By Brandon Cruz
The Battle Born State truly lives up to its name, as it has been home to some of the most monumental boxing fights of all time: Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas; Jack Johnson vs. James J. Jeffries in Reno, widely known as the fight to restore the heavyweight title to “white America”; and finally the bout between Félix Trinidad vs. Oscar De La Hoya on Sept. 18, 1999, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The Nevada boxing team resonates with the rich history of Nevada as it boasts two decorated seniors in three-time national champion Garrett Felling and bronze medalist Zach Smith.
Other than Felling and Smith, much of Nevada’s roster is untested, as many of its team member’s first collegiate matches will take place in the Eldorado Resort Casino ballrooms on Friday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. Granted, Nevada may be short in ring experience, but to counterbalance its rawness, the team has been practicing day and night since the start of summer — morning runs accompanied by intense sparring sessions in the evening as well as a host of circuits that would test the willpower of any individual, all for six days a week. Along with the team members’ demanding training, they dedicate countless hours to their education just like other students, and some even work a job on the side. Boxing itself is a full-time job, but these student-athletes do not have the luxury of being at school on scholarship due to their club status.
There are three boxers who bolster down the untested fighters: 153-pounder Britt Brown is the most experienced of the three, with four collegiate fights under his belt in which he went 3-1; Dustin Congdon is next, who has been boxing for two months but has an extensive background in wrestling; and there is Dillon Maguin who, like Congdon, has a wrestling background and will be debuting on Nov. 11.
Reno native Brown has been boxing off and on for about two years. At first what he saw as a hobby or time-filler soon became an addiction he could not seem to shake.
“I wanted something to keep me busy, but once I started it was hard to stop,” Brown said.
Brown found a positive addiction in boxing as the sport soon took over his life. But for him it isn’t about the accolades or fame that could come with boxing; he looks forward to the daily gains he can make through practicing with his teammates.
“Yeah, you know, getting out there in front of people and performing feels great. But getting here in the gym with a bunch of good guys and good coaches is all that really matters,” Brown said.
Southpaw fighter Congdon is a force to be reckoned with because of his fighting style, at least according to Brown.
“I haven’t fought any southpaws collegiately, but I hate fighting them in the gym. I hate sparring with them … you find that they’re more comfortable sparring with you than you are with them,” Brown said.
This is a popular opinion throughout the ranks of the Nevada boxing team and looks to give Congdon an edge on his opponent, EJ Reyes from Air Force, come Friday. Congdon’s wrestling background also gives him a favorable advantage due to the psyche that comes with being a wrestler.
“I think my mindset and my focus are a strength of mine,” Congdon said.
Although Maguin may be new to boxing in terms of in-the-ring involvement, he has an edge not many fighters can boast: boxing has been the hand-me-down sport in his family for decades.
“Boxing has been in my family for generations. My grandparents, my uncles and a couple of my brothers boxed in an amateur league,” Maguin said.
Maguin’s brothers taught him his first jabs and right hands, mainly the basics to give him a solid foundation to build from. This foundation must have counted for something, as senior Smith can see great qualities in Maguin.
“I think he’s prepared. He’s been coming in here pretty frequently. He looks good, he’s sharp, athletic and fast. So I think he’s going to come out with a W,” Smith said.
This Friday Brown squares off against a familiar opponent in Pedro Barrientes, who Brown beat just a year ago, while Congdon and Maguin will take on two fairly inexperienced fighters like themselves as they look to get their feet wet in the collegiate boxing world. However, only time will tell if these young boxers can live up to the Nevada reputation set by some of the greatest to ever step foot in the ring.
The fights will take place at the Eldorado Resort Casino ballrooms on Friday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. Students get in free with a valid student ID.
Brandon Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.