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Air Force boxers rumble at Fort Sam Houston

Irby Burnett, senior airman from the 60th Maintenance Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., lands a punch on Jesse Richardson during the Air Force Box-Off Tournament at the METC Campus Fitness Center Saturday. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Deyanira Romo Russell)

Irby Burnett, senior airman from the 60th Maintenance Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., lands a punch on Jesse Richardson during the Air Force Box-Off Tournament at the METC Campus Fitness Center Saturday. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Deyanira Romo Russell)

The Air Force Box-Off tournament, held Jan. 20-21 at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, preps select Air Force boxers for the Armed Forces Boxing Championships. This year’s event will be held at Camp Pendleton, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Deyanira Romo Russell)

The Air Force Box-Off tournament, held Jan. 20-21 at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, preps select Air Force boxers for the Armed Forces Boxing Championships. This year’s event will be held at Camp Pendleton, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Deyanira Romo Russell)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- In what Air Force officials called a "grand slam" for the Fitness Center on the Medical Training and Education Center Campus, the Air Force Box-Off tournament Jan. 20 and 21 was a big success.

"The Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines packed the house," said Ken Hack, the center's director.

"All branches of the services were at the event and also included family members, active duty service members and Department of Defense civilian employees."

A total of nine Air Force boxers took part in the two-day competition, with a fight card filled out by amateurs from San Antonio and South Texas boxing clubs.

There were 10 bouts the first night and 12 the second in a number of weight classes, from 123-pound super featherweights up to 201-pound heavyweights.

At stake in the fights was the chance to advance to the Armed Forces Boxing Tournament at Camp Pendleton, Calif., which takes place from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3.

"This is the competition used to determine who advances," Hack said. "Boxers also may advance to represent the Air Force at the USA National Boxing Championship. Weight division winners at the Armed Forces Championship may advance to an annual international military championship, if worthy."

Selected to compete by Air Force boxing coaches Tech Sgt. Steve Franco and his assistant coach Staff Sgt. Bobby DeLeon, there were both open and novice boxers at the competition.

The coaches carefully matched the contestants, since the military rules state that open boxers (those with at least five bouts) can't box against novice boxers in regulation bouts.

The fighters trained at the Chaparral Fitness Center at JBSA-Lackland at the beginning of January.

"We had 16 days to train and learn all the basics of boxing all over again. We faced some tough opponents, but the hard work is showing and even better, the toughness," Franco said. "This is a great place to host this event here on Fort Sam Houston. I hope everyone enjoyed it."

Sanctioned by USA boxing, each match included three, 3-minute rounds with a doctor available to examine each boxer at the conclusion of each bout, as military boxing follows amateur-boxing rules.

Two women led off the boxing competition Saturday, with Sarah Byrd representing Flex Boxing Club and Sarah Rush boxing for Fit Pit. Rush won the bout.

"It was a good first experience for my first fight," Rush said. "I thought the atmosphere was great."

"I feel good," said Senior Airman Kent Brinson who had just won his match. "It's nice to come out of here with some wins. It has been a hard night for us as a team," he added.

Brinson is stationed with the 13th Air Support Operation Squadron at Fort Carson, Colo. In the 201-pound class, he defeated Jas Phipps, who represented Miracle Boxing Club.

While the teams have gotten smaller over the past few years, Hack said Air Force boxing is alive and well, despite the rise in popularity in mixed martial arts competitions.

"I know some the boxers have and do train in mixed martial arts," Hack said. "The Air Force doesn't have a MMA program, so if they compete in that genre, they do it on their own."

Hack said the Fitness Center on the METC Campus is uniquely equipped to handle an event like the box-off.

"It's a state-of-the-art facility that opened in June 2011," the director said. "During the planning of the facility, special events like boxing were taken into consideration.

"We have a physical training room that can be use for multiple functions. For this event, it was used for the weigh-ins, physicals and then divided during the fights to hold the red and blue teams," Hack said. "Instead of purchasing bleachers, we have 12 portable bleachers on wheels that we can conform to events. The upstairs running track can be used for above-the-event seating."

Hack and his staff are hoping the success of the Air Force Box-Off will increase their chances to hold other services championships in many sports.

"Our next goal is to host DOD-level sports that would attract military competitors from all the services," he said. "A step of above this would be to host a CISM (Conseil International du Sport Militaire) tournament or championship. That would include military from around the world."

CISM is one of the largest multidisciplinary organizations in the world, which organizes various sporting events for the armed forces of its 133 member countries. CISM annually organizes more than 20 military world championships for different sports in which all member nations can take part.

"The success of this event showed that joint base events can happen and go well - if not better than - when we stand alone," Hack said. "We're able to pull resources, manpower and expertise from all three installations in Joint Base San Antonio."

These championships determine the composition of the Air Force Boxing Team that once finalized, will compete at the 2012 Armed Forces Boxing Championships at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and the 2012 National Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Deyanira Romo Rossell, 502nd Force Support Squadron Marketing, contributed to this story.)
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