By Joe Lacdan, Army News ServiceFebruary 15, 2018
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Boxing started as a hobby, but soon grew into a family affair for three siblings at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Egbezien "E.B." Obiomon came to West Point with hopes to make an impact for the Black Knights on the gridiron. However, his athletic plans soon changed after taking West Point's mandatory boxing class in the spring of his freshman year.
Obiomon found that he enjoyed the intense competition of the sport. Then he learned from academy boxing instructor, Maj. William Kobbe, about the West Point Boxing Club, which competes in the National Collegiate Boxing Association.
Obiomon joined the club his sophomore year and enjoyed competing in the ring so much that he decided to leave the Army's football team. In less than a year of training, Obiomon, who had never competed as a boxer, won the National Collegiate Boxing Association title in the in the 185-pound weight division during his sophomore season.
"He's a very good athlete -- very talented," said USMA boxing coach Ray Barone. "Good hand-eye coordination. He's got a very good mindset for boxing. He quickly picked up the technique, but he also had the mental toughness -- the mettle to be a tough boxer."
Now a senior who will be an infantry officer upon graduation in May, E.B. shares his love of the sport with his younger sisters, both of whom are also West Point Cadets. Sister Ejakhianaghe is a junior at the school, while Ebakoliane is a sophomore.
With three siblings at the school, all in boxing, there would be success for the Obiomon clan beyond E.B.'s national championship win in 2016.
Competing for the West Point women's team last spring, Ejakhianaghe won the 2017 National Championship in the 165-pound weight division, while Ebakoliane finished second at 156 pounds in her first season competing.
Egbezien's fiancé, Esther Nagila, is the women's team captain. A cousin of the Obiomons, Evan Walker, is also a freshman on the women's team. The family spends time sparring, going over videos of previous matches and working on fundamentals.
And their rise to the top of the sport has surprised many -- including the Obiomons. The siblings said the sport has brought them closer together.
"Just yesterday I was in there sparring with them," E.B. said. "It's special to us. It's kind of turned into a family thing. It's pretty special, the fact that we all can share the same experience. Not too many people get that opportunity."
"Obviously my family is very proud," Ejakhianaghe said. "(Boxing) helps with our sibling bond. We see each other every day. We're around together for about two hours. It helps us become more in sync. I feel like we're more tight-knit."
In E.B.'s first match as a competitive boxer, he was pitted against an experienced Air Force Academy opponent. Though E.B. lost the fight to his much more seasoned foe, Barone said that E.B. held his own and remained competitive throughout the bout.
Later that season in the national championship, E.B. took on Jourdan Looney, a lefty who had previous nationals experience. In the first round, E.B. said he took more hits than he had ever endured in a fight. But eventually his conditioning carried him to the win. The 185-pound championship bout was so competitive, E.B. said he was not sure who won the fight.
"At West Point that was probably the best moment that ever happened to me," E.B. said. "Because honestly, I thought I'd lost."
E.B.'s parents, Sam and Pamela, and his sister Ejakhianaghe attended the fight. Each of the three Obiomon youth had athletic experience while attending Cypress Wood High School in Texas. E.B. competed as a running back and sprinter for the Wildcats, while Ejakhianaghe was a thrower on the track team and also played basketball. Ebakoliane displayed her athleticism as a high jumper.
E.B., with 13 wins and 3 losses in his boxing career, credits his older teammates with teaching him the basics of the sport during his freshman and sophomore seasons. He competed at 185 pounds his sophomore year, but a shoulder injury sidelined him from competing at nationals his junior year. Once again this spring, he should be a favorite at his weight class, Barone said.
"The thing that attracted me most to the sport is that it will prepare me best to be an infantry officer," Egbezien said. "I am always looking at what is going to help me become a better combat leader."
It all began with the boxing course that now all West Point cadets must take to graduate. Beginning with the Class of 2020, female students must also complete the class. Barone, who serves as the course director of the boxing program at the Academy, said the program helps reflect the changing needs of the Army, as more female Soldiers are integrated into combat roles such as infantry and armor.
"What we do is we take cadets and very slowly through 19 lessons teach a crawl, walk, run method of boxing," Barone said. "The idea is to put them in a one-on-one confrontation -- a very perceived fearful situation. Give them the tools to cope with it -- offense and defense -- and see how they react."
Meanwhile, Ejakhianaghe admittedly struggled when she started competing for the women's team. She dropped her first three matches during her freshman year. She said she considered giving up the sport. She spent three hours a day practicing and training and often had to stay up past midnight doing homework.
"I was spending so many hours in the gym," Ejakhianaghe said. "I didn't get many fights. I was thinking it was futile."
But then E.B. stepped in. He spent additional time after practices teaching his sister the fundamentals of boxing. They worked on her footwork and punching mechanics. They practiced combos so that she could instinctively execute them from muscle memory. E.B.'s tutelage paid dividends for his sister.
"Whenever we were coming up, my parents instilled in us the importance of sticking together," Ebakoliane said. "So when we came here it just followed ... My sister won nationals last year because of how my brother instructed -- the way that he taught her. He taught her fundamentals and allowed her to reach the level she is. He's done the same thing for me. The cohesion makes it a lot easier."
Ejakhianaghe displayed her progress by winning the national championship by technical knockout last April.
Ebakoliane, inspired by her brother and sister, made her mark on the program in her first year competing. As a freshman, she made her way to the nationals, but fell in the championship bout to a competitor from the Naval Academy, the returning national champion. Ebakoliane (3 wins, 2 losses), who aspires to join the infantry or combat engineers after graduation, hopes to join her older siblings as a national champion this spring.
E.B. and Ejakhianaghe said their boxing days will be finished once they graduate from West Point, though E.B. said he would like to return as a coach. Ebakoliane is undecided about her boxing future after West Point, but said she would be open to competing for the All-Army boxing team if she gets the opportunity.