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The concept of Single Combat is nothing new. The idea of two men engaging in military contests, representing the pride and fortunes of their respective factions, has been around since the first Olympiads of ancient Greece, through the Gladiator contests of ancient Rome, the jousts of the middle ages, the duels of the 18th and 19th centuries, and up to the space-race of the 1950s and '60s.
It was the noble calling of professional warriors. Objective and, more or less, non-political. Single Combat was seen as an honorable way to settle things militarily, but without all the collateral damage to the civilian population. Today, Single Combat is represented -- symbolically, at least -- through sport. And perhaps no sport demonstrates this more clearly than boxing.
"You can get all the best coaching, best training, best sparring partners, but once you get in the ring everything you're going to do to win that bout is all you," said Sergeant DeAndrey Abron, a light heavyweight (178 pounds) with the U.S. Army boxing team stationed at Fort Carson. "It's just you against the other man. The thrill of one-to-one competition."
Abron is among a host of Army boxers competing against the best amateur boxers in the country this week in the U.S. Amateur Boxing Championships. Preliminary bouts started Tuesday and continue all week at the Olympic Training Center, culminating in the finals at the City Auditorium Saturday.
The history of the U.S. Amateur Boxing Championships is scattered with greatness. Names like Cassius Clay, Leon Spinks, George Foreman, Ray Mercer, Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Joe Louis, Aaron Pryor, Pernell Whitaker and Oscar De La Hoya have all tasted early, nationwide successes in this tournament. Twenty former champions have gone on to win Olympic Gold.
Although many top boxers often turn pro following an Olympiad, former champion Specialist John Medina will be returning to compete. Medina, a flyweight (112 pounds), won the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1998 and '99, but torn ligaments in his left wrist forced him to sit out much of last year. He had surgery last April, followed by eight months of physical therapy, and returned to win his fifth All-Army boxing title in January.
Abron and Medina are part of the Army's Fort Carson--based World Class Athlete Program, which culls the Army for the best boxers among its ranks and puts them into a program to develop their athletic potential. Medina, a Southern California native, came into the program in 1995. He boxed from age seven to 14, then wrestled in high school.
Abron played quarterback on the football team in high school in Youngstown, Ohio, but an ankle injury in his senior year sidelined his chances for a college football career. He started boxing while stationed in Germany in 1995, and he is now a two-time All-Army and Armed Forces champion. Abron will likely face Joseph Pastorello, an Air Force boxer stationed in Colorado Springs. Pastorello, twice a bronze medalist at the U.S. Amateur Championships, will be looking to avenge a loss to Abron that knocked him out of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team trials last year.
Medina will likely face one of his biggest rivals this week, 2000 Olympic team alternate and two-time U.S. and Golden Gloves champion Roberto Benitez of Brooklyn, N.Y. "That's the one I need to beat," Medina said. "It's always a great bout and whoever's on that night wins." Benitez holds a 2-1 series edge over Medina.
But both men are soldiers first. Medina is a tanker specialist. Abron is a 10-year veteran of the military police.
"Sometimes it's very stressful," Abron said. "A lot of times it's more physical stress than mental stress, because we still have to maintain all our (military) standards. But then you have to be competitive as an athlete and it gets real hard. Some days, when a normal athlete gets to train and go home and train again, we're training, then go to work, then we leave work and go back to train. It's definitely a challenge. Time management is the key."
But it's that flexibility under tension that makes the Armed Forces boxer special. "What makes the military boxer stand out from the civilian boxers is the fact that we can go in there and be warriors inside the ring," Abron said. "And when we get through we still have to be professional enough to be ambassadors for the U.S. Army. We can still get out of the ring -- whether we get a decision that goes our way or not -- and gain the respect of the people just by the way we act.
"Civilians have the opportunity to just let go and rant and rave in front of anybody," Abron concluded. "We can't do that. We still have to maintain the image of the U.S. Army."
U.S. Amateur Boxing Championships
Quarter-Finals: Thurs. March 15, noon to 3:30 and 6:00-10:00 p.m. at Sports Center One, The Olympic Training Center
Semi-Finals: Fri., March 16, 6:00-9:00 p.m. at Sports Center One
Finals: Sat., March 17, 6:00-10:00 p.m. at City Auditorium, 221 E. Kiowa St.
Tickets: $3 for Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals, $10 for Finals.
For ticket information, call the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation at 634-7333 Ext. 1003.