By Derek De La Garza
Peter Kuo is no Mike Tyson, but he exemplifies what college boxing is today.
Kuo is the president of University Boxing, an organization started at UT in 2007. The organization focuses on training and teaching students how to box. Since boxing is no longer sanctioned by the NCAA, student-led organizations have been started at many universities to fill the void.
The NCAA voted to stop sanctioning college boxing in 1961, following the death of Charlie Mohr, the reigning national champion. Fighting for Wisconsin in the match to decide the national team champion, Mohr took a blow to the side of the head that knocked him down. The fight was stopped, and Mohr started having convulsions in the locker room. After surgery to remove a blood clot, Mohr was in a coma for about a week before he died. The surgeon concluded that the blow to the side of the head caused the complications that led to his death. The NCAA has not revisited the idea of sanctioning the sport since.
However, many of the students who are in college boxing organizations now are beginners who are just looking for a way to get in shape.
“The whole vibe of the class is just to be healthy, and to get better together,” Kuo said, adding that boxing is new to most of those who join the organization.
“I can count on one hand how many people have prior boxing experience,” he said. “Most people start here.”
There are two organizations that oversee college boxing. The National Collegiate Boxing Association, or NCBA, was founded in 1976 and has 36 members. The other is the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association, or USIBA, founded in 2012. USIBA differs in that it has a “beginner” level, and the NCBA does not.
Both organizations have novice and open divisions, but according to overarching U.S. boxing rules, after 10 amateur fights, boxers are no longer novices. With these rules, someone with over 100 fights is in the same division as someone with 12 fights in the NCBA. So when USIBA was founded, the beginner division was implemented for the safety of students.
Although only a few students are competition-ready, Kuo said he is currently registering the organization to be a member of the USIBA, for those who want to compete.
University Boxing practices Monday through Friday, with a different focus each day.
Thursday practices begin with 15 minutes of conditioning, with many arriving soon after because they don’t like the tough warmup. The rest of the practice consists of drills and other boxing exercises.
Kuo said at the beginning of the semester roughly 65 people come to the first practice to check it out, and they typically have about 20 to 25 regulars who go to practice a few times a week. He said practice attendance drops at the end of the semester. Last Thursday, only eight members were present.
Professional boxing used to be very popular in the U.S., but as Bleacher Report and other websites have reported, it has lost much of its following. Some of the reasons listed are its switch to pay-per-view, lack of a charismatic heavyweight champion like Muhammad Ali or George Foreman, and the absence of a unified title.
Just like professional boxing, college boxing was popular as well. For Mohr’s final match, more than 10,000 fans were in attendance. To compare, according to the NCAA, the average attendance for a Division I basketball game was 4,633 in 2017. The link from college boxing to the professional sport was like college and pro football today, as many collegiate boxers turned pro.
Kuo attributes the comeback to people’s increased interest in MMA, and boxing’s roots.
“Just interested in combat sports in general, and boxing is like a classic one, like if you just think of I’m going to learn how to fight, people learn boxing,” he said. “That’s definitely what happened with me.”
Michael Mollenhauer said he couldn’t find the organization when he searched for a boxing club at UT, but later found out about it accidentally.
“By accident, I was taking a test in here and I saw them carrying the bags down,” he said. “I was like oh, I guess we do have a boxing club, so I dug deeper and I found it.”
Mollenhauer is like most in the organization, a beginner who is just looking to get better.
“I really wanted to do a sport that like I just focus on myself, and focus on improving myself, and boxing seemed really cool,” he said.
The sport has a different focus now but has life again thanks to student-led organizations.
Kuo said the organization has changed from a group of friends into something more.
“We have probably the strongest following now,” he said. “It was a closer-knit friend group in the beginning, but now it’s kind of just people interested in boxing.”