The Bengal Bouts club is looking forward to a successful tournament this week, in no small part because of the leadership of the senior and junior captains.
The junior captains have collectively stepped into leadership positions this year, citing former and senior captains as a source of inspiration to them.
While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the tournament from taking place last year, it did not prevent the team from fundraising for the Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh. However, the Bengal Bouts’ junior captains have been preparing for the tournament since the fall and are excited to make their return to the ring this week.
Read about each of the junior captains and their experience in Bengal Bouts below, and watch the tournament on Feb. 24, Mar. 1, and Mar. 28 at 7 p.m. in Dahnke Ballroom in Duncan Student Center. Tickets to individual rounds are available for purchase at the door for $15, as well as an “all-events pass” for $40. Students may also purchase all-events passes from Bengal Bouts participants for $20.
Greg “Falcon” DeFalcoA junior from Long Grove, Illinois, Greg DeFalco of Alumni Hall joined the Bengal Bouts as a first-year. Initially interested in the boxing and competitive aspect of the club, DeFalco soon became committed to the mission of Bengal Bouts and serving the Bangladeshi community.
“Our main purpose is raising money for the Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh,” he said. “And what that means is, for the northern part of the country, the more rural part of the country, there’s a fairly large Catholic minority there who doesn’t get great representation from the government.”
Like many of the current boxers, DeFalco has not been to Bangladesh himself because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he spoke about the many ways the Bengal Bouts have served the Bangladeshi community.
“We funded technical schools that are now self sufficient,” he said. “We’ve built a whole community, a school ... and things like that for education in these rural villages.”
The club’s philanthropic mission increases motivation inside the ring, DeFalco said.
“It really helps you push yourself when you know that the extra money I raise and the harder I work, a child’s getting educated, someone’s getting fed,” DeFalco said.
In addition to finding meaning in the mission of Bengal Bouts, DeFalco has also found a community.
“Boxing is looked at as a very individual sport and kind of a vain sport. I don’t agree with that,” DeFalco said.
DeFalco said that while the team is very competitive inside the ring, the community is still very supportive.
“It’s kind of fun, because you go in the ring for a spar and you and a guy beat the hell out of each other for six minutes,” he said. “And then you’re friends, and then you go get food or something. So it’s an interesting community. I think all the guys are really there for each other.”
DeFalco said he has found junior captain to be a fulfilling role this semester.
“[Being a captain has] been a really, really big deal for me this year. I remember my freshman year, I was so intimidated by those guys. ... You think they know everything and they’re there all the time,” he said. “And they’re always working out. And so I had some really great mentors my freshman year, and I just kept being dedicated. And eventually I got the nod to do that this year as a junior captain and then next year as a senior captain.”
Dedicated to the Bengal Bouts, DeFalco typically spends three to four hours at the ring on weekdays and Saturdays.
“I just get to see everything that goes on behind the scenes, cornering guys for a couple hours a week, answering questions, working with guys in there, and you got to realize that a lot of the guys are looking up to you, looking up for advice on how to fight, or just how to deal with nerves,” DeFalco said.
Outside the ring, DeFalco studies electrical engineering in Notre Dame’s College of Engineering.
Jack PhillipsA junior captain from Collegeville, Pennsylvania, Jack Phillips of Knott Hall joined Bengal Bouts his freshman year, quickly becoming committed to the mission of the Bengal Bouts and falling in love with the camaraderie offered by the club.
“I think like most people in the club, I had a background in high school sports before Notre Dame and kind of missed that team aspect and camaraderie that we all had growing up ... and you just can’t replicate that in the classroom or just hanging out with friends, so Bengal Bouts are just a form of of healthy competition,” Phillips said.
Phillips was encouraged to join the club by current Bengal Bouts president Alec Vasquez.
“He recognized that the club would be good for me and I just kind of fell in love with the community and the second family that we have there,” Phillips said. “The club stands for so much more than just boxing, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Being a junior captain has given Phillips a new perspective of the club.
“Being a captain gave me a chance to step back and consider how I can develop more than just my individual skills as a boxer. As a captain, it’s kind of my role to set an example for everyone else, and, come in day in and day out,” he said. “I think there’s a strong sense of culture and tradition with a club that gets passed down over time.”
COVID-19 has presented a challenge to Bengal Bouts, but not one that could impede their commitment to their service mission.
“[The Bangladeshi people] are going through a whole different pandemic than we are in the sense that they don’t have the financial support and the support from the government and the support from their schools that we have here. We take it for granted that we’re almost returning to normalcy here, but it’s still very much a different world there,” Phillips said.
Even while studying abroad in London this semester, Phillips continues to support the team from a distance.
“I was there for all the girls’ season, training them, and then switched to training for the boys’ season,” he said. “I love going to work every day with the guys, the girls and the coaches; they’re like a second family to me. So I miss my friends and I’m itching to get back for next year.”
The Bengal Bouts have taught Phillips that “it takes a village.”
“We’re all very aware that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, in the sense that none of us could individually fundraise all this money on our own,” he said. “We’re well aware that we have to do this together through a tournament, through the production process ... so it’s holding each other accountable.”
Phillips views Bengal Bouts as a unique opportunity at Notre Dame.
“I’m never gonna forget the opportunity. Notre Dame represents a school of opportunity for me. And I’m extremely lucky and privileged to be here. The way for me to share that is through volunteering and service and the whatnot. But, you know, Bengal Bouts is the way I can do that through fundraising, and sharing the gift of opportunity with people in Bangladesh,” Phillips said.
Outside the ring, Phillips studies finance in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.
Christian MurrayA junior from Point Lookout, New York, Christian Murray of O’Neill Family Hall is a junior captain of Bengal Bouts focusing on technique. Over the past three years, Murray has become committed to the mission of the Bengal Bouts and to helping other boxers improve alongside him, inside and outside the ring.
Murray recognizes being a junior captain as a major accomplishment and cited prior captains as an inspiration to him.
“When you show up on the first day of practice, you show up in the Stepan Center, and there’s eight captains in front of the room. And ... you do a super hard workout and you’re dying through it,” he said. “And they’re out there, eight guys in the front of the room leading it, and they’re getting through it like it’s nothing for them.”
Murray recalled how he became a junior captain of the Bengal Bouts.
“Last year when I got the call from our president, Alec, that he wanted me to be captain, it was one of the happiest moments that I’ve had. I knew I had been picked by some of the people that I respected most out of anyone and from people that I never thought that I could be anything like,” he said. “For them to say, ‘We see something in you, and we think that you could help lead this club’ — that just meant the world to me.”
COVID-19 has posed new challenges to Bengal Bouts, but the club has endured many obstacles across its history, Murray said.
“Last year was what really made me understand what makes Bengal Bouts special. Bengal Bouts has been around for 92 years; ... it’s been around through world wars; it’s been around through Vietnam, a bunch of big events in history. It didn’t stop with COVID and it’s not gonna stop for really anything. We’ll always find a way to get it done,” he said.
Murray said he is excited about the Bouts, but also feels a bit of pressure.
“I had the opportunity to work with the women’s tournament in the fall ... and even when they lose, even when someone lost a fight ... they’d say, this is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “And I hope the guys that I’ve been working with get that experience and get to prove to themselves mentally that they’re there; they can accomplish more than they ever thought possible. And that’s what keeps me there every day for four or five hours. It’s seeing those little moments.”
Outside the ring, Murray studies business analytics in the Mendoza College of Business and psychology in the College of Arts and Letters.
Evan “Milk” MolcaEvan Molka is a junior from Milburn, New Jersey living in Keough Hall. A junior captain this year, Molka is focused on the fundraising of the club.
Molka said Bengal Bouts tries to keep their mission of service at the front of their minds during the training season.
“Something we do every Monday is something we call ‘Mission Mondays,’ where we feature some aspect of the charitable mission that we have. So this year, we’ve had some past Bengal Bouts captains and alumni come back and talk about their experiences when they went to Bangladesh and actually met the people that we’re impacting over there,” he said.
Molka said he has found a community of likeminded people at Notre Dame through the Bengal Bouts.
“Our team is one of the best communities I’ve found here at Notre Dame,” he said. “It’s a group of guys that are really, truly committed to a cause greater than themselves. ... Most of us really do care about the mission and our greater role in the club. And it’s just great to see all these humble guys committed to getting better themselves and working with one another.”
The Bengal Bouts have taught Molka that “it’s not about you,” which goes hand in hand with his role as an ROTC student.
“We sort of stress during these workouts that at the end of the day, it’s not really about you,” he said. “It’s not really about how well you do in the tournament. Everybody wants to do well in the tournament. I do. Certainly, I want to be a champ come the end of it. But at the end of the day, it’s about putting on a good show for people to watch so that they’re encouraged to pay that money to send halfway across the world to Bangladesh.”
Molka emphasized that Bengal Bouts truly is a team sport.
“It’s not really about you; it’s about how you can impact others and improve the world that you live in,” he said. “And that was something that I think was really instilled in me in Bengal Bouts. I think I’ve definitely grown a lot in that area through Bengal Bouts. Without Bengal Bouts, I definitely would not be in the same place I am today.”
Outside the ring, Molka studies aerospace engineering in Notre Dame’s College of Engineering.