FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. - Seven Soldiers won gold medals to lead All-Army boxers to the team title in the 2009 Armed Forces Boxing Championships at Barnes Field House on May 1.

All-Army won the tournament with 14 points, followed by All-Navy (4), All-Air Force (3) and All-Marine Corps (3).

Five-time Armed Forces champion Sgt. John Franklin of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program got the Soldiers going with a 20-5 decision over Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Magdiel Matias in the 119-pound weight class.

"I wanted to start this night off the perfect way for my teammates," said Franklin, 25, a native of Kansas City, Mo., who is stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., home of the WCAP boxing program. "Start the fuel, start the fire, and let those guys put it out at the end."

Franklin, a silver medalist at 112 pounds in the Counseil International du Sport Militaire's 2007 Military World Games at Hyderabad, India, did not need his best performance to win convincingly in the Armed Forces Championships.

All-Army and WCAP boxing coach Basheer Abdullah, head coach of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, was impressed with Franklin's performance and potential.

"He actually won this tournament (by performing) below his best," Abdullah said. "To me, that means he's on his way to being a great boxer because when he's not performing at his best, he's still finding a way to win.

"He's one of the guys on the team that has the green light from me. I allow him to have more freedom to think for himself because he's one of those rhythm-type guys, kind of like (2000 Olympian) Olanda Anderson. He's that talented."

WCAP Spc. Alexis Ramos followed with a 12-9 decision over Cpl. Elias Sanchez of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. Ramos rallied from a five-point deficit in the first round of their 125-pound finale.

"Last year, I lost to a Marine by three points," said Ramos, 25, of San Antonio. "This year, it wasn't the same guy, but I was able to get vengeance because it was a Marine. It was a very tough fight. He's not very experienced, and I feel like that type of fighter is tougher (to box) than more experienced guys because you don't know where the punches are coming from. They tend to chase you around the ring, throwing punches in bunches, because that's all they know.

"Sometimes that makes it tough. I got tired in the last round, but I was able to dig deep and use my ring smarts to squeak it out. ... Those Soldiers that are out there in Iraq, we do it for them."

Ramos, who did not begin boxing until age 17, comes from a long family line of boxers.

"My father, my uncle, my grandma, everybody used to box - it's in the family," Ramos said. "But my pops, he never wanted me fight. Now he doesn't want me to stop."

At 132 pounds, WCAP Spc. Connor Johnson posted a 5-0 decision over Cpl. Tommy Rogue of Camp Lejeune.

"Most of the times I fight with my hands up, but I saw from the beginning that it wasn't working for me and I didn't feel comfortable," Johnson said. "I just tried doing a style that felt comfortable for me tonight and it paid off. The coaches said to just mix it up and have fun out there, and that's all I was trying to do."

Johnson has been a quick learner in the ring.

"I've only been boxing for about three years," said the 19-year-old native of Wales, United Kingdom, who grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, and joined the Army 22 days after graduating from West High School. "Long story short, I just had the heart and the will to get better and better. I guess I just proved to the coaches that I earned a spot on the All-Army team.

"This is something I can't get too big-headed about. Now it's time to go back home and train to get that spot at nationals. This is just another steppingstone for me. Hopefully, I'll hold my title next year. I appreciate being here and feel blessed to have this opportunity."

Abdullah feels blessed by Johnson's perseverance.

"He walked into the gym a little cocky, saying what he was going to do, and took some butt whippings for a very long time, but he kept working hard to please us to give him a shot," Abdullah said. "We put him in the conditioning program and he just qualified for WCAP. He only had a few more months left before he was going to be released.

"He's just a baby, but there was no way I was going to pass up a 6-foot-1 guy at 132 pounds. I'll take my chances with that. Tonight, to me, he had the best performance of the team. I was very proud of that young man. That's why I brought him on board. I believe that he can really give himself a big shot to make that 2012 (U.S. Olympic) team if he keeps growing the way he's growing."

Pfc. Sidney Williams, a Reservist from Kentucky, won the 165-pound division with a 19-17 decision over Navy SK Abdullah Johnson.

"It was an exciting bout," Abdullah said. "He had to come from behind. He was always down one or two points, but he pulled it out. He made the adjustment and he fought the orthodox boxer the way you're supposed to, by moving to his right, stepping down and boxing. And then he showed a little dog in him at the end. He picked it up, got aggressive, took some shots and shook them off and came right back. He made his adjustments well, based on the instructions we gave him in the corner."

Two-time Armed Forces champion Spc. Jeffery Spencer closed out the All-Army portion of the program with a victory over Air Force AIC Nicholas Alwan at 178 pounds. The referee stopped their bout at 1 minute, 36 seconds of the first round.

"I was kind of irritated when I got into the ring because our 152-pounder lost," said Spencer, 27, a native of Gary, Ind., who boxed his way onto the All-Army team from Fort Riley, Kan. "Some decisions go our way and some don't, but I was real hyped when I got into the ring so I had to calm myself down and box my style of boxing.

"I started seeing shots that were open, and I got the stop."

Spencer said he felt the pressure of being a defending champion on the team to beat.

"The pressure's there because everybody is gunning for the Army," he said. "We saw that with the 141-pound bout on Tuesday night when (Navy BMSM Justin Diaz) got the decision over (Army Spc. Justin Lara) and everybody on the Navy team got all excited. The main goal for them is to beat us, but we just need to listen to our coaches and stick with the game plan.

"For me, personally, this is just one step closer to achieving the goal I have set for myself this year: not to lose a fight in '09. I'm trying to get a national title this year. It's up to each one of us athletes, as a unit for the Army, to keep bringing that title home.

"The way I feel right now, I'm there, I'm ready - I see myself competing in London, representing the USA in the Olympic Games."

Spencer is chasing the Team USA spot occupied in 2008 by Staff Sgt. Christopher Downs, who now coaches All-Army and WCAP boxers.

"Judgment day is at the nationals for him," Abdullah said.

First Lt. Michael Benedosso and Spc. Adrian Ghisiou won uncontested gold medals in the 106 and 112-pound weight classes respectively because the other services did not have competitors in those divisions.

"I was looking forward to Benedosso competing here before we get to the nationals because he is one of the most improved guys in WCAP," Abdullah said. "The strength and conditioning program that Master Sgt. Michael Mielke brought to WCAP has helped these guys tremendously. Benedosso is applying that part of his training and being physical for a little guy. I have very high hopes for him this year."

Sgt. Reyes Marquez of Fort Myer, Va., took the silver medal at 152 pounds after dropping a 30-29 tiebreaker to Staff Sgt. Joshua Gomez of Kirkland Air Force Base, N.M.

The Soldiers expressed their appreciation for being on the All-Army team.

"The WCAP program is great," Franklin said. "It just gives you the opportunity to try to make your dreams come true. You know that when you come to the gym that you get to do what you love to do, and that's box, practice and train - the things it takes to make you get better and get to that elite level, that Olympic status."

Franklin, who battled through the challenger's bracket before losing to the Olympic alternate at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Boxing in Houston, now has his sights set on the 2012 London Olympic Games.

"I came back knowing I was going to be one of the leaders of this team, and I expect myself to be on that Olympic team."

All in all, Abdullah was impressed with the fight in his young boxers.

"It's a great achievement for the amount of experience that this young team has," he said. "It's just one step forward to what we're trying to achieve. Our goal is to be top three in the nation, team-wise, in two years at the U.S. Nationals. This was a performance that we can build off of."

The 2009 U.S. National Boxing Championships are scheduled for June 8-13 at Denver Coliseum.

Page last updated Tue May 5th, 2009 at 15:03