New Talent Helps Army Retain Boxing Title
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 1997 Nine new boxers, three defending armed forces champions and a new head coach combined to give Army its fifth straight title at the 1997 armed forces boxing championships Feb. 13 at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
In taking team honors, Army captured seven of 12 individual titles and sent 11 fighters to the finals. Marine Corps claimed four gold medals and five silver to finish second, followed by the Navy with one third-place title. Air Force failed to place a fighter in the championships.
"A lot of people are used to seeing Army winning 10 or 11 titles the past few years," said Sgt. Byron Moore, who took over Army head coaching last year. "This year, we took seven. People have to understand that this is a whole new team and we need to be very patient if we're going to mold these guys into Olympic-style boxers."
Still, things look promising for Army boxers. Of the nine Army "rookies" fighting at Lejeune, eight reached the finals and four claimed titles. Happy with the team's success, Moore said he realizes challenges still loom for his group of young fighters.
"Just look at what the Marine Corps has done over the past year," said Moore, who saw his Army fighters edge out a 5-4 advantage over the Marines in head-to-head championship bouts. "The team they sent to the tournament was a good team. They're hungry [for titles], and they're coming on every year. That's one of the challenges we have to deal with while developing our guys for nationals and the Olympics."
Moore said his experienced fighters often set the example of what hard work will do inside the ring. He said that experience led to victories that helped Army an early lead during this year's finals. Spc. Bradley Martinez and Pfc. John Medina -- teammates at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and holders of four armed forces boxing titles -- successfully defended their 1996 titles.
Martinez earned his fourth straight light flyweight title with a points decision over Lejeune's Lance Cpl. Matthew Winters. Minutes later, Medina successfully defended his flyweight championship, outscoring Cpl. Adam Burton (Lejeune) for the 112-pound title.
"Anytime you get a couple of fighters like those two -- guys who can jump-start an entire team by winning -- it makes it hard for anybody trying to catch them," said Marine Corps boxing coach Roosevelt Sanders. "Those two ... not only know how to box in the ring, but also how to help their teammates get 'up' for the rest of the night."
Sanders saw his Marine Corps boxing team fall further behind when Army's Sgt. George Cofield of Hanau, Germany, went uncontested in winning the 119-pound bantamweight title. It was Cofield's first appearance at the armed forces championships.
Another rookie taking his first title was Sgt. Reginald Smith of Fort Hood, Texas. Smith captured the 139-pound light welterweight title by defeating Marine Corps Cpl. Larry Barnes of Camp Pendleton, Calif.
In other Army victories, Sgt. Julius Fogel of Huachuca claimed the middleweight title with a points decision over Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Edgar King (Lejeune). Huachuca's Spc. Olanda Anderson defended his light heavyweight title with a points decision over Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Israel Spencer (USS Pensacola). Pvt. Preston Hartzog of Fort Bragg, N.C., won the superheavyweight crown, defeating Marine Corps Sgt. Richard Oliver (Lejeune).
The Marines earned four individual titles, with three titles going to first-time competitors. Lejeune's Cpl. Matthew Plake led the Marine effort, winning the featherweight title with a points decision over Army's Spc. Aljil Booker (Camp Red Cloud, Korea).
"We're down three bouts and we need somebody to kick-start our team, and Plake was the right guy to do it," Sanders said. He called Plake, a first-year fighter, the biggest surprise of the Marine Corps boxing camp this year, and said his effort in the finals helped other Marine boxers competing that night.
In other Marine Corps victories, Cpl. Steven Stokes of Twentynine Palms, Calif., a bronze medalist at 139 pounds last year, captured the light welterweight title. He outscored Huachuca's Pfc. Mustafa Fahim for the crown.
Lance Cpl. Henry Markin of Camp Butler, Okinawa, Japan, earned a points decision over Army's Spc. Carl Miller (Schofield Barracks, Hawaii) for the light middleweight title. Lance Cpl. Jason Brown of Lejeune claimed the heavyweight title over Navy's Petty Officer 3rd Class Kendri Smith (USS Dwight D. Eisenhower).
Navy claimed one title, thanks to Petty Officer 3rd Class Benjamin Bundy of Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base, Va. A bronze medalist last year at 132 pounds, Bundy captured the lightweight title with a points decision over Army's Pfc. Francisco Santiago (Camp Humphreys, Korea).
The 1997 armed forces tournament saw a major change in fight scoring. To better prepare boxers, the services adopted the same electronic scoring system used at the national championships and Olympics. The five judges score punches by pressing ringside buttons tied to a central computer. If three agree on a scoring punch, the computer awards a point to the fighter. If the fight ends in a decision, the fighter with the most points wins.
In the past, five judges would score bouts based on their own assessments of their fight. If a three-round bout ended in a decision, the fighter impressing the most judges would win the match.
Both Moore and Sanders said the electronic system changed their approach to coaching. "It used to be that a fighter could jump into the ring, be aggressive and throw a lot of punches, and they'd have a good shot for a decision," said Moore. "You can't do that under this system. It rewards quickness and punching."
Sanders said fighters must remain aggressive and continue to attack, but in a more controlled way. "It's become a 'punch and move, punch and move' sport," he said. "Those judges have to see you connect in order for you to win points. The physical, brawling style of boxing isn't as effective."
All service teams will advance to the U.S. National Amateur Championships March 7-15 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
All bouts followed U.S. Boxing Association rules. Fights, unless stopped by the referee, consisted of three three-minute rounds.