WIESBADEN, Germany - Nate Barnd pounced on teammate and welterweight opponent Jason Park on Saturday night with the tenacity of a bulldog, fighting his way to a victory in front of an energized group of hometown boxing fans at the packed Wiesbaden Fitness Center on Clay Kaserne.
Things weren’t always looking so up for Barnd, an Army mechanic with aspirations of joining the All-Army team and one day competing in the Olympics. In fact, just last October, he had gotten into trouble and was on extra-duty standing outside of the base’s shoppette with his hands in his pockets when the garrison’s top enlisted soldier spotted him.
Command Sgt. Maj. Sa’eed Mustafa approached Barnd and urged him to come out to see a boxing event that was slated to take place on base. What Mustafa didn’t expect to see when he arrived was that same young soldier entering the ring for his debut on the garrison’s boxing team.
Fast forward to Saturday night’s IMCOM-Europe Invitational Boxing Championships and Barnd is freshly promoted, 30 pounds lighter, better at his Army physical fitness test and named as a soldier of the month.
He takes as much pride in mentoring other boxers on his team as he does in his own success in the ring.
“Boxing has helped me to stay out of trouble,” Barnd said. “It keeps me away from alcohol and being around the barracks bored and playing video games.”
Barnd’s fight was one of 10 that took place Saturday night for the final day of the boxing championships that featured Marine, soldier and airman boxers. Fans were treated to a party atmosphere with all the fixings to include Hooters ring girls, fog machines, music, dancing, and of course, plenty of action in the ring.
Another hometown boxer that got fans on their feet early was Wiesbaden’s Robert Figlioli, also competing in a 152-pound welterweight contest. Figlioli was pitted against Stuttgart’s Daniel Kim, whose entrance to the ring came complete with an entourage carrying both U.S. Marine Corps and American flags.
Figlioli, who first put on boxing gloves just two months ago, relied on a hard right to overcome Kim’s longer reach, ultimately outlasting his Marine opponent to earn a 4-1 decision.
“My goal was to go for his body, but he started leaving his head open a lot,” Figlioli said about his upper combos that left Kim dazed and fatigued in the bout’s last round.
In arguably the fight of the night, a pair of female MPs from Wiesbaden proved that boxing isn’t just a sport for the guys as they put on a show in a 125-pound featherweight matchup.
“I wanted to give the people a show,” said Lisa Manela, who didn’t disappoint.
Manela and Alicia Demilio came out with a relentless barrage of body and head shots and didn’t let up until the final bell in a match where Manela was able to wear down the brawler in the opposite corner to earn a 3-2 decision.
“She’s the bruiser, I’m the athlete,” Manela said of her opponent, who had beaten her in the pair’s previous two bouts. “When she got tired, I had to up it.”
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” blared from the loudspeakers as Aretha Franklin’s song provided the entrance music for a 201-plus pound. super heavyweight bout featuring the imposing Travis Tofi from Grafenwöhr and Stuttgart’s Jamaal Warren.
Tofi didn’t get any respect from the referees, though, as he was disqualified for an illegal blow to the back of Warren’s head. Tofi, who was dominating the bout, said it was nice to fight in front of so many fans and was obviously enjoying playing to the crowd as they expressed displeasure over the disqualification.
“I couldn’t stop the punch,” he said about the illegal blow, adding that his opponent lowered his head too late for him to alter the punch.
Regardless of the outcomes, a common sentiment echoed from fans, organizers and boxers on Saturday was one of optimism and hope that military sports would continue an upward trend and replicate the glory days of years gone by.
“This stuff is happening on their own time,” pointed out Mustafa, credited for helping to garner excitement for military boxing in Europe. “A soldier that has that level of commitment, we should highlight that, it’s a positive thing.”
Jeremy Bates, who won the 165-pound middleweight bout against Wiesbaden’s David Marcet when the referee stopped the contest at 1:45 in the third and final round, said he wished he knew about the military boxing events sooner.
Bates, an Army specialist, has only been boxing for about a month and said it’s helped to pull him out of some depressing times where he harbored negative feelings about the Army.
“I’m a better soldier and a better person,” said Bates about donning boxing gloves for the past month. He added that he probably would’ve made a decision to re-enlist if he would’ve known about boxing sooner. “This is awesome.”