CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Feb. 6, 2012) -- For the first time in 21 years, the All-Army Boxing Team lost its stranglehold on gold Feb. 3 at the 2012 Armed Forces Boxing Championships.
With two seconds remaining in the final bout of the tournament, Marine Corps Sgt. DeJesus Gardner scored a dramatic 14-13 victory over Sgt. Marvin Carey in a super-heavyweight bout that gave the Marines their first Armed Forces crown since 1992.
Two Soldiers earned gold in the tournament, but the Marine Corps took the team title. Army Reserve Pvt. 2nd Class Marquis Moore won the165-pound division and Spc. Steven Nelson won the light heavyweight gold medal.
But Carey failed to pull out the last bout against Gardner, who prevailed despite a left eye nearly swollen shut by punches. Carey actually finished with a swollen left hand.
"He hurt his hand and I tried to will him through," All-Army coach Charles Leverette said. "I think it was a little tender before the bout even started and once he landed or deflected a couple of punches, he came to the corner grimacing. I told him, 'You can't show it. Let me see if you've got the grit.'"
Carey gritted it out until the bitter bare end.
DOWN TO THE BELL
"My teammates were telling me, 'Twenty years, it's all riding on your shoulders,'" Carey said. "I wasn't thinking about that, though. I was just trying to stay calm and fight my fight."
Gardner won the first round, 3-2, but Carey was leading 8-6 entering the third and final stanza.
"I put a lot of power into my shots and was trying to get him out of there, but he's a pretty sturdy guy," Carey said.
Gardner had a crazed look in his eyes as he brawled his way to victory and landed the decisive punch just before the final bell sounded.
"He came with it in the third round," said Carey, 27, a Chicago native stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. "It was real close. I was hearing my teammates screaming that, 'The score is tied. Score is tied.' They were saying it's 13-13 with 10 seconds left, then he got one more punch.
"We both gave it our all, and that's all that matters. It felt good to give my all and put everything on the line."
Leverette could not recall a tournament ending as dramatically as this one unfolded before a boisterous crowd at Paige Fieldhouse, where The Pentagon Channel filmed a series scheduled to debut March 9.
"Down to the last 10 seconds, man," Leverette said with a shake of the head. "You can't get it written no better for another movie. I don't think Steven Spielberg could write anything better or more dramatic that what happened tonight. I can say I'm proud to be part of it."
"I knew it was going to be like this, but I didn't know it was going to be such high-intensity. You can never expect anything like this. It was great for Armed Forces Boxing, I can tell you that. The Marines did something that hadn't been done in a long time."
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and Olympic coach Basheer Abdullah was boxing under the name of Byron Moore when All-Army last lost at Armed Forces.
"I was on the team in '92 when we lost the Armed Forces title to the Marines at Kelly Air Force Base -- that was the last time," Abdullah said. "So the emotions that these athletes and coaches are feeling, I know exactly what they feel tonight."
All-Army could have clinched the team title with a victory in the heavyweight division, but Air Force Senior Airman Kent Brinson of Fort Carson, Colo., prevailed 35-13 over Army Reserve Sgt. Charles Blackwell of Tucson, Ariz., putting the winner-take-all pressure on the superheavyweights.
"I always find it funny that nobody really knows what's going on in this amateur point system, so we can laugh this one off," said Blackwell, who was stunned by the judges' computerized final score. "It hurts because it's a blemish on the record, but it's out of our hands."
Leverette saw it differently.
"He got out-boxed tonight," Leverette said. "It's a humbling experience. You've got to put it on the line. A lot of the decisions came down to will, and the Marines had it. It was unfortunate that we didn't win the Armed Forces title, but the lesson we get out of this is we can't wait until the last minute. And we've just got to believe."
MOORE TAKES GOLD
Army Reserve Pvt. 2nd Class Marquis Moore of Marlow Heights, Md., prevailed with a victory over Marines Lance Cpl. Felix Magallanez of Camp Lejeune, N.C., when the referee stopped their contest at 2 minutes, 27 seconds of the second round of the 165-pound finale.
"Moore was very impressive," Abdullah said. "He impressed me the most tonight. He was explosive. He demonstrated good defense. He was slipping and countering right off the defense. He was very exciting to watch. I think he has what it takes to compete at the elite level."
"He's a beast," Leverette added. "He's going to throw a wrench in a lot of gears at the National Championships because he's been out of it for awhile and nobody expects him to be around. This is just the beginning for him. We're hoping to get him to Nationals and qualified for WCAP."
Soldiers must finish among the top six in their weight class at the 2012 U.S. National Championships, scheduled for Feb. 27 through March 3 at Fort Carson, Colo., to be considered for WCAP.
NELSON WINS LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
All-Army Spc. Steven Nelson of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., won the light heavyweight gold medal with a 20-2 victory over Marine Lance Cpl. James Morrow of Camp Pendleton.
"You have to win convincingly," Nelson said. "That's how I feel about every fight now because the point system is crazy. It was up to us to win."
Although Nelson did his part, he was reduced to a spectator for the deciding bout.
"I've seen it in the movies, but I've never been a part of something that was so dramatic," he said. "It was like "Remember the Titans." I always wanted to be in that feeling like, 'As a team, we need this.' I've never in my life had that feeling until now. I won, but I don't feel as good because we didn't bring it home as a team."
Leverette said that will help better prepare the young All-Army Team.
"Like I told our young Soldiers, we can't come back into camp next year trying get in shape to box," Leverette said. "We've got to start getting ready for next year tonight. Mentally, it starts tonight because that feeling you have in your gut now, you don't ever want to feel this no more."
"Coach Leverette had his hands full," Abdullah said. "He had a very young, inexperienced team. This is the first time in the first time in the history of All-Army Sports, since the existence of WCAP, that we didn't have any WCAP athletes at Armed Forces.
"I feel strongly that these guys are going to recover from this. We still have the best program in Armed Forces. I know they are going to come back and retain this title. The Marines are going to enjoy it for 12 months."
All-Marine coach Jesse Ravelo agreed.
"Yeah, it's very sweet," said Ravelo, a former All-Army coach who became the first boxing coach to lead two services to an Armed Forces championship. "I know it's only one, but we're going to enjoy this one. This is the best way to finish it: the last bout with the last point."
"We've got another whole year to think about it," Leverette concluded. "We'll be in Fort Huachuca next year and we'll get that gold medal back."