Fight for survival

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Indian boxers looking for bouts

FORT THOMPSON, S.D. - ''We want to get Native boxers into Native casinos,'' Ray Hawk commented, ''so they can make a living as well as anybody else.''

That's one of the primary goals of Native American Warriors Pro-Boxing Network, a relatively new organization based in Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation.

Lester Thompson Jr., chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, pointed out that NAWPBN is creating economic opportunities for tribal members here and elsewhere and developing a sense of pride for American Indian culture. A number of the fighters are from this reservation in the poorest county in the country, where jobs are scarce and where money earned from boxing can be extremely important. Other boxers are enrolled members of the Ojibwa, Chippewa, Hidatsa, Nez Perce and Mandan nations.

Ray Hawk has been involved with boxing most of his adult life. Richard Calavera, the other main part of the organization, has a background both in boxing and mixed martial arts and has operated a gym in Minot, N.D., since 1973 - so both have the background and experience to help guide young professional fighters.

''It's Native-owned and operated,'' Hawk said. ''This makes our organization unique.''

NAWPBN presently has 22 boxers, plus others more involved with mixed martial arts who range in experience and ability from top-flight (highly rated boxers with outstanding records) to relative newcomers looking for the opportunity to get professional experience in four- or six-round fights as undercards to main events.

One of those top-ranked boxers is Shawn ''The Sioux Warrior'' Hawk, Ray Hawk's son, with an outstanding professional record of 16 wins, 0 losses, 1 draw and 14 knockouts.

''We look for him to challenge for a world title within the next 12 months,'' Ray said. ''Arthur 'Big Bear' Cook is not too far from challenging for a title as well.''

A third main-event fighter is Wayne ''Wawatae'' Martel, a Chippewa tribal member from North Dakota. He has fought in Madison Square Garden on HBO pay-per-view and has a professional record of 25 wins, 3 losses and 15 knockouts.

These three are presently the more recognized fighters, but the others are working their way up, hoping in the future to reach those same plateaus. One is a woman. Bridgette Ten Bears, Hidatsa, is just starting a pro career at 18 years old and has a knockout to her credit in her only bout to date.

''We fight all over the world. One of our boxers just came back from the United Arab Emirates and Dubai,'' Calavera noted. But the big push is to get more Indian casinos all around the country to book Native fighters.

''Our vision is to enrich the lives of these boxers monetarily as well as their status in the community,'' Hawk said. ''Other kids will look up to these guys as role models. They aren't necessarily world championship material, but they went out in the world and made a living in a tough sport.''

There's no doubt about their heritage when any of these boxers enter the ring. Shawn Hawk enters the ring with a war bonnet. Another wears a breastplate into the ring.

Calavera added that drums add to the effect.

''They basically dance their way up to the ring as the drummers are playing. Some people use music to get fired up and the Native Warriors use their Native songs.''

Many Indian boxers have extensive amateur careers but have trouble making the jump to a professional career. They need someone to protect them because without someone to look after them, it's difficult to make it in the pro game.

''That's where we come in,'' Hawk said. ''Fighters jump on because of Shawn. They see how he got where he is. Our agency will protect them.

''In the world of boxing, everyone's out to make money off these fighters and they don't care how they're matched - but that's where we come in. We want to work as an umbrella for Native fighters to protect them as well as get them the best purses they can possibly get for a fight. Often they want a kid to fight for very little or nothing if they don't have a manager or somebody looking out for them. That's where we're involved.''

Fighters or casinos wanting to book Indian boxers can contact NAWPBN and Ray Hawk at P.O. Box 511, Fort Thompson, SD 57339 or call (888) 262-6914 or (605) 682-9150.