Brian Battease of Wahiawa Boxing Club says he was denied a scholarship to Northern Michigan University because he wasn't allowed enough fights to qualify.

Fighting chance

Local boxers like Brian
Battease are in the middle
of a coaching dispute

BRIAN Battease rarely thinks of what might have been, even though what might have been is greatness.

Battease, 21, has not lost a boxing match in Hawaii since he was 15. Granted, he has only fought about once a year in that span, but still, he has never lost.

He'll represent the state for the fifth straight year at the national Golden Gloves tournament May 15-21 in Little Rock, Ark. Battease was once one of Hawaii's hottest prospects, earning one of 12 scholarships from USA Boxing to attend school while honing his skills in the sweet science.

But his dream of trading punches on the Olympic stage has been replaced by the dream of making the perfect garlic sauce. He studied culinary arts at Leeward Community College because he's allowed to fight only once a year but can fire up the grill any time he wants.

"I try not to think about it," Battease said. "I know I could have been a lot better if my gym didn't get screwed. Right now the only focus is on making sure the kids in the gym are treated better than I was."

BATTEASE BECAME caught up in a personal struggle between his Wahiawa Boxing Club coach, Carl Phillips, and Hawaii's USA Boxing representative, Ralph Martin, that continues in the courts and on the streets of Oahu to this day. Battease saw his future rust away when he couldn't find enough fights to keep the USA Boxing scholarship.

At the most recent state championships on Jan. 16, a tournament USA Boxing uses to determine which Hawaii fighters earn the right to fight at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Battease didn't fight.

But he wasn't alone.

The state championships only featured eight fights over two days, with many winners earning their tickets by showing up unopposed.

Brian Battease won't fight unattached out of loyalty to the Wahiawa Boxing Club.

Battease and his teammates were in attendance, but were not allowed to fight because they didn't sign up in time.

"Ralph Martin has been trying to blackball my athletes for too long," Phillips said. "He wants his kids to win, and will do anything to make sure that happens. His favorite way of doing it is to not tell anyone when and where the tournament will actually be held."

Phillips and other coaches around the state say that Martin is selective of who he gives information to about fights and when they take place.

Some, like Eiichi Jumawan of Pearl Boxing Club, find out about the event with two weeks to prepare. Others, like Waianae's Fred Pereira, find out when their athletes hear it on the streets.

Martin responds by saying he can only do so much, that he has never denied anyone registration. He may be a little late in spreading the word, but the chance to fight is always open.

"I tell him to come to the weigh-ins and bring his boys, and I will register him right there," Martin said. "When coaches decline to fight, I can't make them fight. I have never refused them a sanction application. You cannot refuse a boxer his right to fight, you just can't. It's in the rules."

THE RIFT between Phillips and Martin came to a head in 2001, when Phillips and his fighters showed up at Bruce Kawano's Evolution Boxing Club for a clinic.

Martin had Phillips ejected from the premises, according to both men. It was after that confrontation that Phillips learned what he believes is really going on.

"Right after that, before he did anything, Ralph said: 'If any of you guys go over my head, the same thing is going to happen to you,' " Pereira said. "We didn't say a word, nobody did. I wanted my boys to be able to fight. I didn't want what happened to Carl's boys to happen to mine."

But after that meeting, Pereira said he fell out of the loop and information on upcoming fights like the state championship started coming from the street rather than the people setting up the tournament. Pereira says it began after he sent a few boxers with Phillips to the Golden Gloves tournament.

"I have been in this game for 40 years, but have never gone through something like this," Pereira said. "He told me my fighters can't participate in Golden Gloves and said: 'I'm letting you know now, if I must, I will suspend your kids for entering.' That's when things changed."

ANOTHER BLOW was struck recently when the Hawaii State Boxing Commission didn't renew Phillips' license.

One of the two commission members to vote against Phillips' renewal was Della Martin, Ralph Martin's wife, even though Phillips filed a lawsuit against Martin that was in court on the same day as the vote. The other was Herbert Minn, who just wants everyone to get along and doesn't like Phillips naming his own team to the national Golden Gloves tournament rather than having a tournament. Phillips is trying to set up a tournament, but may just name a team anyway.

"We need some camaraderie," Minn said. "If some guy tries to hold back amateur boxing and not be one of the guys, we don't need him. Maybe he will get the message when he finds out he didn't get his license renewed."

Phillips certainly doesn't follow the group, and his complaints have brought about a few changes. He took Martin to court last month to declare Martin's last election void, and won. A new election is planned.

Phillips' next goal is to get Martin to pay damages to Battease and to have Phillips' fights count as sanctioned events by USA Boxing. Battease will go to trial next month.

BATTEASE SAYS he was denied a scholarship to Northern Michigan University, the same school that groomed NABF flyweight champion Brian Viloria, because Martin neglected to get him the required fights and refused to accept his application. Martin says Battease is just getting bad advice.

"That poor kid registers every year on his own but his club doesn't register and he doesn't want to fight unattached," Martin said. "It's really unfortunate."

Battease has not fought unattached because of what the gym at Wahiawa District Park means to him. His gym has as many mirrors as any other boxing gym, but Battease doesn't need them. He can see a little bit of himself in the faces that surround him.

Training for a fight is hard, lonely work and Battease and his friends train all year for one trip to the mainland. When they get there, they are usually overwhelmed by opponents who have more than 100 more fights. To a man, they say it is the gym that keeps them together and tilting at windmills.

"They really want to keep that information from us," boxer Gene Cikostron said. "I don't know if they are trying to keep us out, but it is working."

Cikostron trains with Battease and is one of many fighters in Wahiawa who see their chances slipping away. Cikostron says he shows up early for every weigh-in, only to be denied every time. Wahiawa boxers Carl Phillips Jr., Kaipo Midro, Ben Merritt and Bernardo Soriano echo Cikostron's charges. Martin denies every one of them.

BATTEASE and his buddies could get around the friction by fighting unattached, but refuse to give up the protection provided by Carl Phillips, the man who has trained them throughout their careers.

Battease came to that determination in 2000, when he made the trip to Marquette, Mich., with Kawano and advanced to the semifinals, but was appalled by how much weight boxers on the team were forced to sweat off. He says the negative effects he experienced by going to the mainland under Kawano's care outweighed the benefit of fighting in the elite tournament. Kawano deflects the criticism by asking people to consider the source.

"I heard every state has one person like Carl Phillips, but I tell everyone in the mainland that theirs is not as bad," Kawano said. "They don't believe me, but they are learning. He has taken Ralph and me to court 100 times on things like that, and every time he is proven wrong." So Hawaii presses on with separate teams representing it on the mainland rather than one elite team. And boxers and coaches are increasingly forced to choose sides.

"Everybody knows there is a big conflict between those guys, it just gets in the way of everything," Jumawan said. "I think everyone in the boxing community knows that it is coming to a head. Neither of them really have an excuse."

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