For the second straight season, the UC Davis boxing club made its presence felt on a national stage, sending three fighters to New York for last month’s National Collegiate Boxing Championships.
Aggie Collin Schmitt, a Collegiate Boxing Association semifinalist last year, took the 156-pound title this season in New York, despite facing the most difficult draw in the competition. For the performance, Schmitt earned All-America and Most Outstanding Boxer awards.
His UCD teammates were no slouches either, as Mac Pham and Monica Caldwell each reached the tournament semifinals. All three are relatively new to boxing, but certainly have picked it up quickly.
Until college, Schmitt competed in different sports, including martial arts. When he came to UC Davis, Schmitt took up boxing because, at the time, the school didn’t have clubs for Muy Thai or Jiu-Jitsu.
Still, he never took fighting seriously until one day at training, Aggie head coach Hector Lopez was holding the mitts for the young boxer.
“I remember Coach Lopez told me, ‘If you really work hard and commit, I could see you winning a national championship someday,’ ” Schmitt said.
Now, after four years of hard work and time sacrifice, he has accomplished that goal. After falling just short last year, Schmitt went into the 2014 championship tournament with one thought in mind:
“Fight every fight like it’s your last, or else it will be,” said the senior exercise biology major.
The other key for Schmitt was aggressiveness.
“I wasn’t always landing a lot of punches in my fights leading up to the tournament,” Schmitt explained. “I had to take charge and get some punches in, so that there would be a clear winner.”
Schmitt is 16-6 in his college career, but an impressive 13-2 the past two years. It was that recent success that prepared him for the surprisingly difficult draw at nationals, which including three consecutive fights against regional champions.
Schmitt, however, rose to the occasion, peaking in the second round of his second fight when his talented opponent failed to land even a single punch.
“Schmitt started with me from scratch,” Lopez said. “He is the one guy I have seen with the dedication to be a champion.”
Like Schmitt, Pham wasn’t a great boxer until recently. When he started with the sport, he had no idea how good he could be.
“I was really out of shape when I started college, but then a friend told me to do boxing to get in shape,” Pham said.
“At first, it was just to get all the girls, but at some point it became about the boxing,” Pham added with a laugh.
Once he began fighting more often, getting in shape was replaced by other goals. UCD assistant coach Joel Stern said that Pham is “one of the most conditioned fighters out there,” adding that a 125-pound victory at last year’s Ushiba National Tournament let Pham know his ceiling was high.
“Mac Pham has a fighting style similar to a professional fighter by the name of Manny Pacquiao,” Lopez said. “He’s a southpaw, very quick, and uses his speed and combinations very well.”
At the national tournament last month, Pham’s run to the semifinals earned him All-American status.
And about getting those girls? The UCD senior said he now looks forward to going back home and spending time with his girlfriend. He added that he will finally allow himself to eat cake now that his boxing season is finished.
Caldwell, another Aggie senior, was a kickboxer before eliminating the leg portion of the fighting when she tried out for the UCD boxing team.
While working on a double major in English and psychology, Caldwell has become a great fighter because of her coachability and determination, according to Lopez, who said the best thing about her is “she knows what she needs to do, but in the ring, she takes instruction very well.”
Though Lopez considers her a novice who is still learning all of the skills of boxing, he said it was Caldwell’s “determination and will to win” that led to success at the regional and national tournaments.
For her part, Caldwell said she was a bit surprised by her run to the semifinals:
“Ahead of tournaments, I am always really nervous, and I don’t really know what to expect,” she explained. “It goes away once I get in the ring and I just perform my best.”
Caldwell will be back for a fifth year at UCD, the only one of the three who is staying, and hopes for one last chance at a national title.
And, there’s no one better to help her do it than Lopez, who all three fighters regard as a father figure as well as a coach.
“Hector’s the best kind of guy,” Schmitt said. “He’s a coach, a mentor, a great friend and a father to me in a way. I share everything with him.
“He held me accountable and made sure I was always improving, but didn’t get in my face or act confrontational.”
Pham added that Stern was instrumental in developing his talent. The Aggie refers to himself as “Joel’s fighter.”
Under Lopez, and with the help of Stern, the UCD club is not just strong at the top with fighters like Schmitt, Pham and Caldwell. More than 60 boxers work out with the team regularly.