LOWELL -- You won't find an amateur fighter who is more battle tested than Ian Funk.
Funk, 23, is a former United States Marine who survived two tours of duty in Afghanistan, where he saw combat. If you are tough enough to live through something as life-changing as that in your early 20s, you certainly aren't going to get worked up with worry about pulling through six minutes of fury in a boxing ring.
After four years of heroically serving his country, Funk, a Boston resident who was discharged from the Marines last year, showed the fans in attendance at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium Friday night that he still has plenty of fight left in him.
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Funk pounded his way to a unanimous decision victory over Henry Rodriguez, a gritty 19-year-old from Methuen, in a hard-hitting 178-pound Greater Lowell/Central New England Golden Gloves Novice bout.
The win improved Funk's record to 2-1. Rodriguez is now 0-2.
"Boxing is the same thing as being in the military, you have the pressure to perform and do good," said Funk, who is attending UMass Boston on the GI Bill where he is studying exercise and health science. "This is a little different because the pressure is what you put on yourself. Over there it's so much pressure because you are responsible for everybody who is next to you.
"Keeping my buddies alive mattered more to me over there than keeping myself alive. Thinking that way helps keep you distracted from everything that's going on around you."
Funk was very much in tune with his surroundings Friday. He unleashed a punishing jab, and followed up consistently with stinging straight rights and left hooks to the body.
Although Funk has solid boxing skills, there were times during the bout when he couldn't resist the urge to brawl, and it was during these violent exchanges with Rodriguez when he left himself open, and got caught with some solid shots.
Then again, you wouldn't expect Funk to ever take a step backward in the heat of battle. Whenever he needs any reminding about what it means to stand and fight, he just has to look at his inner left bicep where he has the words 'Stay Brutal' tattooed in big bold letters.
"Stay brutal is just a daily reminder for me," said Funk. "They are words to live by for me, especially during my second deployment (in Afghanistan). Now that I'm back I've made those words a permanent part of my life."
Among Funk's many duties as a team leader in the infantry was to go out and locate bombs with a trained canine.
"After going over there twice, there's no doubting his toughess," said Funk's trainer, Alex Rivera. "The problem with him is sometimes he's too tough. He has to learn when to hold up and box a bit. You can't go all out all the time.
"He can box and put punches together. He has good movement. When he stands and trades with guys, he gets hit with punches. He doesn't have to take as much punishment as he did tonight. But overall he did a really good job."
Rodriguez never backed down in the face of Funk's onslaught, but he was continually backing up into the ropes. Still, he landed his share of blows, including a vicious shot in the second round that rocked Funk in front of his own corner.
Funk somehow shook off the blow and quickly went back on the attack.
"He hung in there with (Funk)," said Rodriguez' trainer Dave Romano. "He's in real good shape. But the kid he fought was super tough. He's a Marine with no give up in him.
"Henry had him hurt in the second round and the kid still kept coming. When you get that you know you're in for a long night. He hung in there and he has the battle wounds to show for it. We're going to take him to the hospital to get checked out. We think he has a concussion."
After the bout it was announced that Funk is an ex-Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
"That was pretty special," said Funk, who credits his dad, Stephen, a former captain in the Army who teaching him the discipline needed to get through the rigors of life. "Boston is pretty renown for paying tribute to veterans.
"I liked seeing all the Vietnam vets in the audience. There was a lot of salt in the crowd. I'm glad I could win for them."
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