DENVER (Army News Service, June 17, 2009) - First Lt. Michael Benedosso and Spc. Adrian Ghisoiu finished fourth in their respective weight classes in the 2009 U.S. National Boxing Championships June 8-13 at Denver Coliseum.
Benedosso, 24, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, lost a 15-3 decision to Fabian Cervantes of Arleta, Calif., in the bronze-medal bout of the 106-pound division.
"Overall, I'd give myself a C+," Benedosso said of his second appearance in the national championships since graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
"WCAP is really helping me improve my skills and abilities - my stamina, strength and conditioning. A coach that I've known for the last six years said there's a night-and-day difference from when I first started boxing and now, so I'm very happy about my progress, but I still need a lot more improvement."
Ghisoiu, 29, of Fort Hood, Texas, lost to Michael Ruiz Jr. of Fresno, Calif., when Army coach Basheer Abdullah stopped their 112-pound bronze-medal bout at 2:49 of the second round.
"My ultimate goal was to get to the U.S. Nationals and try to get the national title," said Ghisoiu, who won four Pennsylvania Golden Gloves titles and sandwiched two Armed Forces crowns around a 14-month deployment to Iraq. "I don't have that much time left to compete as an amateur and I actually want to turn pro. With being in the Army, it's going to be tough to do, but I think I can work around it."
The Saturday setbacks epitomized a rough week in the ring for the All-Army boxing team. WCAP coach Basheer Abdullah shouldered part of the blame for ceasing sparring seven days prior to the tournament, a strategy that ultimately backfired because his troops appeared flat and fatigued in the ring.
"I was trying something new, hoping that they would come into the competition fresher with no injuries, all healed up, etc.," said Abdullah, head coach of the 2004 U.S. Olympic boxing team and a two-time Olympic technical advisor. "That was a bad decision on my part.
"A lot of guys looked tired, and they haven't showed being fatigued since I don't know when. They've been fighting all the way through every competition that we've been in at a very high level. I should have sparred them right up until the last two or three days before the competition started."
The Army's strongest medal contenders lost preliminary bouts on Monday and Tuesday, including WCAP team captain Sgt. John Franklin, WCAP Spc. Jeffery Spencer and WCAP Staff Sgt. Andrew Shepherd, a gold medalist at the 2007 CISM Military World Games.
"Franklin, Spencer and Shepherd were the three big guns that I thought were going to carry this team very far, and I was hoping we would have Sgt. Reyes Marquez, Pfc. Sidney Williams or Spc. Dustin Lara slip through the cracks," Abdullah said.
Franklin lost 19-9 to Luis Rosa of East Haven, Conn., in Monday's 119-pound preliminaries.
"That was the first time we've seen Franklin get pushed around like that," Abdullah said. "He was hyped up for the bout and ready to go, and then they changed the bout order and moved his to last. I think that kind of psyched him out.
"I think Franklin was tired because he's boxed in a lot of recent competitions: State Golden Gloves, Regional Golden Gloves, National Golden Gloves, All-Army, Armed Forces, and now the Nationals. He had a lot of bouts and he was always in the medal round of all those competitions.
"His loss was a big disappointment because the [team's] motivation dropped. He's the team leader and he inspires these guys. I had to pull them to the side and give them a motivational speech after the Franklin bout because he's really the spirit of the team."
Sgt. Reyes Marquez of Fort Myer, Va., lost 19-12 to Javontae Starks of St. Paul, Minn., in the 152-pound preliminaries on Monday night.
In Tuesday's preliminaries, Shepherd lost 11-1 to Olympian Michael Hunter of Las Vegas in the heavyweight division.
In Wednesday's quarterfinals, Spencer lost 12-10 to Sijuola Shabazz of Las Cruces, N.M., in the 178-pound class. Williams, a Reservist from Lexington, Ky., lost 21-5 to Terrell Gausha of Cleveland at 165 pounds. And WCAP Spc. Connor Johnson dropped a 21-7 decision to Eric Fowler of Conor, Texas, in the 132-pound division.
Spencer stayed on the move throughout his bout with Shabazz and fought hard to the finish, but came up two points short.
"That was part of our strategy because Shabazz is a very aggressive, fast-paced puncher," Abdullah said. "We didn't want to get into a shootout with him because I know he's more of an endurance boxer than Spencer and he can hold that pace. We wanted to try to frustrate him with speed and movement, hoping that we could make him miss and he would become frustrated and desperate, and then we could use our speed to counter.
"Spencer kept battling, but it wasn't enough."
By Thursday's semifinals only two Soldiers remained in contention. Benedosso lost 17-11 to Miguel Cartagena of Philadelphia, and Ghisoiu dropped a 25-8 decision to Adon Ortiz of Sterling, Ill.
"Benedosso is still a very young fighter," Abdullah said. "The game plan was to fight a very fast pace and stay in front of Cartagena and initiate action every two or three seconds for three 3-minute rounds. ... He just needs to anticipate better. If he would have executed a little better, he might have pulled that off. All in all, a good effort - I like where he's at."
Because of the struggling economy and high unemployment rate, Abdullah said his phone is ringing off the hook.
"The best job in the world right now, in our country, is the military," he said. "Recruitment is coming up and I'm getting a lot of calls right now, and they're from the type of athletes that I need in this program - athletes who have that boxing mentality - that have that street toughness.
"They've got to be mean and have no fear whatsoever. Those are the type of athletes that I'm looking for now - guys who not only the Army, but the military, can salvage. Time will tell if they are really committed to joining the United States Army."
(Tim Hipps writes for FMWRC Public Affairs.)