The quick wisps of air leaving the sweat-laced mouths of Air Force cadets were muffled Thursday by the blows of fists to ribs inside Clune Arena.
With every "pop, pop, pop" and "jab, jab, jab," the boxers competing in the 2014 Wing Open Championships fought for supremacy, gritted their teeth and swallowed any pain they may have felt for victory in front of a raucous fan base.
It was the punch of the night from James Monk that brought Clune Arena to life when the senior, co-captain landed a vicious, right uppercut into the face of opponent Samuel Sheikh in the third round to win the 156-pound Wing Open Championship for the second consecutive year.
"This year I had a little more pressure as a co-captain, and so I was pretty pumped about it," Monk said. "That was one of my better matches of the year, too."
The punch sent Sheikh into the corner, before he slumped down with his arms on the ropes as the referee stopped the contest shortly after Monk whispered "it's over."
"I like the kid, so I felt a little bad," Monk said. "But it's boxing. He was trying to hurt me too."
Monk, a 5-foot-9 senior, used his left jab to set up his hook.
"I made a really good left so I knew if I just weaved it I could throw my right," the Vancouver, Wash., native said. "Once I saw him bend over, I saw that right open and I just went for it."
Longtime Air Force coach Eddie Weichers was proud of both fighters.
"Being a co-captain there is a lot of pressure on you and you are in with a very talented freshman," Weichers said. "What do you do? James is very aggressive, very fast. He fought well."
Eventually, that aggressiveness caught up with the inexperienced freshman.
"(Sheikh) was real tough early," Weichers added. "A couple body shots slowed him down and that was the end."
Monk, who is a distant relative of ex-Redskins receiver Art Monk, originally was recruited to play defensive back at Air Force before swapping his cleats for boxing gloves.
"The hardest part was I thought I was big and tough and could just knock people out," Monk admitted. "That was definitely not the case. I had a rude awakening of how to actually box."
Monk will lead his fellow Air Force Wing Open Champions - Mateus Arcano (112), Adam Sumait (119), Stephen Bittner (125), Roy Taylor (132), Jacob Berggren (139) Sean Cork (147), Gytenis Borusas (165), Brandon Pitts (175), Zac Spranger (195) and Stevan Bacchus-Grant (Heavyweight) - to Reno, Nev., on March 13-15 for the NCBA Western Regionals along with fellow captain Denis Vorobyov.
The Kiev, Ukraine, native was given the 2014 Outstanding Boxer Award after he earned a split decision against Javaughn Baltrip for the 185-pound title.