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BOXING: Grieving the death of his best friend, Meriden’s Bongochea captures USA Boxing Eastern Elite Qualifier

BOXING: Grieving the death of his best friend, Meriden’s Bongochea captures USA Boxing Eastern Elite Qualifier

MERIDEN — Diego Bengochea fought with a heavy heart last week following the loss of his best friend Alex Medina.

The two were good friends for three years and were in most classes together as juniors at Maloney High School. Bengochea and his family went to visit Medina twice in Hartford Hospital following the Sept. 30 car accident that ultimately cost Medina his life.

Two days after Medina died, Bengochea departed for Columbus, Ohio, for the 2019 USA Boxing Eastern Elite Qualifier and Regional Open Championships that ran from Oct. 5-12.

Bengochea had his best friend on his mind the entire time and wore a “Rest in Peace Alex” shirt that bore Medina’s photo. When Bengochea taped his fists he had “R.I.P. Alex” inscribed.

“He was my best friend, actually,” Bengochea said Wednesday. “We were really close since our freshman year at Maloney, but it felt like I knew him longer. He had big plans for the future. We always had fun together playing different sports and he always supported my boxing career.”

Sometimes, when he was at Bengochea’s home, Medina would wear one of Diego’s many championship belts.

The accident happened just a week before Bengochea left for Ohio and one of the biggest tournaments of his career.

“It was hard, but it motivated me in some ways to work harder because I wanted to win for him,” Bengochea said. “He would want to win and continue to fight.

“There were times when I was thinking about him during the fight, but I was also trying to stay focused and staying in that focused mentality,” he added. “I was always thinking that I was doing this for him. This was a big tournament and I needed to win it for him.”

That is indeed what Bengochea did. The 17-year-old rolled through the semifinals and finals in dominant fashion in the 114-pound division.

Bengochea, who entered the tournament as the top seed, downed Tyrell Simon in the semifinals on Oct. 10 before dispatching Giovanni Clara in the final the next day. Both were by unanimous decision, 5-0. Bengochea won each three-minute round of each three-round fight.

Bengochea fought through a sprained wrist on his dominant right hand. The injury occurred during training two weeks before Ohio. Bengochea could not jab with his right hand and his father, Miguel Bengochea, was training him to fight southpaw just in case.

“We were icing it; we were putting Tiger Balm on it. He went to the hospital to make sure nothing was broken” Miguel Bengochea said. “By the time it came time for him to fight, he felt good, but he went two weeks without sparring.”

The Bengocheas trained together six days a week at the Meriden Sports Zone leading up to the fight.

“His hard work pays off again,” Diego’s father said.

The father and son made the 10-hour drive to Ohio along with Diego’s mom Sandra and sister Daniella.

“This is my first championship at a national tournament and this was very special to me for many reasons,” Diego Bengochea said. “I wanted to bring it back to Meriden. It felt good representing my city and doing this for my best friend.”

Bengochea is expected to be the top seed in his next tournament in December in Louisiana.

“If he wins in Louisiana, he will travel the country with Team USA,” Miguel Bengochea said. “If he’s the runner-up, he will be a backup to Team USA and will take the spot in case of an injury or a missed weight.”

Bengochea is also looking at competing in the Willie Pep Invitational in South Windsor on Nov. 2.