By Robert Collias
The Maui New
Bailey Ball is in Reno, Nev., this morning after arriving on an Air Force transport plane yesterday.
The 2006 Lahainaluna High School graduate and unbeaten state champion wrestler will make his intercollegiate boxing debut today at the El Dorado Casino when he fights for the Air Force Academy at 145 pounds.
Ball is 4-1 against other cadets in bouts on campus, but this fight is a different story — he will face an opponent from either Nevada or California. He has twice been named the Air Force boxer of the week, most recently when he beat junior Sean May by decision at 152 pounds on Jan. 18.
Today’s match sanctioned by the National Collegiate Boxing Association — will go a long way toward giving Ball a chance to represent the Falcons in the NCBA championship tournament in April. Ball is currently No. 2 on the team at 145 pounds, but schools can send only one fighter per weight class to the national meet.
Fighting in a casino will be a little different than using the Upper Boxing Room of the academy’s Cadet Gym.
“I am real excited,” Ball said to The Maui News after Wednesday’s practice. “But I’m a little nervous as well. This will be the biggest crowd I will have fought in front of. It will be a little bit different than the cadets back home. It is not the home crowd anymore.”
With that thought in mind, Ball said he may have to knock out or stop his opponent today to come home a winner. He has two technical knockouts against Air Force foes.
“From what I hear, I need to stop him because Air Force guys don’t get many decisions to go their way,” Ball said.
That Ball is on this path is remarkable in itself. He was 29-0 as a senior at 140 pounds on his way to the 2006 state wrestling title.
“I just started over the summer; it was just something to work out with some of my friends on the team,” Ball said. “It was a good workout at the time and it takes some of the stress out of school.”
When Ball learned that wrestlers did not go home for winter break, he decided that boxing was his new sport.
“That was it — I knew I had to have a winter break,” he said. “I did wrestling for a time, but it took a toll on my grades and I had no free time. Then I was thinking about not going home and it was just way too hard. I was getting homesick.”
Boxing and wrestling share some similarities, Ball said.
“Probably the most helpful thing I bring from wrestling is just the work ethic,” he said. “There are three two-minute rounds; I have got to push myself just like I did in wrestling; and it is pretty close, too, endurance-wise. You are using every part of your body like wrestling.”
Ball first boxed in a physical-education class as a freshman.
“We just took it as a class freshman year and I kind of liked it,” he said. “Then my friends were telling me I should go out for the team, so I gave it a shot.”
His results have surprised even himself.
“I didn’t think I would have been having the success that I am now,” Ball said. “I don’t know if I’m not fighting anybody good or what is going on.”
With the unknown out there today — he said his opponent has already changed twice this week — Ball admitted to being a bit apprehensive.
“I’m nervous that I’m going to spend all my energy getting all psyched up for it,” he said. “So I am going to relax and take it easy and try not to let the crowd get to me. I know I have to end it early.”
During winter break, Ball got a chance to practice with the Lahainaluna wrestling team, and went back to Colorado impressed.
“I think everybody has a good chance on the Lunas,” he said. “We have a bunch of young kids. I went back at Christmastime and rolled around with them and there are a lot of hopefuls in that group. And, of course, there is (defending state champions) Lake (Casco) and Travis (Okano). If the young guys keep practicing with the older guys, they will surprise a lot of people at state.”
Ball said he has thought about mixed martial arts as a next step.
“That would depend on if I had a family or if I had a career going on,” he said. “I don’t know if I had a wife, if she would be down with that, but I wouldn’t mind giving it a try.”
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