College boxing hasn’t been NCAA-sanctioned for 60 years. But ‘warrior spirit’ lives on at Army, Air Force, Navy

Chris Vannini Jan 4, 2022 58
ARLINGTON, Texas — The white wrap has to go around the outside of the hand to start. Otherwise, it’ll loosen up in a fist. Three times around the wrist. Three times around the hand but inside the thumb. Then in between each finger, starting with the space between the pinky and the ring finger. Gauze pads on the knuckles provide some protection. The Everlast tape holds it all together.

It needs to be tight, but also loose. It stretches with a clenching of the fist. This can be a tedious, rigorous process. When you’re a boxer, though, the hands are paramount.

Kristina Hughes needs her tape done first. Her fight is just 15 minutes away, the opener in the women’s 125-pound weight class. She’s got the red gloves on. “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” by DMX blares through the speaker. Well, “blares” might be generous — the music emanates from a handheld Bluetooth device. But in this tight space, as more than a dozen people congregate between metal lockers, that speaker sounds like a 10-pound boombox. The sound reverberates. It gets the fighters in the right mindset, even if it is the clean version of the song. That difference is quickly evident.

“There’s not a lot of lyrics left,” jokes head coach Jerry Hart as he tapes his fighters’ hands. “Bad Boys For Life” is next on the playlist. When a curse word slips through, Hart quickly grabs the phone and skips to the next song, chagrined.

After all, this is the Army. Standards and practices are implied.

Hughes is a senior cadet with dreams of flying helicopters. But tonight, she’s a fighter for Army’s boxing team against the team from Air Force. Because of the pandemic, this is her first sanctioned fight in 20 months. It’s also her second fight ever.

Once he finishes taping, Hart brings the team together for a pregame message.