand stocked with hot dogs, nachos and other foods I don’t eat.
The atmosphere was positively electric. The event was unexpectedly entertaining. The announcer wore a tuxedo and did a fine job of dramatically proclaiming the contestants’ names. Before each match, the two boxers walked to the ring swathed in hooded silk robes, escorted by young female students dressed formally in black-and-white. Ah, the fine style of a boxing tournament.
Even the boxers’ chosen nicknames were fun: Colin “The Lion” King; Thomas “The Mean Justifies the” Enzweiler; Brian “The BK Special” Koepsel.
But who needs six weeks of training to compete? The student fans, while not in the ring, fought verbal battles, working to outshout, outscream and outcheer the fans of their favorite’s opponent. Some offered unofficial coaching during the matches: “Just go crazy,” one yelled helpfully. “Keep going — you’re ahead on points,” another shouted when his favorite appeared to be giving up.
A fair number of townies who apparently enjoy the sweet science were on hand, too, offering more subdued but no-less-enthusiastic support, including a standing ovation after one particularly punch-heavy round.
Part of what made the event palatable for me was the obvious attention to safety. The bloodied brawls of professional boxing matches are not part of Bengal Bouts. The boxers here sport safety headgear, but, even more important, the revolving sets of referees pay close attention to the condition of the competitors and the strength of the punches. When one boxer is clearly being pummeled, the ref will call a halt to the bout and declare a victor.
I did not go the distance. Two hours and 11 bouts filled my boxing spectator needs for the decade. But I’m glad I went.
Check out ND Free Pass for a spectator’s sampling of the less-heralded side of Notre Dame competitions: the rowing and the running, the putting and the spiking. Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at email@example.com.