By Mr. Tim Hipps (FMWRC)February 13, 2008
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The All-Army Boxing Team secured seven individual gold medals en route to winning its 17th consecutive team title in the Armed Forces Boxing Championships Feb. 4-7.
Heavyweight Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman and superheavyweight Staff Sgt. Andrew Shepherd, both members of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, quieted a raucous, Marine Corps-partisan crowd at Goettge Memorial Field House during the final two bouts, both of which were stopped early by the referee.
"After that, you could hear crickets," Guzman said after knocking out Marine Lance Cpl. DeJesus Gardner at 1 minute, 43 seconds of the first round of their 201-pound bout.
"It was rowdy in here and the people back in the corner were talking a lot of smack, but we kept our composure and we stayed disciplined," Guzman said. "We're Army, and we didn't want to do anything foolish. The eyes were pretty much on us because we're the defending champs. That felt great to go out there and drop him. The crowd was quiet, so I did something good."
Guzman hurt DeJesus in the middle of the ring with a strong overhand right and floored him a few seconds later near the ropes with a vicious left hook.
"I caught him with an overhand right and kind of staggered him," Guzman said. "Then I finished him off with that left hook. I could see that he was ready to go because his legs were buckled. You could see it in his eyes. I caught him clean and I knew that was the end.
"I hit him with one of my best shots -- that's how hard it was. He was out, so I went to the neutral corner and just waited. I knew he wasn't getting up after that."
Two nights earlier, Guzman stopped Air Force Staff Sgt. James Sterling Jr. at 31 seconds of the third round.
"I've been on a weightlifting program and I just feel stronger," said Guzman, 27, a native of Eloy, Ariz., who is stationed at Fort Carson, Colo. "We have a strength and conditioning coach, Sgt. 1st Class Tony Claiborne, and I've been working with him one-on-one. He knows his stuff."
As does All-Army coach Basheer Abdullah, who led the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team to the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece.
"Guzman is getting really strong," Abdullah said. "He's been putting in his time in the weight room and it's starting to pay off, along with his experience. He's one of those guys, along with (John) Franklin and Shepherd, that won medals at the Military World Games. They're using that experience and it's really showing. Hopefully, it will get us a national title."
Shepherd ended an evening of sensational boxing early by stopping Navy's Javon Wallace at 1:24 of the third round in the 201+ weight class.
"Shepherd is simply strong with both hands," Abdullah said. "He finally realizes that he has a strong right hand. He believes in that right hand, which he dropped his opponent with tonight. That's what he won with at the Military World Championships in India. He's a boxer with good ring generalship, and he's been working on trying to be a little bit more aggressive and competing like a big man."
On this night, several Soldiers stepped up big.
Spc. Nathaniel Hicks of Fort Gordon, Ga., won the 152-pound weight class with a 17-14 victory over Sr. Airman Joshua Gomez of Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
"He's borderline for WCAP; we're still evaluating him," said Abdullah, who is trying to convince Hicks to work on the outside instead of mixing it up inside, where he does not belong. "He dug down and got the win for us tonight. I thought he gave most of his points up inside where he shouldn't have been, but he finally followed our instructions and used the in-and-out technique."
Spc. Zacchaeus Hardrick of Fort Carson won a the 165-pound division with a 17-12 decision of Sgt. Bill Culbertson of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., who had the crowd roaring.
"I thought Hardrick made it a little bit too exciting for too long, but he did in the last round what he should have done the second round, and that's using long-range, scoring blows. That's because he's got that warrior's attitude. He loves to mix it up."
At 178 pounds, Spc. Jeffrey Spencer of Fort Carson prevailed 10-6 over Capt. Rodney Ellison Jr. of F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.
"His opponent was moving pretty fast," Adbullah said. "So we learned something tonight."
WCAP Spc. John Franklin won the 119-pound crown without boxing a single bout. The 2007 World Military Games silver medalist was unopposed throughout the tournament.
Other Soldiers won silver medals.
United States Military Academy graduate 2nd Lt. Michael Benedosso of Fort Huachuca, Ariz., received silver after losing 21-18 to Marine Corps Sgt. Perry Mason in the 112-pound final.
"We are hoping to have the opportunity to bring him into the Army World Class Athlete Program because we think he's WCAP material at 106 pounds," Abdullah said. "He has a nice foundation, but we still have some work to do to allow him to compete with the top guys in the nation. He's leaping with his punches, so we've got to teach him how to box small. He rises up and makes himself an easy target, but we moved him up (in weight class) for this tournament."
Spc. Alexis Ramos of Fort Carson dropped a 26-23 decision to Cpl. Andre Ramirez of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., in the 125-pound final.
"Ramos is the better boxer skill-wise, but I think the Marine was just riding off that emotion of being at home," Abdullah said. "That crowd got behind him and they pushed him. He bit down and out-hustled Ramos when he needed to. Ramos missed his opportunity in the second round when they had a flurry and the Marine was tired. Ramos should have been busy when that Marine was taking his break. He had an opportunity build his lead."
In one of two women's bouts on the championship card, Army National Guard Sgt. Cherrie Retamozzo of Staten Island, N.Y., dominated a 34-11 victory over Sonia Deputee of Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, Calif.
"She's part of this team," said Abdullah, who gave his team gold medal to Retamozzo. "She contributes to our success not only inside the ring but outside of the ring. She's a motivator. She carried herself like an ambassador just like these men did. She did everything we asked her to do and made those sacrifices just like they did."
Abdullah was content that the All-Army team continued its Armed Forces dominance.
"The last time we lost this tournament was 1991 when most of our top guys were deployed to Desert Storm," said Adbullah, who won his 112-pound bout that night at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where he boxed under the name of Byron Moore. The Marines won the team title that year, but the Army since has kept a stranglehold on the crown.
"We own Armed Forces Boxing," Abdullah said. "We had won it several times prior to that loss. We've been dominating this sport for a long time."
The U.S. National Championships, scheduled for March 9-4 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., is the next stop for the All-Army squad.
"All-Army is out of the way and Armed Forces is out of the way," Guzman said. "Nationals is next, and that's definitely the big one."