What Do You Fight For?
by Mike Trivella | University of Notre Dame
Back in high school, when I was only a casual Notre Dame football fan, I used to get really annoyed with a certain commercial that the NBC always ran during its broadcasts of Notre Dame home football games. It would show ND students, professors and alumni doing great things in the world at large, and at the end a baritone voice would speak directly to the viewer saying, “what would you fight for?”
I don’t know why I was so annoyed with the commercial – perhaps in my cynical way I thought it was just some collegiate cheesy advertising during a football game – but the more that I thought it over (and the more my mom repeated it to me), the more serious I took the question. What would you fight for? That’s not just a question dealing with sports or competition in general, that’s the kind of question that can bring about some serious soul searching.
Every year in February and early March, the University of Notre Dame holds an annual boxing tournament that combines these two possible reactions to the question stated above. On one hand, Bengal Bouts (as the tournament is called) is a great boxing competition, offering all Notre Dame male students the chance for well-deserved glory in the ring. The training for the actual tournament begins in early fall, as the would-be boxers are put through rigorous workouts four to five days a week, testing the limits of physical and mental endurance. After the boxers return from winter break, the workouts resume as well as spars, to determine the seeding within each individual weight group. By early February, when the tournament is a week or so from its opening bouts, the number of participants has dwindled considerably, leaving only the toughest of the tough to duke it out in the ring.
The first Sunday of Bengals Bouts on Notre Dame’s campus is comparable to the first day of March Madness. Ok, so maybe the majority of the student population doesn’t fill out brackets, but there is a general sense of anticipation as students, proud parents and many townspeople file into the Joyce Center. Upon entering the complex a visitor is astounded how a previous empty dome is magically transformed into an arena reminiscent of the ancient Roman Coliseum. From noon until way past the sun has gone down, Notre Dame’s finest do battle for three rounds. The bouts start with the lightweights, where the name of the game is agility, landing punches and scoring points. As the heavier classes do battle, the fights get less mobile, and the blows get heavier. By the time the heavyweights have finished, the canvas is a Jackson Pollack of blood, sweat and tears. Those who win three bouts advance to the finals, held underneath the lights on Notre Dame’s hallowed basketball court. With 9,000 plus people looking on, the would-be warriors fight for the last time, with the victor claiming the coveted letterman’s jacket, and his name etched in history. In a matter of a month, a select few Notre Dame men transform from mere students to modern-day Cinderella Men.
Yes, Bengal Bouts is an epic competition, to say the least. Yet in a way, the boxing is secondary to the real reason why these young men fight. While it can be said that some of this fighters may in fact have the ferocity of a tiger, the Bengal in Bengal Bouts refers to a place, not a characteristic. In order to partake in this sacred tradition, each boxer must at first raise five hundred dollars. These raised funds, along with ticket sales and concessions are all donated to the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh, which in the Bengali language means “The Country of Bengal.” Bangladesh is a rising economic power and a parliamentary democracy, but is notorious for its high poverty rate and a history of epidemics. Straddling the Ganges-Brahmaputra River Delta, the country is ravaged by bacterial diseases, tropical monsoons and flooding on a yearly basis. As such, the Congregation of the Holy Cross spends ample amounts of time in the country not just spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, but also administering to the ill, the malnourished and the devastated. Thus, as the motto of the Notre Dame Men’s Boxing Club goes, “Strong Bodies Fight, that Weak Bodies May Be Nourished.”
The past two years, my good friend Nick Yulán has participated in the event, advancing to the later rounds each time. For him, Bengal Bouts is a bringing together of the best of both worlds.
In his own words, “Of course, everyone who fights in Bengal Bouts wants be the last man standing come the finals. I am proud that I have been able to stick with the program, endure the things I have had to endure, and win a couple of fights along the way. By the time I’m a senior I hope that I’ll be fortunate enough to wear that letterman’s jacket. That being said, Bengal Bouts is about a whole lot more than individual fight. Being able to compete and at the same time contribute to a worthy cause is something that anyone can feel good about. In the end, that’s the major thing that I will take away from this tournament.”
You don’t have to be fighting in order to fight for something. Every person that has ever lived has strived to achieve certain things, and anyone that has ever achieved success has had to overcome adversity in order to do so. Yet we as humans are not only called to bring about individual fulfillment. God also calls us to participate in causes higher than ourselves, to try one’s best to enable human flourishing everywhere we may go. Despite what may think, this isn’t so hard to accomplish. As Bengal Bouts shows, it can be as easy as punching someone in the face.Mike Trivella is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Majoring in Accounting and minoring in Philosophy, Mike splits his time between classes, working out with friends, balancing debits & credits, pondering the true essence of the universe, and as always watching the New York Football Giants.