Starting an hour and fifteen minutes later than scheduled only seemed to increase the tension and intensify the atmosphere of USF’s Tenth Annual Hilltop Cup Boxing Tournament on Oct. 18 at the Koret Center. In the hour before the event finally started at 7:15 p.m. — late due to the BART strike holding up one of the boxing clubs — more and more people joined the crowd of enthusiastic supporters who gathered around the ring in the center of Swig Pavilion to watch 15 bouts of elite collegiate boxing.
USF Boxing Club took home three victories from their home tournament. Matthew Rodriguez earned a champion’s belt in the co-main event, defeating USC’s Francisco Montinegro in a grueling bout of three two-minute rounds (the format for all the fights). Despite the slightly slower pace of the 185-pound matchup, it was one of the most aggressive and crowd-pleasing bouts of the evening. Rodriguez felt his typical nerves before the fight but still kept a winning mindset.
“Every fight I always have nerves, regardless of the amount of fights I have, but I think that feeling should be there,” Rodriguez said. “That being said, I was ready physically and mentally. I always expect to win, nobody should be thinking of losing.”
The matchup between Rodriguez and Montinegro became the co-main event at the last minute after the opponent of USF’s Nargis Shaghasi dropped out with an injury. The co-main and main events are typically big fights between rivals or matchups that are set up well in advance, according to Rodriguez. Even though it wasn’t a rival matchup, the high expectations surrounding Rodriguez’s fight made it next in line to fill that role. “I knew nothing about my opponent, I never do and I would rather not know,” he said. “If the person has barely any fights or is a world champion, I don’t care—it really means nothing to me, I’ll prepare and train and fight them like any other person.”
The Hilltop Cup’s main event featured USF’s No. 1 Katrina Nahe against Azteca DF Boxing Club’s Iris Contreras. Nahe came away empty-handed in a seemingly evenly-matched fight. It was difficult to see a clear winner in the 119-pound matchup, and the revealing of Contreras as the victor left Nahe looking disappointed and frustrated.
The sixth bout of the night was a fast-paced, aggressive matchup between USF’s Jason Cabugos and Zach Harvey of UC Davis. Cabugos came away with the victory amidst chants of “U-S-F” from the sidelines. Fans had first gotten loud two fights earlier, when two USF boxers, Joshua Zydonis and Joe Riley, faced off in a heated threeround bout, with Zydonis eventually taking home the win.
“Our recruits, raised the ante and show their potentials in coming into this program,” USF coach Angelo Merino said. “Our senior boxer, Joseph Riley, showed maturity and impressed me the most in facing adversity — although he lost by a decision, he came back strong in the end and gave his all.”
The Hilltop Cup is the largest boxing event in California, drawing participants from all over the country. Athletes from San Jose State University, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, University of Southern California, East Carolina University, University of Maryland and USF participated at this year’s tournament. USF is one of the elite clubs at the event; coaches Merino and Jay Gonzalez have led members of USF’s boxing club to Golden Glove championships, regional titles and three national championships. The three national champions are all still members of the USF club, but none were able to secure a matchup for Hilltop Cup for various reasons.
The next event for USF will be the UCLA/USC Boxing Invitational on Nov. 22 at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. USIBA national champion and 39th Adidas Nationals bronze medalist Shaghasi will be fighting a rematch against Jasmine Singh, also a former national champion. It will be decided the second week of November which other USF boxers will participate in the competition.