Top gloves to meet in interservice bouts

By Patrick Desmond: 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — With national champions, world military champions and 2012 Olympic Team hopefuls stacking the upcoming 2011 Armed Forces Boxing Championships at Lackland Air Force Base Feb. 15 through Friday, the interservice event is truly an elite competition.

Foremost among the military teams, the Army team enters as the heavy favorite, having won the interservice tournament 19 years in a row.

Despite the streak — and five nationally ranked boxers in his corner — another team title is not a foregone conclusion, according to Army boxing coach Basheer Abdullah.

“Just like every service, the intensity goes up going in,” Abdullah said. “We all believe we will win.”

“The last time Army lost was in 1991, here at Kelly and Lackland,” the 14-year Army coach recalled.

The largest team with 14 boxers, Army is armed with returning Armed Forces gold medalists Michael Benedosso, John Franklin, Samuel Vasquez, Jeffrey Spencer, Charles Blackwell and Caroline Barry. Spencer is the 2010 USA Boxing light heavyweight national champion, while Barry previously is a former national champion.

Abdullah said due to the year-round World Class Athlete Program, his camp is able to thrive.

“You have to have support,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to be with the Army. We have an excellent sports program and the best opportunity to be successful.”

Last year, seven Army boxers captured their Armed Forces weight classes.

However, he predicts this year “the competition will be different,” and that the teams have gotten better. Always a challenge for the team title, Abdullah points to the rival WCAP program in the Marine Corps.

Entering with 12 boxers, three Marines are nationally ranked, with lightweight Tommy Roque and middleweight Damarias Russell, the Armed Forces incumbent title holders in their weight class.

Eyeing potential matchups, such as a bout between Roque and first-year Army boxer Torbido Ramirez, Abdullah agreed. “We’ll have our hands full.”

One of six female boxers to compete, Army’s Barry will be equally challenged.

Though the No. 3 lightweight in the nation, she matches up with a former three-time national champion, Melissa Parker, from the Marines’ camp.

The Navy boxing team is also surging as of late.

Bringing nine boxers to Lackland, Navy finished two total points short of a silver medal finish last year behind the Marines. In 2009, they finished second for the first time in 15 years, Navy coach Steve Carbajal said.

“We’re not quite there yet, but we’re knocking on the door,” Carbajal said. “We have a good team and we’ll represent the Navy well.”

Using the same four-week training camp as the Air Force, Navy’s coach said time is a limitation.

Also limiting the Navy, gold medalist last year and two-time Armed Forces champion Justin Diaz is currently engaged in career-advancement training. As a result, Navy enters a talented, but less experienced team, Carbajal said.

One of the talents, Navy’s Brandon Wicker, has the potential opportunity to give Army’s light heavyweight national champion another battle. Spencer beat Wicker in a narrow semifinal win last year.

“That was really close, too close,” Carbajal said. “Brandon is really itching to get another piece of Jeffrey again.”

The most undermanned, as far as team members, the Air Force is bringing in three boxers. Air Force coach Steve Franco said due to larger Army and Marine Corps teams, winning a team championship is already hard to do.

“Three gives us the best chance to win a medal,” he said. “The team trophy is out the window from the beginning. We’re not worried about team medals, (but focused on) individual victories and moving forward to the Olympic Team Trials.”

The interservice championships are, like the USA Boxing National Championships in June, an 2012 Olympic Team Trials qualifier.