Aku a knockout as Navy boxer
By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Leila Wai
Antone Aku rediscovered his love for boxing with the connection of fist to flesh.
The U.S. Naval Academy freshman gave up the sport as an eighth-grader, and still wasn't enjoying it after picking it up again last year — until he knocked out an opponent.
"The knockouts were really what fueled my desire, because I came far and I trained hard, and I did what I do best: fight," Aku said.
He parlayed his newfound love and dedication to the sport into a national title, winning the 139-pound weight class at the National Collegiate Boxing Association (NCBA) Championships in Reno, Nev., April 6 to 8.
"It feels good to be a national champion. No. 1 in the country," Aku said. "It still hasn't sunk in."
The 2004 Campbell graduate also won the 139-pound division at the Brigade Boxing Championships at the U.S. Naval Academy on Feb. 24 and the Midwest Region Championships in Chicago, March 24 to 26.
Aku's successful return to boxing was a surprise considering he was reluctant to do so after a nearly eight-year break. He returned to the ring as a requirement for the academy's prep school last summer. He needed to play a sport.
"I actually didn't like it again, I just needed to do something," he said. "After I graduate, I want to go special warfare. They say most boxers go Navy SEALS or Marine Corp Special Forces."
Aku, a Midshipman 4th Class, was the only boxer in the prep program with experience, "so I pretty much beat all of them," he said. "The coach saw that and stuck me with the heavier guys, but I beat them, too."
He was invited to join Navy's club team, and faced tougher competition.
His first fight, which he lost on points, was in September.
"I knew why I lost, I got tired and I wasn't working out properly," Aku said. "I almost knocked him out in the first round, but I got tired."
His next fight was in October, and he was knocked out in the first round "in like 30 seconds," he said. "I had a really bad concussion. I don't remember it. My teammates told me I kept asking the same questions.
"They told me I was replaying my knockout on the two-hour drive home until the camera ran out of batteries."
Aku was placed on medical suspension for a month and "that put me down, because I was the only guy with prior experience and I was getting my butt whupped."
When he returned in January, thanks to pep talks from his girlfriend, he had a renewed outlook about the sport.
He woke up at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, and ran at least three miles a day. He stayed late after practices, doing exercises when all of this teammates were long gone.
"I wanted to win again, because as a kid I won a lot and it felt good," Aku said. "I wanted to compete at the collegiate level."
He easily defeated his competition at the Brigade Championships, qualifying for regional competition.
He knocked out both boxers in the regional semifinals and championships. His opponent in the title bout was the same boxer who knocked him out in October.
"It was pure anger," Aku recalled. "I was thinking I could not let this guy beat me again. I was scared, but I was determined to win. He couldn't even stand up after, I felt really bad, like maybe I took it too far with the anger."
Winning the regionals earned Aku a spot at the nationals, where he won all three of his fights on points.
"Finals, that was my best fight out of all the championships," Aku said. "I knocked him down in the first round, and I tried to keep that momentum. He was tough; he kept coming back. He put up a good fight. After the three rounds I was pretty confident I won."
Reach Leila Wai at firstname.lastname@example.org.