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Nevada begins defense of boxing national title

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News 4 previews the college boxing regional championships

The University of Nevada will host the college regional boxing championships this week at the Eldorado Hotel-Casino in downtown Reno. News 4 has a preview.

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Nevada hosts regional boxing finals in defense of national title

Nevada boxing faces the competition at the Eldorado Casino Resort on Friday, March 25, 2016

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Fists were flying at the Eldorado Casino Resort Friday, as the Nevada boxing team hosted the Western Regional Championship.

The Silver and Blue Club is looking to defend its team national title at this weekend’s tournament.

Nevada’s J.J. Mariano faced off against UNLV’s Mike Alvarez. At a weight of 147, Mariano bested the Alvarez and has qualified for nationals. He will still fight Saturday in the regional championship.

Kirk Jackson also represented Nevada in the ring against Adan Rangel of the University of Washington. Jackson took the bout and stamped his ticket to the nationals.

He’ll also look to win the regional title Saturday, with all of the action starting at 6 p.m.

For more information on the National Collegiate Boxing Association, click here.

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Two Nevada boxers pick up wins

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The Nevada boxing club team sent three boxers to Santa Clara on Saturday with Kirk Jackson and Dre Gordon picking up wins.

Nevada competed at the third annual Dodge Ackerman event in Santa Clara, Calif.

Nevada’s Jackson, a senior, scored a unanimous decision over Washington’s Adan Rangel at 147 pounds

In his first bout as a Nevada boxer, Gordon, a freshman, stopped  Washington’s Mostafa Elibiary at 170 pounds in the first round.

In the main event, Nevada’s Eden Bradford lost a close decision to Sunnyvale PAL boxer Rene Gomez at 147 pounds. Their bout was named best of the event.

The Santa Clara event honors the memory of former Santa Clara boxer Dodge Ackerman, a national champion who died from cancer in 2003. The card included six colleges from the west coast as well as open class boxers from the Bay Area.

Nevada Boxing will be back in action on Saturday at  the Cal Invitational, commemorating 100 years of boxing on the  campus in Berkeley.

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Three Nevada boxers claim titles, places third overall


Photo courtesy of Dan Holmes From left to right: Dre Gordon, Zach Smith, Tristan Harriman, JJ Mariano, Kirk Jackson and Garrett Felling. The Nevada boxing team poses with the third-place trophy in the Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle.

By Neil Patrick Healy

This time last season, senior Kirk Jackson was watching his teammates claim the national championship from afar. He had lost to fellow teammate Zach Smith in a three-round box-off to decide who would represent Nevada in the 147-pound weight division. Jackson got a second chance this season and didn’t let it go to waste. Jackson, along with JJ Mariano and Garrett Felling, won individual national championships and helped Nevada place third as a team behind the United States Military Academy and the United States Air Force Academy.

“An enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders,” Jackson said. “When I missed regionals last year, I told myself every day I was coming back stronger. Last year I was extremely proud and happy for my teammates and coaches. Although I was happy for what they achieved individually and what we achieved collectively, I still had an empty feeling and the ending didn’t sit right with me. I had to come back and win.”

After winning his first national championship to end his career, Jackson was hit by a whirlwind of emotions ranging from relief to satisfaction.

“It’s difficult to describe [how I felt],” Jackson said. “[I probably felt] every emotion imaginable. I cried. I came to the realization that I accomplished my goal and I was just so relieved and thankful.”

While Jackson was winning his first title, Mariano wrapped up his career with a second straight national championship, finishing with a 23-3 record. Mariano leaves the ring with a sense of gratification.

“It’s like a feeling of completion,” Mariano said. “I am satisfied knowing I left everything I had in the ring and that all my training paid off.”

Felling finishes his junior season with third straight national championship while amassing a 19-0 record for his career.

The Wolf Pack also had three fighters who did not win individual championships, but helped push Nevada to its third-place finish. Senior Zach Smith lost by decision to Air Force Academy’s Johnny Wells in the semifinals of the 156-pound division.

First-year fighters Tristan Harriman and Dre Gordon both lost on the first day of nationals. Harriman, 156 pounds, lost to Roy Estes of the United States Military Academy via split decision despite Estes having more experience in 14 more career fights under his belt. Nevada’s freshman Gordon suffered a hand injury in the first round and the coaches put a halt to the fight vs. Bobby Mey of the United States Coast Guard Academy.

Smith (fifth year of eligibility), Harriman and Gordon all return next season to join Felling for the quest to regain the national title.

“For Dre and Tristan, [nationals] kind of opens their eyes to the next level of competition,” Mariano said. “It gives them a new goal to strive for.”

Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at neil@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @NP_Heally.

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Nevada boxing team heads to nationals


Photo courtesy of Melissa Staunton Nevada boxer Tristan Harriman (right) takes on West Point’s Cody Dillard (right) in a bout at the Eldorado Hotel and Casino on Feb. 5. Harriman earned a berth to nationals after an up-and-down sophomore season.

By Neil Patrick Healy

In what turned out to be a Cinderella run, the Wolf Pack qualified five fighters to nationals and walked away with four individual national champions and the team title. This year, as the defending national champion, Nevada boxing will look to claim its second straight title this weekend in Seattle, Washington. Here are some of the key storylines entering the weekend.

Six boxers qualify

Nevada qualified six fighters for nationals during the regionals, including two regional champions.  JJ Mariano, 147 pounds, and Garrett Felling, 195 pounds, each won their third straight regional championship. Mariano won two at 139 pounds and one at 147 pounds, while Felling won two at 185 pounds and this year’s at 195. Kirk Jackson, 139, placed in the top two and earned a berth at nationals, while Zach Smith, 156, placed third (the Western Region gets to qualify a third fighter in each weight class in 2016). Tristan Harriman, 165, and Dre Gordon, 175, each earned at-large bids.

Felling’s continued dominance

Felling enters this year’s nationals on a continued hot streak. Since joining the boxing team almost three years ago, he has won three regional titles, two national championships and has not lost a single fight in the college ranks (Felling lost his first career fight in the second round of the Olympic Qualifiers last October). Felling goes into nationals looking for his third straight national championship.

Mariano’s career coming to a close

Mariano goes into his final trip to nationals at the tail end of a prolific career. Since joining the program, Mariano has won three regional titles, a national championship and is riding a 14-fight winning streak dating back to his sophomore season.

Smith, Jackson get second chance

Senior Zach Smith was the only member of last year’s national championship team that did not earn a regional or national championship. After losing in the second round of regionals, Smith was able to qualify due to a fighter being disqualified because of an injury. After losing in the first round of nationals, Smith took the first semester off in order to move up in weight. Once he moved up to 156 pounds, Smith qualified for nationals again after finishing third.

Kirk Jackson fell just short of a berth in regionals last year after a logjam in the 147-pound division forced him and Smith to have a box-off to determine who would represent Nevada in that weight class. After losing to Smith, Jackson worked on his footwork and conditioning, while moving down his weight class to 139 pounds. Jackson placed in the top two of his weight division and qualified for his first appearance in nationals.

Youth movement

Nevada has two fighters going to nationals that are underclassmen. Tristan Harriman, 165, turned his up-and-down sophomore season into a third-place finish in regionals via TKO against Air Force’s Najia Bseiso 51 seconds into the second round. Freshman Dre Gordon, 175, entered the ring for the first time in the first round of regionals and won his first career fight before losing in the second round after the referee stopped the fight. In what was supposed to be his third career fight, Gordon earned an at-large bid after his opponent was disqualified due to injury.

Building the future

Of the six fighters going to nationals, four have remaining eligibility after the season. Mariano and Jackson graduate, but Felling and Smith come back for their senior year, Harriman returns for his junior year, and Gordon will build on his postseason experience as a springboard into his sophomore year. The national championships will be a stepping stone for the future, as well as an opportunity to capture a second straight title. 

Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at neil@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter at NP_Healy.

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Moving on: Boxing team sends six fighters to nationals


Photo courtesy of Jason Bean/Reno Gazette-Journal Nevada boxer Kirk Jackson (left) lands a left-handed punch against Washington’s Adan Rangel during the NCBA Western Regional Championships at the Eldorado Hotel Casino in Reno on Friday, March 25.

By Neil Patrick Healy

The regional championships were another stepping stone in Nevada boxing’s postseason success. With two regional champions and four fighters qualifying, Wolf Pack boxing will send six fighters to nationals in Seattle beginning on April 7. Junior Garrett Felling and Senior J.J. Mariano won their regional championships on Saturday and will be No. 1 seeds at nationals.

Mariano won his third straight regional title (two at 139 pounds and this year at 147 pounds) after beating Air Force’s Pedro Barrientes on Saturday, and he will look to win a second national championship of his career. He is currently riding a winning streak that dates back to his sophomore season, when he lost in the national title fight. Mariano won outstanding fighter of the lower weight classes.

Felling defeated Air Force’s Den Tati-Mackaya in the 195-pound division to win his third regional championship after Air Force coaches held Tati-Mackaya out of the fight following the second round.

Felling has won two 185-pound regional and national championships in his first two years and has not lost a collegiate fight in his career.

“We’ve been living a life of luxury,” said head coach Pat Schellin. “We had a Cinderella year last year and won the national team tournament and then we go to regionals with six guys and two of them haven’t seen more than 30 punches, so they’re as fresh as can be. We brought six guys into regionals and we get six guys into nationals. It’s been a ride for the young guys. They go into the ring and step up big time. Everyone stepped up.“

The unlikely results from Saturday were Tristan Harriman and Dre Gordon qualifying. Harriman beat Air Force’s Najia Bseiso by TKO 51 seconds into the second round to earn a third-place finish. The top two finishers in each weight class for each region qualify for nationals, but Harriman won one of the three third-place bouts on Saturday that earned him a spot. With more success with the younger fighters, the team believes that both the present and the future are in good hands.

“I see this as kind of a building year,” Felling said. “It would be nice if we could win it again and I think it is possible, but last year was such an upset. With losing half the team from last year and having to replace those guys makes it important to get these new guys experience and make this a foundation for years to come.

“Even if these guys go up against fighters with a lot more experience and have more tough fights ahead of them, it’s really invaluable experience. You don’t need to win every fight to get something out of it, so any chance we get to throw those guys in the ring and have them get a feel for what it’s like they’ll be a better fighter for it.”

In what was supposed to be just his third fight of his career, the 175-pound Gordon received an at-large bid after his opponent on Saturday could not fight due to an injury. Gordon lost to Air Force’s Gytenis Borusas on Friday after the referee stopped the fight midway through the second round.

Kirk Jackson finished second in the 139-pound division after losing to Air Force’s Landon Tomcho in a controversial split decision. This is Jackson’s first berth in nationals in his career.

“Last year Kirk boxed off for the 147-pound spot for regionals, but got beat by Zach Smith,” Mariano said. “This year we had openings around his weight class and he didn’t have to box off again. We wanted to fill up weight classes and Kirk stepped up to the occasion this past weekend and showed what he was made of.”

Zach Smith, 156 pounds, rounds out Nevada’s fighters that go to nationals in April. Smith lost to Air Force’s Johnny Wells in a split decision, but managed to qualify for nationals for a second straight year. Smith qualified for nationals last year in the 147-pound division when a fighter in the eastern region dropped out due to injury. Out of the five members of last year’s national championship team, Smith was the only one who did not win an individual national championship.

Nevada looks to defend its title in Seattle after going on a Cinderella run last season while only qualifying five fighters. With the Wolf Pack qualifying six this year, a title repeat isn’t out of the question.

“This shows that whoever shows up here is going to be the best,” Felling said. “We don’t get many guys to walk through the door, but the ones we do get we turn into the best college fighters in the country. That’s just what this program does. We showed that last year and we’re showing it again this year.”

The Wolf Pack gets a little less than two weeks before flying off to Seattle to compete in Nationals from April 7-9.

Neil Patrick Healy can be reached ay neil@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @ NP_Healy.

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The quest begins: Nevada boxing goes for repeat


Henry MacDiarmid/Nevada Sagebrush

By Neil Patrick Healy

It was days after the Nevada boxing team flew home from Miami, Florida, as national champions last spring. The media was in full force at the Fourth Street gym and Garrett Felling, JJ Mariano, Johnny Aguilar and Jarred Santos were sitting back and enjoying the spoils of their victory in the form of their bright gold championship belts and the tall gold team trophy. While all this was going on, one of the new boxers was in the gym and he cracked a smile.

“Don’t smile,” Felling said from across the gym. He held up his championship belt and said, “You don’t get to smile until you get one of these.”

This gold standard is one that the Nevada boxing team has been accustomed to over the years, but the feeling of pride and the burden of high expectations has only increased after the Pack defied all odds and won the collegiate boxing team national championship last April. Despite only entering five fighters into the tournament, four won national championships in their weight class and their title run is considered one of the best in program history.

The climb to the top was only the beginning for Nevada boxing, and they are poised to make a run at a repeat, but they will have to do so without some familiar faces. Santos and Aguilar have both finished their eligibility, so their main concern has been replenishing talent.

“You’re always going to have veterans leaving and new guys coming in, so we hope to pass on what we’ve learned and to keep the tradition going strong,” Felling said. “We lose two great fighters, and we want to fill that void with new young guys that we can breed to be the best when they get experience under their belts.”

Some new fighters will walk into their first scheduled regular season fight on Saturday, but they have benefited from having the two-time undefeated 185-pound champion Felling and the 139-pound champion Mariano as sparring partners.

“The benefit for the new guys is that they have the best sparring partners in all of college boxing,” said long-time head coach Pat Schellin. “When the new kids feel like they’re not getting better I have to remind them that they are sparring with guys that are better than anyone they will see in the ring.”

New fighter Tristan Harriman will fight at 167 pounds on Saturday and he says that being new isn’t intimidating, but having to live up to the national championship expectations is what drives him.

“It’s a good learning experience sparring with guys that have won national titles,” Harriman said. “You learn what not to do. If you duck or drop your hands or something you’re not supposed to they will make you remember and make you pay for it. They show you now, so in a real fight you won’t do it.”

Harriman and others make their fighting debut, while others look to build on their shame of not being a part of the championship run. Senior Kirk Jackson fought last season at 147 pounds, but only one fighter from each weight class could qualify for the regional championships. Before regionals, Jackson and teammate Zach Smith had a box-off to decide who qualified. Jackson lost and Smith ended up qualifying for nationals and was a part of the title run. Jackson took it upon himself to train and to improve his game, and Schellin has noticed.

“Kirk is looking good,” Schellin said. “This is his senior year and he will look to step up and go to nationals. I don’t think he was ready mentally last year and he let it go. He’s one of the guys that will surprise some people.”

Another story of redemption comes in the form of 156-pound junior Zack Shipton. Shipton qualified for regionals last March, but he suffered a loss by TKO in the first round. He too took the offseason to build on his defeat.

“Zack Shipton has come a long way,” Jackson said. “He is faster, more fluid with his movements and he isn’t predictable. You can tell he has gotten more confidence, so I think he will surprise people this year.”

For Felling and Mariano, the first fight of the year is business as usual, but for the younger fighters it means a lot more. Either to establish themselves on their road to redemption or the first step in being apart of a championship winning program, the season debut answers questions.

“In the first fight they think they have worked out hard and have learned something, but a minute and a half into that first round he has never been so tired in his life,” Schellin said. “They feel like there’s no way they can finish two more rounds, but they always get through it. That’s the best part of the first fight of the year.”

Nevada’s first fights of the season are Saturday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. at the Silver Legacy. Student tickets are available at the door with a student ID.

Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at neil@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.