Arabian Gulf - The arena is packed and the sounds of excited fans resonate off the walls. A nervous, tingling sensation fills your stomach. It's all chaos. The bell rings, and everything instantly falls into place. You remember your technique, you remember everything you trained for, and it all makes sense.
This is how Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Erick Dennis, from Jacksonville, Florida, describes how it feels to be in the boxing ring.
Dennis started boxing when he was 11 years old. Initially, he did it through an anger management class because his teacher thought it would be a good way to release stress in a healthy way.
"When I first started boxing, I didn't like it," said Dennis. "I thought it was pointless. I felt like the people I was going up against weren't the people I was mad at, so it was hard to take out the stress on them."
When he was 14, Dennis met a trainer in Orlando, Florida. Dennis wouldn't work with him at first, but was the trainer advocated for Dennis when he got into trouble. He told the authorities that he would keep Dennis in check, and has been training Dennis ever since.
"He taught me discipline and self-control, two things I struggled with as an adolescent," said Dennis.
After boxing for a few years, Dennis began doing amateur boxing competitions around the United States, and started to enjoy the sport more and more.
When Dennis first joined the Navy, he was stationed on the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in Sasebo, Japan. There, he competed with American and Japanese fighters in local gyms.
Now that Dennis is stationed on USS Nimitz (CVN 68), he has friends aboard that help him train. One of them is Airman Johnathan Mack, from Norfolk, Va. He helps Dennis with mitt training, heavy bag training, and perfecting various punches and techniques.
"Not being able to compete regularly really dampens my chances to be a major contender outside of the military," said Dennis. "Mitt drills and heavy bag workouts are great, but nothing can compare to the experience of sparring with another person. Anyone can look good hitting a punching bag because it doesn't hit back."
Dennis said that generally, most boxers come up with a strategy to defeat their opponent before any fight. He, however, never makes a plan.
"Once you're in the ring and you get hit hard that first time, all of your plans go out the window, and you're just focused on not getting hit like that again, so you fight scared," said Dennis. "I never get into a fight expecting not to get hit. As a matter of fact, I welcome it, because it lets me see what's open when my opponent extends their arm."
The hardest part, according to Dennis, is working on the flight deck and then going to train for such a rigorous sport. The long hours of flight operations drain key energy that is necessary to train. The desire Dennis and his trainers share is the only thing that motivates them. They do their best to never lose sight of what's important, and what's most important to them is that they don't lose.
"We all have a common goal and that is to win, no matter the cost," said Dennis. "We don't do this for fun. Our mission when we come to the ring is simply this: beat our opponent mentally and physically until they submit by knockout. We never want to leave it in the hands of the ringside judges."
Though it's challenging at sea, Dennis' trainers onboard do their best to keep him in shape and prepared at all times. Dennis said they keep him on a strict program that involves weight lifting and training, cardio, breathing exercises, heavy bag workouts, two-a-days, defensive drills and a nutrient focused diet. They don't believe in 'off-days.'
"His love for boxing is like the need for football in Texas," said Mack. "He puts his blood, sweat and tears into every moment he trains and competes. Taking boxing away from him is like taking a child away from their mother."
Twelve years after Dennis began boxing, he has grown to love the sport and wants to pursue a career in professional boxing when he gets out of the Navy.
"In a lot of ways I think boxing was made for him," said Mack. "Dennis has always been a proficient boxer. He understands what needs to be done and knows what his opponent is trying to do to him. I've seen him improve in multiple ways. He can now switch from orthodox to southpaw with ease, and trust me, that is not an easy task to accomplish. His jabs are snapping out more quickly and his reaction time to punches has increased tremendously.
"Dennis will go pro after leaving the Navy," said Mack. "I can see him being a top-notch contender for the belt as long as he keeps his determination and love for the sport."
Dennis' coach from Florida recently moved to Seattle, and contacted Dennis when he found out he was stationed in Bremerton. Since then, he has been convincing Dennis to train with him and go pro after his enlistment in the Navy. Dennis said that he has a lot of training to do before then, but he has faith that his two trainers onboard will be able to help prepare him, and he's excited to have them join him on his future endeavors.
Nimitz is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in this region, the ship and strike group are conducting maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce.