When Wale Lawal decided to commit to competitive boxing, he said he was absolutely exhausted after his first time in the ring. That was just two months ago.
On Thursday night, Lawal was one of the most dominant fighters at the Wing Open championships, winning the heavyweight bout at a nearly full Clune Arena. The Wing Open is for any cadet to enter, and is an extension of the boxing class and intramural program.
Lawal used to play linebacker at Air Force, but he had to quit football after last year’s spring practice because of a balky knee. He seems to have found a new outlet for his competitive side.
“I started to develop really fast and it was like, ‘Man, I kind of like this,’” Lawal said. “It feels good.”
One of the other highlights of the night was Mike McLain, who won the 175-pound match to become the 12th four-time Wing Open champion in academy history.
The other winners were Roy Taylor (125 pounds), Andrew Munoz (132), Dan Starr (139), Glenn Miltenberg (147), Tyrus Korecki (156), Casey Habluetzel (165) and Logan Brandt (195). Drew Pineda (112) and Justin Zahn (119) won by walk-over, and Zac Spranger (185) won by medical forfeit. Miltenberg was given the Outstanding Boxer Award.
McLain didn’t have it easy. He and his opponent, Denis Vorobyov, put forth one of the most competitive matches of the night.
Vorobyov, who battled McLain in the finals last year as well, started the fight with a strong flurry of punches, and the action rarely slowed down after that. McLain outlasted him for the decision and his fourth title. He said he knew of Air Force’s boxing program when he decided to come to the academy, and he started thinking about becoming a four-time champion even when he was in high school.
“It’s like a dream come true,” McLain said. “I’ve just always thought boxing kind of embodied what the academy is about.”
Lawal doesn’t have McLain’s experience, but it was tough to tell at the Wing Open. Lawal took the boxing class last spring, and was intrigued. He was around the football team as an assistant during last season, but when he came back from the holiday break one of his friends encouraged him to give boxing serious consideration.
“I was like, ‘I need to get in shape, so why not give it a try?’” Lawal said.
Lawal threw some huge punches early in his Wing Open fight, and opponent Joseph Okai was given a standing-eight count in the first minute. When the fight resumed, Lawal continued to pummel Okai and the fight was stopped by the referee, 1 minute into the first round.
The winners in each weight class at the Wing Open will represent Air Force at the National Collegiate Boxing Association regionals March 22-24 in Reno, Nev. The top two in each weight class automatically qualify for the NCBA championships, which are at Clune Arena on April 5-7.
Contact Frank Schwab: 476-4891
Facebook Gazette Frank Schwab