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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 27, 2005

Teammates come out swinging

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

From "a little hole in the ground" in Wahiawa, a pair of boxers proved that they can climb in the ring against national competition.

John Phillips, left, reached the quarterfinals, and Brian Battease lost in the semifinals of the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Brian Battease tied for third place in the 125-pound division and John Phillips tied for fifth at 165 pounds in the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions last week at Little Rock, Ark.

They are teammates on the Wahiawa Boxing Club, and "brothers" in the same Wahiawa home.

"I've always felt that we could compete with anybody in the nation," said Battease, 21. "It's just that we never really get the chance."

Because of an ongoing legal dispute between the Wahiawa Boxing Club and the Hawai'i chapter of USA Boxing, Battease and Phillips have rarely fought in Hawai'i in recent years.

According to Wahiawa head coach Carl Phillips — who is John's father — Battease has had one fight in Hawai'i in the past two years, and John Phillips has not had a fight in Hawai'i since 2002.

"Who knows how our kids would have done had they got the experience they were supposed to get?" Carl Phillips said. "Because they came so close, you have to think that they could have won the tournament with a little more experience."

Battease was eliminated in the semifinals by Wai'anae's Samson Guillermo, who lost in the finals; John Phillips was defeated in the quarterfinals by a 3-2 decision to Jonathan Nelson of the host city, Little Rock. Each weight class featured about 20 top amateur boxers from around the country.

"Given the circumstances that we've been in, and given the lack of activity these guys have had to go through, it was a big accomplishment to do what they did," Carl Phillips said. "We didn't come back with the gold, but we came back with a lot more because these kids earned a lot of respect up there because of what they went through."

Battease and John Phillips were quick to credit the Hawai'i coaches — Fred Pereira, Ron Gutierrez and Carl Phillips.

But in the secluded confines of the Wahiawa Boxing Club, Battease and John Phillips also endured together. Because the club is located in the basement of the gym at Wahiawa District Park, Carl Phillips likes to describe it as "a little hole in the ground."

And for the six months of preparation for the Golden Gloves Tournament, they stayed underground.

Instead of competing against boxers from other clubs on O'ahu, they sparred with each other almost every day, despite their weight difference.

"We're the two most experienced guys in this gym, and we're the guys here every day, so we knew we could count on each other," said John Phillips, 22. "Brian is faster than any guy I'll see at 165 (pounds), and I don't think he'll see a guy at 125 (pounds) with as much power. Basically, it was a benefit for both of us to work with each other."

It's a relationship that started more than a decade ago when Battease joined the club with Carl Phillips' two sons, Carl Jr. and John.

"That's always been like my family, too," Battease said.

When Battease's family moved to Kane'ohe three years ago, he moved in with the Phillips family in Wahiawa so that he could stay close to the gym.

John Phillips said: "We've always been like brothers, ever since we were kids. So when he moved in, it was like nothing. He was always here anyway."

Battease's performance at the national tournament was particularly impressive, and he is contemplating turning professional.

"I'd like to at least try it," he said of a pro career.

For the past few years, both Battease and John Phillips have had to balance full-time jobs with their daily boxing training.

"These two guys showed how far you can get with determination," Carl Phillips said.

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8101.