Once on the Ropes, Boxing Thrives in New York Thanks to Local Fighters
The lifeblood of the city’s boxing scene is strong in gyms and small venues throughout the city, even if you can’t find it at Madison Square Garden.
Will Rosinsky is a 30-year-old Queens native who works as a firefighter in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. A longtime acquaintance of his, Joe Smith Jr., is a 26-year-old construction worker from Long Island and a member of the Local 66 Laborers Union.
On Saturday night, the two are going to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for a night of boxing matches headlined by a middleweight championship bout. But they won’t be sitting in the stands. Rosinsky and Smith will be there to fight each other on an undercard to the title match between Brooklynites Peter Quillin (32-0-1) and WBA middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs (30-1).
“We know each other,” Rosinsky (19-2) said of Smith, his former sparring partner. “There’s nothing different that he’s gonna do that I haven’t seen him do already.”
For his part, Smith (19-1) even took some vacation time from his day job in order to prepare for Saturday’s light-heavyweight bout. “I’m sure a lot of people can’t do that,” he said, “but I’m lucky and I was able to take off and still pay my bills on time.”
Mixed martial arts may be on the rise, but the boxing scene in New York City has never been stronger-as shown by a recent night of mid-level fights in Marine Park, Brooklyn.
Don’t be fooled by their “real” jobs, respectable as they may be. Rosinsky and Smith, both Golden Gloves champions, were boxing long before they entered the traditional workforce. They are part of New York’s growing pugilistic middle class, walking symbols of the sport’s renaissance in the city.
There was a time when New York was synonymous with boxing. Madison Square Garden averaged 28 fight cards a year between 1940 and 1950, when the arena was located on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets. The current Garden hosted only two cards in 2015, including Gennady Golovkin’s sold-out title defense against David Lemieux on Oct. 17. It appeared that boxing was disappearing from the city’s sports scene.
“We didn’t have a whole lot going on in the first part of the new century,” explained Bruce Silverglade, owner of Brooklyn’s famous Gleason’s Gym.
“The fights left New York,” he said. “Taxes are a big part of that, but just the cost of doing a show… New York is an expensive town. You have to house the fighters. You have to give them a per diem. If you take the same big fight and put it in Las Vegas, or a place where there’s a casino that supports boxing, they will give you a site fee for coming.”
‘As far as the popularity of boxing in the city of New York, it couldn’t be better, as far as I’m concerned.’
-Bruce Silverglade, owner of Gleason’s Gym
The taxes and costs remain, but thanks to newer venues, midlevel purses, and localized fight cards, they aren’t as prohibitive. Now local boxers have a hometown advantage in a city that is, once again, nurturing the sport at all levels.
As Silverglade put it, “[boxing is] starting to come back.”
The Barclays Center card on Saturday reads like a local white pages. Heather Hardy, who works as a trainer at Gleason’s and boasts a 14-0 professional record, is making her fifth appearance at the arena. “I sell tickets to my clients, co-workers, their clients. I’m like everybody’s kid sister,” said the 33-year-old mother and Brooklyn native.
Also appearing are rising light-heavyweight contender and Staten Island native Marcus Browne (16-0) and Huntington, N.Y., native Chris Algieri (20-2), a welterweight. As for the main event, Jacobs is a product of East New York’s Starrett City Boxing Club, and Quillin also lives in the borough.
It will be the 28th and final fight card of the year in New York, which matches last year’s total, according to the New York State Athletic Commission. As recently as 2009, only 14 boxing cards were commissioned within the city limits.
Now the events are reflective of the city itself.
“The great thing about New York is that no matter where in the world you hail from, you will always find a ‘home crowd’ in New York due to its inherent diversity,” explained Tom Hoover, chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission.
Such is the case for rising prospects and recent immigrants Bakhtiyar Eyubov (9-0) and three-time Georgian national champion Giorgi Gelashvili (3-0), both of whom won fights at the Oct. 29 “Brooklyn Brawl” showcase at the Aviator Sports and Events Center in Marine Park.
Thanks in large part to the Ukrainian-born, Brooklyn-raised boxer and promoter Dmitriy Salita, the two have found a home gym, Brooklyn’s Fight Factory, and an opportunity to box in front of their growing number of fans, many of whom also hail from former Soviet Republics.
Another Starrett City product, Salita (35-2-1) climbed the ranks as a welterweight before losing to Amir Khan in 2013. He continued boxing, but after reading a book about Israel’s economy called “Start-Up Nation,” Salita decided to try his hand at promoting.
“I looked around the boxing world in New York City,” said Salita, an Orthodox Jew with an orthodox fighting stance. “I made a couple of phone calls. It all came together rather quickly. Six, maybe seven weeks later, I had my first show on Sept. 1, 2010. Several good fighters fought.”
Salita’s Star of David Promotions eventually launched the Brooklyn Brawl series, which stages fights at midsize venues like Coney Island’s MCU Park, the Paramount Theatre, and the Aviator Center.
Since the fights are typically shown on the MSG Network or online at ESPN3, Salita’s fighters are gaining needed exposure. Another of his fighters, lifelong friend and heavyweight contender Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, delivered an impressive performance on Showtime in October, dropping Akhror Muralimov in three rounds to improve to 16-0-1.
“I think there’s a bigger middle class in boxing than there was before,” said Salita.
“There’s more people now that make $50,000 to $100,000 a year.”
That middle class might not exist were it not for the sport’s accessibility. Nowadays, everyone is stepping into the ring.
“Today I am around 80% business people-men, women, children,” said Silverglade, whose customers range in age from 6 to 87. He noted that when Gleason’s was located in Manhattan, “it was 100% boxers-amateurs and pros. We actually had two businessmen. No kids, no women.”
Now, as in many gyms in the area, women and children make up a large portion of Silverglade’s business. “As far as the popularity of boxing in the city of New York, it couldn’t be better, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I could not be in business today, I could not afford the insurance or the rent otherwise.”