Down for a fifty-four-year count, boxing returns to campus.
Sometimes, a major comeback starts with a minor sound: the muted thwack of a fist hitting a palm in the back corner of an aging gymnasium.
After more than a year of paperwork, presentations, petitions, and more paperwork, Chandler Davis x’16 has received the green light to run the first university-sanctioned boxing club since the sport was banned on campus in 1960. Boxing will probably never again be a varsity sport, but its return to the UW in any capacity is particularly significant, as Wisconsin was once the powerhouse institution for college boxing — and the site of the sport’s dismantling.
However, Davis didn’t have history in mind when he launched the off-campus group that would eventually become the university’s official club. He was just a first-year student looking for someplace where he and his friends could hit a heavy bag. Now forty-five students have joined him as dues-paying members.
Although a Los Angeles native, Davis is no stranger to Wisconsin. His father, Kevin Davis ’67, grew up in Delavan and was an avid boxer. While at the UW, Kevin joined an off-campus group organized by long-time boxing trainer Bob Lynch ’67, which required a not-so-short trek to a gym near the Beltline.
Kevin suggested that Chandler should apply to UW-Madison, and he says the first thing on his son’s campus-visit agenda was to find a boxing outlet. “They had everything from sushi to salsa dancing, and [we thought] there’s got to be a boxing student org, but to our astonishment, there wasn’t,” Kevin says.
Chandler decided to start an on-campus group, but he had no idea how challenging that mission would become.
College boxing at the UW, and across the country, went out with one massive haymaker on April 9, 1960. In the previous two decades, the UW had won eight national boxing championships, and Charlie Mohr x’60, one of the UW’s top boxing stars, was fighting for another. He suffered a punch during an NCAA championship round that caused a blood clot to rupture in his brain. Mohr went into a coma and died days later, and the incident served as the final blow to a sport that had been facing increasingly negative scrutiny from university administrators for years.
The night of that infamous fight in the Field House, up near the back of the stands, had sat a pro boxer who was a regular sparring partner for the Badger team: Lynch.
Chandler didn’t know anything about Charlie Mohr until he and Kevin had dinner with Lynch shortly after Chandler moved to Madison. The boxing veteran’s insights helped Chandler prepare to face significant safety concerns. His organization and persistence paid off when UW administrators gave the Division of Recreational Sports the authority to approve the club in December 2013. Lynch signed on as one of two club trainers.
The news attracted significant local media attention, and three reporters attended the first practice, held on a weeknight in early February. Chandler, however, wasn’t there. He had class.
Now, at the Saturday-morning practices, Chandler has finally started throwing practice punches into the very same hand — Lynch’s — that Kevin once did.
“I wanted boxing to be fun,” Chandler says. “I would like to relax and enjoy it.”
Though Lynch is still present, much has changed for the new generation of Badger boxers. Instead of focusing on competitive fighting, the new club is designed with exercise and self-defense in mind, an approach that has attracted a handful of female members. The only students allowed to spar during practice are those who seek certification from a national boxing organization. Eventually, certified students will be eligible for one competition per semester with clubs from other universities, but sparring will always be optional.
“I was so proud,” Kevin says of his son’s efforts. “He’s founded something that’s going to last. He’s going to be able to [go] back there fifty years later and walk into that gym, and the equipment will probably still be right where it is now.”