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Nov 17, 2010

Irish Creed Exclusive: Fighting Irish in the Ring

Four years before he led the Fighting Irish to their first national championship on the gridiron, head football coach Knute Rocke started a tradition that has since taken on a life of its own and become a central part of the Notre Dame experience.

Two Notre Dame men fight during a recent Bengal Bouts tournament

Beginning in 1920, boxing quickly became a favorite pastime for the collection of “tough gentlemen” that exemplified the ideal student at Our Lady’s university.  In 1931, boxing coach Dominic “Nappy” Napolitano brought the burgeoning popularity of the sport in line with the mission of service that Notre Dame had inherited from the Congregation of Holy Cross.  Since then, the annual amateur boxing championship known as the “Bengal Bouts” has trained countless Notre Dame men to become fighters in the name of charity in order to fund Holy Cross Missions that provide education and serve the poor in Bangladesh.  The official motto of the Bouts, a quote from Nappy himself, boldly states: “Strong bodies fight, that weak bodies may be nourished.”  In today’s world of sports, where little if anything at all remains sacred, Notre Dame Boxing represents competition in its purest form.  Each year, a new band of fighters contribute their blood, sweat, (not tears), tenacity, and toughness, not in the name of glamour, but out of the deep respect they have for everything at Notre Dame worth fighting for.

Throughout their history, the Bouts have not gone without recognition.  Described as “what boxing can be like at its honest best” by SI columnist Bud Schulberg in 1955, the tournament has seen its fair share of talented fighters along with the occasional guest appearance from the likes of Mohammad Ali and Rocky Marciano.  A long line of distinguished champions has come out of Notre Dame, and many have gone on to great accomplishments at the next level. 

Recent Notre Dame alum Mike Lee, a Bengal Bouts captain in 2008 and 2009 and three-time champion, has already amassed an impressive resume as a professional fighter during the short time since graduating in 2009.  He was crowned as the Chicago Golden Gloves Champion that same year, and has since earned a 3-0 record with two KOs as a 175lb Light Heavyweight.  He is currently trained by Ronnie Shields, who once worked with the likes of Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Pernell Whitaker, Arturo Gatti, and Juan Diaz. 

On November 13, Mike defeated Keith Debow by KO as an undercard to the Super Welterweight World Championship in Cowboys Stadium on a night which featured an impressive victory by the biggest name in boxing right now, Manny Pacquiao.  I recently had a chance to ask Mike about his impressions of the fight and his days at Notre Dame:

TheNDleprechaun:  What fighting experience did you have before boxing at Notre Dame, and how did the Bengal Bouts influence you as a fighter?

ML:  I was brought to a boxing gym in Chicago when I was 16 but most of my boxing career began once I got to Notre Dame.

TheNDleprechaun:  What did it mean to play such a prominent role within a tradition that began during the days of Knute Rockne? 

ML: Being a part of the Bengal Bouts was incredible and becoming a three-time champion was an honor because the program has had so many great fighters and a strong tradition that I'm just glad to be a part of.

TheNDleprechaun: What one moment stands out as the highlight of your boxing career at Notre Dame, and in your career in general?

ML: The highlight of my Bengal Bouts career was winning the 175lb championship my junior year. I fought another Bengal Bouts captain who was the best fighter I had faced so far, so winning was a big deal for me.  Coming out in front of over 75,000 people in Cowboys Stadium was a dream come true and honestly pretty difficult to describe.  I remember feeling really loose, relaxed and strong.  I came out to "Good Life" by Kanye West and just fed off the energy of the crowd.  Fighting in front of large crowds in the JACC at ND definitely prepared me for moments like that.

TheNDleprechaun:  On the same day that your Fighting Irish upset Utah in Notre Dame Stadium, you were rocking the Blue and Gold along with a Notre Dame flag during the biggest fight of your life. What influenced you to rep your alma mater like that on Saturday?

ML:   I have always worn the blue and gold gear from head to toe for all my professional fights. Notre Dame was such a huge part of my life and the amount of ND fans and alumni who have supported my career so far has been amazing, so it's just my way of showing my appreciation. Plus the gear looks great, so that doesn't hurt.

TheNDleprechaun:  Glad to see that you’re staying Gold and Blue through and through.  Finally, what are your plans for the future?

ML:  I plan on having a huge year next year, continuing to learn and get better every fight and finish out the year 10-0 and highly ranked in the Light-Heavyweight Division. The boxing world/writers have been very complimentary of my style and performance so far so I plan on keeping that up.

Many thanks to Mike for taking the time to catch up with Notre Dame nation.  Congrats on your latest KO and best of luck as you continue to represent the Fighting Irish in the ring.  Follow Mike’s career at www.mikeleeboxing.com

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2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule

2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule
DateOpponent / EventLocationTime / Result
09/01/12vs. Navy Dublin, IrelandW, 50-10
09/08/12vs. PurdontNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-17
09/15/12at SpartyEast Lansing, Mich.W, 20-3
09/22/12vs. SkunkbearsNotre Dame, Ind.W, 13-6
Shamrock Series
10/06/12vs. Da UChicago, Ill.W, 41-3
10/13/12vs. TreesNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-13 (OT)
10/20/12vs. BYU Notre Dame, Ind.W, 17-14
10/27/12at Oklahoma Norman, Okla.W, 30-13
11/03/12vs. Pittsburgh Notre Dame, Ind.W, 29-26 (3OT)
11/10/12at Backup College Chestnut Hill, Mass.W, 21-6
11/17/12vs. Fake Worest Notre Dame, Ind.W, 38-0
11/24/12at U$C Los Angeles, Calif.W, 22-13
1/7/13vs. AlabamaBCS CHAMPIONSHIP
(Miami, Florida)
L, :(