By James Brabenec, Fort Sill CannoneerMarch 18, 2010
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Last summer, Fort Sill's first boxing smoker in 10 years revealed a new arena of competition for 22 Soldiers; now, only one, Sgt. Louie Gibbs, remains in the ring.
Tuesday Gibbs flew to Fort Huachuca, Ariz. intent to qualify for the all-Army boxing team, the first rung on a ladder of goals Gibbs hopes will lead him to the Olympics.
To help him achieve his dreams, three coaches, Andy Pierce, Clarence Dewberry and Lavelle Sims imparted their boxing knowledge and experience spending countless hours refining Gibbs' boxing skills. Dewberry and Sims come with the credentials of each having made the all-Army team during their active-duty careers.
Although he's been a fight fan from childhood when he watched his brother box and learned the basics of the sport from his dad, Gibbs' boxing rAfAsumAfA really blossomed during the boxing smoker.
"It wasn't until I got with coach Pierce, who started explaining the fight game to me, that it began to click," said Gibbs, of 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery. "Then, I got with coach Dewberry and his training took my technique to a whole new level. Fighting in the light heavyweight division, Gibbs scored a technical knockout in the smoker.
Like the billowing clouds from the smoke machine that shrouded each fighter during pre-fight introductions then faded away, the smoker glitz is gone. Gone too are the laser light shows, the chic card girls and pro-style boxing ring. Since that hot summer night, a fire down below has fueled Gibbs' drive to prepare for the all-Army competition. Mornings and evenings found him hitting the pavement for lengthy runs. Honeycutt Fitness Center became his second home where he shadowboxed and pummeled punching bags, and exercised to strengthen and toughen his body. The only remaining brilliance shines from the pearly white teeth that light up his face whenever he talks about his passion for the fight game. And, none of those gleaming teeth are the "store bought" variety, unusual in a sport where jaw-rattling, tooth-knocking shots to the kisser happen with regularity.
While Gibbs contended with three one-minute rounds in the smoker, he will face all-Army bouts consisting of three, three-minute rounds that will require the utmost in preparation to build his strength and endurance. His workouts included three-per-week sessions with Dewberry in what Gibbs called a pupil-mentor relationship. He ran up to six miles in the morning and three miles at night five days each week. On Wednesdays and Sundays his rest days Gibbs returned to the gym to shadowbox on his technique and speed. Core strength came from a fierce regimen of push-ups and sit-ups. He did 500 push-ups every other day in blocks of 50 and daily ground through 500 sit-ups in the form of crunches, regular sit-ups, leg lifts, flutter kicks and other abdominal workouts designed by his coaches. If that wasn't enough, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays Gibbs trained especially hard assaulting the punching bag for six, three-minute rounds of hard punching.
All that prepared him for the physical demands but just as important Dewberry worked on Gibbs' mental preparation to best position him for a successful run through the all-Army camp. No stranger to success himself, Dewberry imparts some of the wisdom he gathered from a successful amateur career. Dewberry sees Gibbs' boxing as an extension of his own career and shared a setback that may help the young fighter avoid a similar interruption to his plans. Following his all-Army success, Dewberry went on to a string of victories winning the inter-service championships, the Golden Gloves tournament and later earned an invitation to fight in the Olympic trials in 1984. For those unfamiliar with the '84 games, Evander Holyfield first rose to prominence there.
Dewberry planned for a showdown with Holyfield as he dispatched the top Army boxer in his first fight, but then overlooked his second opponent who won the bout and derailed his dream matchup. His message to Gibbs was to stay focused and don't let distractions affect his fight plan.
"There's too many ways opposing fighters can take you out of your boxing routine, and if that happens, it throws your speed, rhythm, breathing and everything else out of sync," he said. "We worked hard helping him learn to adapt to fighters who might change their tactics to throw him off his game."
To his credit, Dewberry said Gibbs soaked up instruction like a sponge. "Louie is particularly strong in his mental game and his push to want to be better," said Dewberry. "I know he will apply what I give him to the best of his ability and push himself physically to do anything and everything to be a winner."
With Fort Sill lacking a boxing team, Gibbs traveled to Oklahoma City to fight on Sims' team. Sims brought six airmen from Tinker Air Force Base to the smoker and now trains many of the same boxers from a gym at his home. Gibbs fought a few bouts, not all an immediate success, but even then learned to be a more disciplined fighter.
"My first fight after the smoker I entered the ring angry but found out I can't fight effectively dominated by emotions," he said. "Boxing is an art and skill that requires controlled aggression and a plan to see a fight through to victory."
Sims reminded Gibbs to keep it simple, relax and do what he's been taught. "l'm looking for some big things from Louie at the all-Army camp. He has a big heart, and if he sticks to the basics keep the hands up, chin down, throw the straight one-two and hook he can win all day," said Sims. He said Gibbs will arrive at camp with a better understanding than most fighters because of the experience and knowledge he and Dewberry bring to each training session. And, the hard workouts should have Gibbs in better shape than most of the fighters he will face.
That may prove to be especially beneficial, as Gibbs expects the road to inclusion on the all-Army team will be paved with many younger, talented opponents. But, he mentioned the late-blooming former heavyweight fighter, Ray Mercer, who went all-Army in his late 20s and later won a world heavyweight title. "If he could do it, then I can, too.
"Besides, it feels good beating up on these young cats," said Gibbs releasing a hearty laugh. "It's nice to know I still got it."
In amateur fights, boxers look less for the knockout and more to score points to win contests. Fighters accumulate points by landing body punches and punches to the face with the white knuckle portion of their gloves. Dewberry trained Gibbs to give punches in order to get scores. "Sometimes you have to battle through the opponent's offense to assert your own offense. It's not always wait, wait wait. You have to counterpunch, be a split-second thinker and quick with the power," he said.
That power, combined with quickness and boxing knowledge can carry Gibbs to victory said Dewberry. To fuel that engine, Dewberry reminded Gibbs to stick with his breathing rhythm, a key component to effective boxing. He said even with a the highly trained cardiovascular system Gibbs has developed, inefficient breathing can work against a fighter.
"A good boxer is also a good actor," he said. "If you get out of your breathing rhythm, step back find it then get back in the fight, without looking obvious."
Unlike an actor who portrays a character, Gibbs likes how boxing reveals the real person.
"It shows who you are, your demeanor and all your strengths and weaknesses," he said. Gibbs said when he climbs in the ring opponents will learn he's the boxer who can throw punches from any angle and the one who keeps moving, preventing them from hitting an easy target. "I can hit you frontward, backward, sideways, it doesn't matter; I'll hit you and take you out one way or the other," he said. "I just keep punching until my opponent gives out."