Army, Air Force win first-round bouts Published Feb. 17, 2011 By Patrick Desmond 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- The Marine Corps boxing team was the first service branch to capture a win on opening night of the 2011 Armed Forces Boxing Championship here. Marine middleweight Damarias Russell showed in more than one way Feb. 15 that he's committed to being first-to-fight. Russell's convincing 24-4 decision over Navy's Antonell Padilla-Cruz earned a preliminary bout victory and a ticket to the Feb. 18 finals. "You have to be first," he said about his mind-set going into the opening round. True to form, the 2010 Armed Forces middleweight champion out boxed his opponent. Russell was shifty and powerful, flanking and ducking under his opponent's punches, while striking from advantageous angles throughout the first round. He became even more aggressive in the bout's second round, scoring combinations that began to daze his opponent before a knockdown finally came. It was "a clean right," Russell said about the punch that dropped Padilla-Cruz to his knees in the second round. Nevertheless, Padilla-Cruz continued to pursue him, seemingly with the understanding that he needed points and fast, but without success. Following the bout, Russell declined to comment on his own power, and instead added that his Navy opponent was "strong, very strong," to withstand the hits. Entering with the largest team, it was only a matter of stepping into the ring before Army earned a victory. But it wasn't easy. It took Army middleweight Zacchaeus Hardrick three rounds to figure out Air Force's Gary Griffin. Standing in a tight guard in the center of the ring, Hardrick said he waited "to see what my opponent had." Hardrick was working on a strategy of attack that wouldn't leave him open to the counter punches of his opponent, a puzzle that resolved itself in the final round. In the first round, Griffin tried to persuade Hardrick into a mistake, sidestepping his stoic opponent while delivering punches, rendered ineffective by Hardrick's guard. By the end of the first, Hardrick said he could see Griffin was sitting back. His corner told him to be more active: throw more feints and double-up his jab. In the final round, Hardrick switched his approach again, saying "I let him come to me and run into my punches." In contrast, it took Army's heavyweight Charles Blackwell little more than five minutes to force a standing eight count, score a knockdown, and earn the victory. Blackwell pushed the pace in his matchup, charging toward Marine Norman Watford before stopping the heavyweight with 35 seconds left in the second round. "Unfortunately, yes," Blackwell admitted, it's in his nature to bound out of the corner like a bull, a tendency that sometimes gets him into trouble. Unfortunately for Watford, Blackwell's pace was backed up by accurate combinations. "As soon as I touched him with my right, I could see in his eyes he didn't want anymore," said last year's heavyweight champion. Blackwell said he's even better when he settles down. His championship bout Feb. 18 offers an opportunity to prove the claim. Watching his potential opponents, Blackwell sat down for the second heavyweight contest Feb. 15 to see who he would face. Winning the first bout for the Air Force team, heavyweight Kent Brinson outpointed Navy's Sean Hedgeman, 28-5, by throwing various punches at will. Brinson landed a few heavy shots to the midsection early, and then began scoring with head-body combinations. "You throw what's there," he said. "Prepare to do everything." With his taller opponent chasing him, Brinson was on the move, tagging Hedgeman with hooks to the body, hooks to the head, a straight right plus a low left-handed body hook. "If you're going to stalk me, have fun," Brinson said, adding that he felt comfortable moving around the ring. Later, the 28-year-old Airman narrowly missed a potential crowd-pleasing knockdown on an uppercut. Like his fellow service members, Brinson acknowledged the significance of the preliminary win, but is ready to get back into the ring. "It's a big deal, because of the Olympics," he said. I have to keep it up." With an Armed Forces gold medal and a 2012 Olympic Team Trials berth on the line, Brinson said he's already looking forward to his matchup against Blackwell. Opening the interservice tournament, Fast Katz Boxing's Patricia Cuevas outpointed Navy's Rhonda McGee. McGee looked ready to tower over her shorter opponent, dominating the first round with jabs and straight punches. However, McGee began to tire in the second and third rounds, allowing the shorter Cuevas to close the gap between the pair, connect on punches and win 14-13. "It has a lot to do with conditioning," Cuevas said. "I have to admit, she's good though." Following the Feb. 16 preliminaries, Army leads with four tournament wins; the Marine Corps, three; and Air Force, two. Team points are awarded for a finals victory (two points) and a semifinal victory (one point).