WCAP Soldiers lead U.S. at CISM Military World Boxing Championships
October 21, 2010
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Two U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program boxers led the United States to one of its best performances in Conseil International du Sport Militaire history at the 2010 World Military Boxing Championships.
Spc. Jeffrey Spencer and Capt. Michael Benedosso won gold medals as the U.S. team finished tied for second with Brazil (18 points) behind champion Kazakhstan (22 points).
"Standing on that podium above every other country and seeing your flag raised and hearing that national anthem was a surreal feeling," said Benedosso, 25, a 2007 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. "I had chills up and down my spine. It's more motivation to continually train harder and try to get the same feeling again at the Olympics."
U.S. Marine Corps light welterweight Cpl. Jamel Herring struck silver, and USMC middleweight Cpl. Damarias Russell and lightweight Lance Cpl. Tommy Roque both claimed bronze.
Pennsylvania Army National Guard Spc. Samuel Vasquez Jr., another WCAP boxer, added a bronze medal for Team USA. Vasquez was eliminated in the semifinals by French welterweight Capt. Alexis Vastine, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, who won gold and was selected as the best boxer of the weeklong tournament.
Spencer prevailed 5-0 over Sgt. Erdos Janabergenov of Kazakhstan in the light heavyweight finale to secure his gold medal.
"I tried to establish myself as the bigger, stronger fighter and being dominant - not letting him bully me around like his teammates were doing everybody else," said Spencer, "I was trying to change my combinations - head-to-body, body-to-head - trying to throw him off where I was going with my shots.
"Coach told me to stay relaxed, keep doing what I was doing, tighten up my defense, and just keep letting my hands go."
Spencer defeated Cpl. Gianluca Rosciglione of Italy, 4-3, in the quarterfinals and AB Diver Gan Fernando of Sri Lanka, 10-1, in the semis.
"I'm just happy my performance picked up," Spencer said. "The first fight I let my opponent do something I rarely let opponents do and that's frustrate me. I normally try to frustrate them instead of let them frustrate me. I calmed down eventually in the third round and pulled out the victory.
"Every fight after that I just maintained my mental toughness and stayed focused on what I wanted to do, not what they were doing. I was determined to make a statement that nobody here will beat me. This was my first CISM, so I was really excited about representing the U.S. Armed Forces ... right now I feel like the sky is the limit."
Benedosso and Pvt. Ilyas Suleimenov of Kazakhstan boxed to a 2-2 tie in the light flyweight finale and Benedosso claimed the gold by virtue of a 4-3 tiebreaker.
"I knew I had to get inside that reach and muscle my way and toughen him out to get those points any way I could," said Benedosso, 25, a 2007 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. "He had a really good European style, so I felt a little awkward because I kept punching out of range. I just tried to maintain my tight defense and get any points I could.
"My coach told me going into the third round that they were not scoring any points to the body, so I had to go straight and only to the head," said Benedosso, who was inspired late in the bout by chants of "USA! USA! USA!" that drowned out a chorus of "Kaz-akh-stan! Kaz-akh-stan! Kaz-akh-stan!"
Benedosso, a three-time U.S. Armed Forces champion making his international boxing debut, prevailed in the semifinals with an 8-3 victory over Pvt. Debendro Singh of India.
"This tournament means a lot to me because in the World Class Athlete Program we train to be world-class athletes, not just nationally-ranked athletes," Benedosso said. "We're Soldiers first, and ambassadors for the country and the Army. Every bout I go into, I try my best to represent all our brothers and sisters overseas in harm's way and try to give my best effort because I know they're giving their best effort. Everything I do, I do with pride for them."
Only three times in CISM history has the U.S. boxing team performed better: four gold medals, five silvers and one bronze in 1985 to capture the team title; four golds, one silver and three bronze medals in 1983 for runner-up team honors, and in 1981, the winning U.S. squad had six gold medalists.
"Our boxers represented the Marines and the Army very well. I'm proud of them," said U.S. Armed Forces coach Jesse Ravelo, a former All-Army Boxing coach.
Though he didn't capture the gold, Herring showed his grit by surviving three standing eight counts in his final bout. He won 3-1 over Kumarasinghe of Sri Lanka in a light welterweight semifinal before losing 7-1 to Pvt. Merey Akshalov of Kazakhstan in the finals.
Russell prevailed in the middleweight quarterfinals over Barbabos' Ronald Als when the referee stopped their contest at 1:55 of the second round. In the semis, Pvt. Peter Mullenberg of The Netherlands defeated Russell, 4-0.
Roque won 14-2 over Sgt. Praveen Kurre of India in the lightweight quarterfinals before losing 11-4 to Sgt. Berik Abdraklmanov of Kazakhstan in the semis.
"He just faced somebody who was tougher than he was," Ravelo said. "That kid was pretty tough. It seemed like he had a lot of experience and he just outdueled Tommy Roque."
Ravelo was happy that all six U.S. boxers won a medal.
"Not the color we want, but six medals," he said with a smile.
"Other than Herring, most of our guys are brand new to international competition," Ravelo added. "Those other competitors belong to the national teams from their countries, not just the military team. A lot of them are national champions who are going to represent their countries in the Olympic Games and some of them are former Olympians."
Vasquez, 24, who has deployed twice to Iraq, squared off against Olympian Vastine during just his second month in WCAP at "the biggest tourney of my life."
"I was trying to get in range, and every time I got in range, he was smarter," said Vasquez, who went toe to toe with Vastine, a polished boxer who won 8-1. "He got in and got out. He did it perfectly. That's something I've got to learn and add it to my arsenal.
"I don't know if his reputation might have psyched me out. I wanted it to look like he was nothing to me and I am better than him. That's what I was thinking, and I believe I am better than him. The next time I fight him, it's not going to go that way. ... Going toe to toe with him shows me where I'm at Olympic-wise, and where I can be.
"I've got too much heart and dedication, and now, knowing what I need to do, determination is just going to take me where I need to go."
Spencer, the reigning U.S. amateur national light heavyweight champion, sensed that feeling before heading to Camp Lejeune.
"I'm trying to go for gold in everything I do," Spencer said. "I just want to represent the USA in the best way that I can and let them know that I'm not just number one in the country, I'm going to be number one in the world."