How the Army Boxing Program works

By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Elliott Fabrizio, The Pentagon Channel

Sgt. Toribio Ramirez prepares to enter the arena for his fight in the finals of the 2012 Armed Forces Boxing Championship at Camp Pendleton, Calif, Feb. 3. Ramirez fights for the Army in the 132lb. weight class. The Pentagon Channel will air its Armed Forces Boxing series, March 9. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Elliott Fabrizio)

Punch that guy as much as you can.

If that’s an order you’d love to carry out, the Army has a place for you: The All-Army Boxing Team.

The Army’s boxing program gives Soldiers the chance to fight their way through its rankings. If they win enough, they may even find themselves representing the U.S. in the Olympics.

“I tell these Soldiers, ‘Write your own story,’” said Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette. “Somebody gave me an opportunity, and now I stand before you as All-Army Boxing head coach.”

Army boxing consists of a series of programs with hard-won victories as the admission price to each successive level.

The path of “Pvt. Iwannabe A. Boxer” begins at the command level with boxing smokers. These can take the form of unit and brigade competitions or commander’s cup events.

At this level Soldiers demonstrate raw potential, and if the All-Army Boxing coaches believe they can groom him or her into a powerful competitor, they’ll be invited to the All-Army Boxing training camp.

“Sometimes we get boxers that have been fighting for a long time and that helps, but the higher percentage of boxers we take have little to no boxing experience,” said Leverette.

Boxers interested in camp are required to register as amateurs with USA Boxing and get at least five official bouts under their belts.

The All-Army Boxing camp is either a dream come true or a nightmare, depending on the boxer’s level of commitment. Starting in late December, camp selectees can expect to eat, sleep and breathe boxing. There are three workouts per day, beginning before the sun rises and ending long after it has set.

Camp culminates with the coaches determining the best fighter in each weight class — those Soldiers advance to the Armed Forces Championship.

Each year the Armed Forces Sports Program holds its boxing championship, and the best of the best from each service’s boxing team meet to slug it out for gold. Lose there, and it’s back to the unit and soldiering. But stay fit in the off-season, because there’s always next year.

“It’s not about winning or losing,” said Leverette. “Everybody wins if you learn something. My goal as a coach is just to touch a Soldier’s life in a meaningful way. Everybody wants to be a competitor and be number one, but that’s not the most important thing.”

If a Soldier wins gold at Armed Forces, he heads to both Nationals and the Conseil International du Sport Militaire’s World Military Games, commonly referred to as CISM.

“Winning Armed Forces gold was just a stepping stone for me,” said 2012 Armed Forces Boxing Champion Spc. Steven Nelson. “It helped me move up to a new level of competition, but I’m still just a 2-year-old baby when it comes to boxing.”

Nationals is where the “rookies” are separated from the “Rockys.” If you can fight your way to the top six in Nationals against ranked civilian amateurs, you can say hello to the World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP.

“My goal is to make WCAP, so I can build my amateur career worldwide. And then when I go pro, I can get ranked as a top contender and get a chance at some world titles,” added Nelson.

Soldiers who enter WCAP are on special orders — their entire mission is to prepare for Olympic trials. There’s no prize for second place at the trials. Lose, and you are returned to your original unit — but you can re-apply for the next year’s All-Army Boxing Team.

Win at the Olympic trials, and you can dust off your passport: You will be representing Army and country at the Olympic games.

“The last WCAP Soldier to box at the Olympics was Staff Sgt. Orlando Anderson in 2000,” said Leverette.

Just getting to the Olympics is rare enough to be considered a monumental accomplishment, so what happens if that Army Boxer actually wins Olympic gold?

He can always buy some metal polish and spend the rest of their days shining their gold medal — at that point, he’ll already have a permanent place in the annals of Army Boxing. Typically, the next step is entering the realm of professional boxing.

“There have been several Army boxers to win gold at the Olympics,” said Leverette. “Ray Mercer, Kenny McKinney and Andrew Maynard, just to name a few. These Soldiers eventually left the Army and competed as pro boxers.”

From a base-wide box off to the Olympic games, the Army Sports Program will take any Soldier the distance; all they have to do is keep winning.

The Pentagon Channel series about the 2012 Armed Forces Boxing Championship will premiere, March 9. To watch the 2010 or 2011 events, visit http://www.pentagonchannel.mil/boxing/.