The New York Daily News Golden Gloves is serious business. Serious business to the male and female boxers who enter the competition, ranging in age from 16 to 35, and 106 to 250+ in weight. The vast majority of the 600 plus people who enter the Gloves will never become prizefighters or ever resemble them for that matter. Yet for so many who competed in the historic tournament, it is a defining moment in their lives.
Entrants are dishwashers, stock clerks, actors, construction workers, school teachers, cops, nurses and students. They represent every color, creed, religion and body type you can think of, and hail from various sections of the five boroughs—Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Bronx, Manhattan. I believe these daring citizens create a kind of mosaic, and are a fine example of why New Yorkers are the most diverse, vibrant, interesting, plucky people you’ll ever meet. (Of course, as a member of this motley crew—New Yorkers, not Golden Glovers—I’m biased.)
Most Golden Glovers endeavor to fight for pure and respectable reasons. They want to find out what they’re made out of, maybe face down certain doubts and fears, or simply have an unforgettable experience. They almost all seem to fight their hearts out, leave everything in the ring. Can the same be said of jr. welter contenders Kendall Holt and Mike Arnaoutis, who fought each other in Atlantic City the same night the Gloves took place?
After watching the finals—all 32 fights—which took place over the course of two nights at the sold out Theater at Madison Square Garden, it’s safe to say that few reminded me of Sugar Ray Robinson. (The greatest fighter of all time won his first pair of Gloves in 1939, as a featherweight).
But there was a collection of blue chippers who are as good as any amateurs that we currently produce in the States. At least five or six of them are either ranked #1 in the country, or have been right up there at various times. For these guys, it’s serious business of a different variety, one that might involve major financial remuneration down the road. When they fought, sharks named Shelly Finkel and Lou DiBella circled outside the ring, taking note which amateur might be their next top earner.
The obvious choice is a 165-pound, 20-year-old Brooklynite named Danny Jacobs. He would win his fourth pair of Gloves and generated a level of buzz I can’t recall in the 15 or so years I’ve been attending to the finals. Now the 6-foot Jacobs begins the long march toward securing a spot on the US Olympic team in Bejing. He’s already been touted as our best hope for gold.
Before he went on, boxing personalities such as Bert Sugar and Tommy Gallagher kibitzed with current pros such as Wladimir Klitschko, Zab Judah, Yuri Foreman, Paul Malignaggi, John Duddy and Gary Stark Jr., as well as elder statesmen Emile Griffith, Vito Antufermo, Chuck Wepner, Carlos Ortiz, Juan LaPorte, Aaron Davis and Junior Jones. Eric Mangini, the head coach of the New York Jets and an avid boxing fan who shows classic fights to his players for inspiration, was ringside with his entire coaching staff.
Another name in the house, with a special interest in Jacobs’ fight, was Mark Breland. With the exception of Riddick Bowe, Breland was the last Brooklyn amateur to garner such a following. (Tyson didn’t become a legend until turning pro.)
Breland is said to have had an amateur record of 110-1, with an uncanny number of wins coming by early knockout. He was so sublime as an amateur, had he gotten Canastota Bound tattooed on his wiry biceps, no one would quibble. Many cognoscenti consider him the best US amateur in history. But after winning gold at the ’84 LA Olympics, anything less than a Sugar Ray Leonard type of career would be a letdown. Even though he twice held the WBA welter title and finished his career at 35-2-1 (25), he was viewed as somewhat of a bust. His Olympic teammates Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Virgil Hill and Evander Holyfield, went on to greater success as pros.
Now a well-regarded trainer (though not of Jacobs), Breland studied the kid and shouted instructions as if it were his little brother in the ring. It’s obvious he wishes only good things for him. He’s even tried to invest Jacobs with that magical straight right hand he once owned. Alas, this is impossible: Jacobs can crack alright…but when Breland touched you, it was like getting Tasered.
What makes Jacobs special is his speed, blinding combinations, and his overall ability. He’s still filling out as a middleweight and often seems preoccupied with starching his opponents. No, he doesn’t appear to have preternatural stopping power. But his game is already sharper and more well-rounded than some undefeated local pros I could name. When he’s concerned with his defense, he’s as slippery as mercury. But in an effort to impress the fans and land something big, he can be countered.
Such was the case against rugged, hard-hitting opponent Phillip Jackson-Benson. Benson was dropped with a lightning-fast counter left hook in the first. Eager to finish, Jacobs got caught by some hard right hands. He also forgot about the body, which he normally attacks with vigor.
Still, Jacobs showed his usual flashes of brilliances, earned a 5-0 decision, and collected his fourth pair of Gloves in the process.
Jacobs, now an estimated 131-3, is certainly not the only local kid who can fight. In fact, there were a handful of others ranked #1 in the States or are right there among the elite. The following are some of the ones you ought to know about.
Bronxite Cristian Concepcion, 18, won his third pair of Gloves via 5-0 decision, beating Juan Roman. Long and sinewy with, Cristian can box or slug. He might fill out into a terrific feather one day.
Luis Del Valle, 20, also became a 3-time champion and retained his #1 ranking in the country. He outclassed Alfredo Baeza, earning a 5-0 decision. I’ve heard fighters praise Luis’ work ethic, saying that when he does his roadwork, he “goes fast as a crackhead.”
Along with his technical proficiency—he works a gorgeous compact left uppercut into his combos—Del Valle’s conditioning showed in the third and fourth. Baeza was dropped for a near 10-count and received two standing eights. One expects that he will be turning pro soon.
Sadam Ali gets a lot of pub, and for good reason. At 18, his boxing skills are way ahead of the curve. Some say he has a decent shot at earning a spot on the US team for Bejing. As with Jacobs, he’s a product of the Starrett City Gym, which seems to produce most of the good NY-based pros you hear about today.
Ali fought a game opponent in Bryan O’Connor, who held his own in the first. Slowly, however, Ali began to impose himself and the judges awarded him a 5-0 decision. By the end, it looked like a mismatch.
The tall and rangy Ronney Vargas may not be a name on the national scene—yet. But in NY he is the king at 152, and that’s nothing to scoff at. Neither is the fact that at 17 Vargas has now three Gloves titles to his credit. He made easy work of a short sparkplug named Ashante Henrickson, getting a 5-0 decision. He’s a product of the Webster PAL in the Bronx, which consistently produces excellent boxers.
Will Rosinsky was yet another fighter to pick up his third pair of Golden Gloves. He’s also yet another Starrett City product. His chin, heart and desire cannot be questioned. He was nonstop hell for Yuwshua Zadok and won a 5-0 decision.
However, it’s unlikely the short and stocky Rosinky will have a major impact against light heavies in the pros. He’ll need to drop down to middleweight and take his chances there.
Please note: I didn’t include any of the female contestants, only because I wasn’t blown away by anyone as far as talent is concerned. But the grittiest, most dramatic fight of the tournament came between 165-pounders Dawne Thomas and Jennifer Egan. Thomas might have won a 5-0 decision, but this is no way reflects what a competitive fight it was. By the time they fought, most of the crowd had left the building. Indeed, press row was barren, save myself and one other guy. But we stood and applauded their effort when it was over.