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Pope Airman heads to Armed Forces Boxing competition after taking gold at Air Force Box-Off at Kelly AFB

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mindy Bloem
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Ding, Ding -- the boxer's tune rings out, beckoning its hearers to dance around the ring in fisticuff-like fashion just waiting for the chance to strike. 

This scene unfolded many times at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas April 3 and 4 during the 2009 Air Force Box-Off, where Team Pope was represented by Airman 1st Class Nick Alwan, 14th Air Support Operations Squadron. 

Alwan left Pope March 20 to attend the Air Force Trial Camp at Kelly AFB in the hopes of garnering a coveted spot on the Air Force Boxing Team. 

Out of 11 male boxers, only five would earn the chance to represent the Air Force at the Armed Forces Boxing Tournament in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., April 26 through May 2. 

During Alwan's time at the Trial Camp, his head coach, Steven Franco, a former member of the Air Force team himself, put him and the 10 other boxers through extensive training at least three times a day for the sole purpose of turning the group of hopefuls into true contenders. 

Coach Franco, who has been coaching since 2004, knows what it takes to get the best results out of each contestant come fight night. 

"We only have two weeks to prepare for the Air Force Box-Off," Coach Franco said. "The training days consist of running -- sprints every other day in the mornings and afternoons. We also do the gym circuits, and then in the evenings we usually come back and do drills and skills plus go over technique, movement and how to catch and deliver punches correctly. " 

On April 3 the pressure was on for Alwan to win. Matched against Ricardo Urquizo, a fellow light heavyweight with much more boxing experience, Alwan geared up for the fight. 

During the match, cheers of support for Alwan could be heard emanating from the crowd as he faced off against his opponent. Among this horde of supporters were his father, Dale, and two sisters, Bethanie and Sammie, who showed up from more than nine hours away to cheer on Alwan in his chance at glory. 

Despite any obstacles Alwan may have faced in the ring that night, he met each one with dexterity and fortitude and ultimately walked away with a gold medal for the victory over Urquizo. 

Alwan's father, who has had first-hand experience with amateur boxing, knows the ins and outs of the sport and was impressed with his son's victory but had some advice for him as well. 

"When he was putting punches together, he did really well," Mr. Alwan said. "The combinations Nick was putting together were working really well, and he almost had the guy out in the first round. But when he stopped and stood still and wasn't moving as much, he was still effective when he hit him, but not as effective as when he was putting combinations together. I think his strength was the combinations he was putting together.  

Nick has always been a slugger, he stands there and he likes to hit hard, but I think the key for him is instead of standing there and loading up for one or two punches is to just keep putting those combinations together. If he would have stuck to his combinations, the guy would have been out in the first round. His coaches are trying to get him away from being a slugger to being more of a boxer. He has a lot of raw talent and if he listens to them he will go far." 

On the night of the second match, Alwan was matched with an opponent, Chris Lopez, who outweighed him by at least 15 pounds. Undeterred by this fact, Alwan pressed forward, not knowing he would find an even bigger challenge awaiting him once the bell rang. 

"I didn't know the guy was a 'south paw,' which means everything is backwards. I had everything played out in my head for a right-handed fighter and I walked in there only to realize the guy was left handed. So I had to do everything backwards - like move to the left instead of the right because his power is to the right - things like that. I was trying to think of what combinations to throw at him, but I didn't have much experience against 'south paws' so the first round was rough for me." 

However, Alwan seemed to find his groove and even managed to knock Lopez down during the third round, an act which caused the basic trainees in attendance to erupt in massive amounts of hooting and hollering. 

"Now I know, lesson learned -- expect the unexpected." Alwan said referring to his match against left-handed opponent. It took me about a round to adjust. He's a heavyweight; I'm a light heavyweight, so I knew he was going to come at me with power and hard swings because he outweighs me. I had to adapt and overcome. My coach told me to hit him with a two three -- lead with the two, so that's what I started doing. Once I had my game plan, I was able to execute it. At first, I was slugging it out. I shouldn't have been slugging it out with a heavyweight. I should have been boxing it out. Hit him and then get back out." 

Once again, Alwan's ability to stay calm and get back on track would earn him yet another gold medal and, in the end, one of the five spots on the Air Force Boxing Team. 

"Now that I am on the team, the days will be longer and the training more intense," he said. "We are really going to buckle down. We are going to be sparring some professionals and other experienced fighters to get ready for these upcoming tournaments. Coach is going to get us ready." 

Coach Franco said he believes Alwan has what it takes to take the gold at his next tournament in Arizona and is going to do everything in his power to prepare him for big event. 

"Nick is a smart boxer, which means he knows how to catch punches and counter," Coach Franco said. "I would like him to be more aggressive, and that's something we are going to work on. I want him to be first. I want him to take the lead and set the pace. I don't want him to box his opponent's fight. I want him to actually take control and be more aggressive. Once he gets that down, I think we have a very good chance of winning the gold medal at the Armed Forces tournament." 

As for Alwan, he is happy to have earned his spot but is more concerned with keeping it. "I am glad but I am not satisfied by any means," he said. "I have a lot of work to do. I have an opportunity to put that work into practice and to learn all I can from my coaches. It's amazing to have all this attention focused on me, and it is just going to help me get to that next level I want to get to. I am just glad I made the team for the opportunity to pursue it more. 

"My goal is to win the gold medal at the Armed Forces and get to at least the third round at Nationals. Those are my minimum goals. If I can exceed those goals, that will be great; but if I can achieve those goals, I will be satisfied with this year's performance."