Three days, 23 schools, 128 boxers. Teams from across the country gathered in Coral Gables this past week to compete in the 2014 National Championships of Men’s and Women’s College Boxing.
Fans filled the Wellness Center as fighters took the ring for what was a physically and emotionally draining tournament, sanctioned by the U.S. Intercollegiate Boxing Association.
Elimination matches on Thursday and Friday determined who would compete for gold on Saturday. UM’s success on those first two days sent four boxers to fight with a chance to claim a national title.
One of those four triumphant fighters was first-year law student Ralph Longo.
As Longo stretched and talked to his teammates, his parents anxiously waited for the championship fight against University of Michigan’s Maxwell Gomez.
“I have three boys who play sports,” Longo’s father said. “But there’s something about boxing and watching your kid get hit that makes you nervous … I’m just happy he loves it.”
Longo is a passionate boxer, but he has also tried his hand at another nuanced craft: writing. Three years ago, he became a featured columnist for the popular website, Bleacher Report. Over time, Longo has written 260 articles and gained more than 1 million page views.
Miami boxing coach Mickey Demos took in Longo last year and introduced him to the team, who he now sees as family.
“There’s a very close relationship between a boxer and a coach that’s indescribably close,” Demos said. “This is one of the most difficult sports in the world, and these boxers need all the support they can get.”
After several long months of training, Longo can now add “national champion” to his resume.
The UM men weren’t the only fighters drawing crowds throughout the tournament.
Jillian Kernan, a junior, was not ready to settle for anything less than a national championship. On Thursday she ended her match with a third-round technical knockout, and she didn’t stop there.
Kernan wound up winning it all. Her victory was not meant for her, though, but for her father who’s currently fighting cancer.
“I don’t fight for myself,” Kernan said. “I fight to make my family proud. They’ve given me everything in the world.”
Her victory did not come easy. Kernan’s fight with Georgetown’s Janie Rosales was tightly contested for all three rounds as fans from both schools cheered loudly around the ring.
“Second round I was a little weary,” Kernan said. “But when I’m fighting I zone out. I hear my coach and I hear my dad. I hear my dad saying, ‘Leave it, Jillian, leave it.’”
She stayed humble and grounded to get her title.
“I fought with my heart, not my hands,” Kernan said.
Al Bernstein, a longtime broadcaster who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012, was proud and impressed with all the athletes who competed in the tournament.
“What these fighters are doing is truly remarkable,” Bernstein said. “I am committed to use any platform that I have to tell people how extraordinary they truly are.”
The Hall of Famer wants to televise the event next year to put a spotlight on collegiate boxing. Bernstein believes that as the sport gets more depth and attracts new boxers, its popularity will increase.
For a club sport that is not sanctioned by the NCAA, collegiate boxers train as if it’s a varsity sport.
“They train six days a week through blood, sweat and tears, manage a full school schedule and still drive across town for fights,” Demos said of his fighters.
UM went undefeated on Saturday with Anna Benitez and Courtney “CJ” Jackson joining Kernan and Longo in the national champion crew.