The Amateur Fight Game

By Bryant Romero—

The New Jersey Golden Gloves is one of the most prestigious tournaments for amateur boxing that is once again going to conclude at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ on April 20. On March 15, Jersey City held a NJ Golden Gloves event at Hudson Catholic High School and featured a few of the hometown fighters. It was a packed venue with hundreds of boxing fans mostly who were friends and family of the participating combatants. It was a lively crowd anxiously waiting for the first boxers to enter into the smallest ring this writer has ever seen. The event had a DJ playing some of the top hits of the past year throughout the show. The event started with the singing of the national anthem that had tension flowing throughout the school’s gymnasium. Henry Hascup as usual was the ring announcer and explained the rules for tonight’s bouts. President of the NJ Golden Gloves Dan Doyle was also ringside observing everything.

“Boxer’s to the ring!” announced Henry Hascup who is also the President of the New Jersey Association of USA Boxing

It was finally Showtime for these fighters as after weeks of training they are given a chance to display their craft in front of hundreds of boxing fans. The show featured Jersey City fighters such as Denzel Stevens who is in the 132 pound sub-novice division (boxers with 2 bouts or less) training out of Chilltown boxing club located on Bergen Ave in Jersey City, and Super Heavyweight Nicoy“Zilla” Clark who fights in the novice division (boxers with 3-9 bouts of experience) of Jersey City and trains at the Renegade boxing club.

The first bout of the evening featured Denzel Stevens and his opponent was Tyriek Gainey of D.M.G. boxing club. Denzel seemed relaxed as he walked into the ring being this was his first bout of his amateur boxing career.

“It was my first fight; I was a little nervous but not really,” said Denzel Stevens 17, from Jersey City.

Denzel has a good height for his weight class: he’s lanky, skinny, and has long arms that suit him to stay on the outside and box.

The bell rings for round 1 and Denzel meets Tyriek in the center of the ring, both fighters didn’t waste any time in feeling each other out, as there is high intensity between the two. Denzel starts out trading blows with Tyriek, which is not the way Denzel should be fighting considering he is tall, lanky, and should be sticking and moving. But Denzel wanted to get his respect right away, and lands good right hands on the chin of Tyriek. Tyriek continues to stalk Denzel as he is the one coming forward, trying to walk Denzel down and lands good rights hands as well to the head of Denzel. Denzel shows no fear in getting hit, and punches right back at Tyriek, unleashing combinations. The crowd oo’s and ah’s after every thudding blow that lands, which can have an effect on the fighters.

Both fighters are fighting really hard, showing contrasting styles but the same will to win. Good matchup to start the show. Denzel settles down in round two, and starts to feel comfortable in the ring. He’s shows off his footwork, and boxes circles around Tyriek and sticks out the jab that snaps Tyriek’s head back. Tyriek is still trying to put pressure, stalking, but not jabbing his way in, he has trouble keeping up with Denzel and is starting to consistently get hit with straight hands from long range. Tyriek just doesn’t seem to have the experience or energy to slip the straight right hand and counter with a left hook to the head or body. Round 2 ends and Tyriek’s nose is bleeding and looks tired.

Round 3 was all Denzel Stevens as he is so confident now he starts to back Tyriek up against the ropes landing crisp jabs and straight rights. Tyriek continues to fight back though which prompts the referee not to stop the fight, the bell rings; the fight is over, and Henry Hascup reads the scorecards, “and the winner is, in the blue corner!! From Chilltown boxing club Denzel Stevens!!”

“It felt great; it was one of the best feelings.” Denzel told me. “I been training for over a year; I just keep coming to the gym because of my talent. I could make it a career but I’m not sure; I’m going to keep training though and stay in shape,” he said.

There’s a quiet nature about Denzel when I spoke to him, even a little shy, but he sure knows how to handle himself in that ring. He’s also has a younger brother named Brain Stevens who trains in the same gym with him and Brian is only 13 years old and competes in the Junior Division (Bouts are determined by age group in Juniors).

The Chilltown boxing club where Denzel trains is a solid gym, and has all of the equipment a fighter needs such as heavybags, speedbags, doubleend bags, and an uppercut bag to practice uppercuts. There is also a pretty big boxing ring in the center of the gym where the sparring takes place. Sparring is the closest way to emulate a fight because you’re practicing with another individual, but at the same time trying to show who is boss.

One of the coaches that runs the Chilltown boxing club is Frankie Iyala, 35, from Jersey City. The gym goes by the 4 c’s, which are coachabilty, conditioning, concentration, and champion.

“12 years this gym’s been open,” Frankie told me. “I work early in the morning as a chef and then come to the gym; I give these kids motivation,” Frankie said.

Frankie Ayala loves boxing so much that he is willing open the gym up after his tiring shift from work just so the kids can come train and practice their craft, where if the gym wasn’t open those same kids just might be hanging out in the streets getting into trouble.

“The bottom of my heart I do this, I don’t get paid to do this; I do this because I love the sport,” Frankie said. “I’m trying to make champions out here.”

Frankie knows the fight game well, as he teaches the kids in his gym how to stay balanced, and the correct technique to throw certain punches. He also believes that a trainer should never change a fighter’s style of fighting according to their personalities, whether a fighter likes to stay on the outside, box, and counter, or if the fighter likes to come forward and throw power punches.

“A fighter should fight the way he likes to fight,” Frankie explained. “I just try to add to a kid’s style so he can fight better with that style. Adapt to the situation only; only change strategy for a certain fight if that style is not working,” he said.

However, despite Frankie’s love for boxing, he’s well of aware of some the issues that exist in amateur boxing, such as lack of events in New Jersey.

“To me, they need to have more events to showcase talent, I want to see them fight more often,” Frankie told me. “There’s only the Golden Gloves and then the Diamond Gloves and the rest of the year you’re just waiting and looking for events,” he said.

It’s true that there are very few events for amateur boxers in the state to compete besides those two tournaments Frankie mentioned. However, there are other issues that surround the sport and questions of whether there should be drug testing at the regional level of amateur boxing; and how can the judging of fights improve?

“There are a lot of motherfuckers taking that shit,” Frankie explained. “You can tell when you hit niggas with a bunch of shots and they’re still coming, it’s not normal,” he said.

Henry Hascup, President of the New Jersey Association of USA boxing explained the reasoning why there isn’t drug testing at this level of amateur boxing.

“The cost is just too much for Amateur boxing at this level, as no one gets paid. We do have a doctor that checks the blood pressure, heart rate, at every show,” he said.

The NJ Golden Gloves are a nonprofit organization and the revenue that the tournament receives from the events they run throughout the state are to provide airfare to all of the best fighters in New Jersey, so that they can compete in the National Golden Gloves which is taking place in Salt Lake City, Utah in May of this year.

However, Henry’s comments also points out another issue in this level of the sport and that is fighters in regional bouts are not required to give medical exams such as blood testing to detect weather there are diseases, despite being in a combat sport where blood is present in most of these bouts taking place.

President of the NJ Golden Gloves Dan Doyle told me, “Blood pressure is still taken before each bout. That will not change, but I would rather see boxers get blood work and physicals before they have to pay for a drug test. It could prevent some infectious conditions in the ranks.”

The Judging in Olympic style boxing has been questionable at best in all levels of the sport. The reason being is because the judging has been based on punches landed instead damage inflicted on an opponent.

“The only issues I have with amateur boxing is the fair scoring. Depending on what gym you’re from it could be enough to get you a win,” said Omar Jabar, 33, Jersey City, open class fighter who trains at Chilltown boxing club.

As for Denzel Stevens, he would go on to win his next bout on April 13, 2013 in the semifinals of the Golden Gloves, but he would eventually lose the following week on April 20th at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. Falling short against Sebastian Arias of Global gym, it was a good tournament for the young Stevens and there is definitely potential if he continues to have the desire to box.

Super heavyweight Nicoy “Zilla” Clarke was the co-main event of the evening in the Golden Gloves show at Hudson Catholic High School in Jersey City and his opponent that evening was Teshaud Hoag of Asbury Park Pal. Nicoy is about 6ft tall: stocky for a heavyweight, big arms, very strong, and weighs anywhere between 220 to 240 pounds, fight as a southpaw (left handed fighter). He sports a 6-2 record and has already won a NJ Golden Gloves and Diamonds Gloves Championship respectively.

“Before I walk into the ring I’m feeling nervous and butterflies are there because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Nicoy Clarke 31, from Jersey City.

The bell rings for round 1 and Nicoy patiently stalks his opponent looking to land a big punch. Both fighters start cautiously looking to set up openings, then out of nowhere Teshaud lands a huge right hand on the chin of Nicoy and a fight breaks out! Big shots are thrown by both fighters as thudding blows are heard throughout the gymnasium.

“ I was rusty that night, I hadn’t fought in a year because of many of my opponents pulled out but that first round he caught me good,” said Nicoy. “I’m going to be real with you, it’s after that first punch I get hit with where I’m into the fight, I feel good, I feel strong, and I’m ready to fight!” He said.

Nicoy was true to his word as Teshaud struggled the rest of the night as Nicoy pummeled him against the ropes landing big power punches with right hooks and overhand lefts. Nicoy wobbled Teshaud numerous times throughout the bout but he made it to the final bell. Nicoy won a clear decision and advanced to the next round of the tournament.

Nicoy is actually an alumnus of New Jersey City University.

“I graduated at NJCU in 2006 and I was a member of the SGO (Student Government Organization) and I even wrote for the Gothic Times Newspaper a few times,” said Nicoy.

What makes Nicoy’s success impressive so far in his amateur career is the gym where he trains called the Renegade boxing gym. It’s one of the most unusual gyms I’ve ever been to; it’s located at Warner Avenue in Jersey City, but it’s in a basement of an actual house. When first walking down into the basement there’s a sign in the gym that says “Must come to gym every day, always go hard or go home.” It’s a very small space with many heavybags, but speed bags with no air in them, no boxing ring, and no room to jump rope.

The gym has been under the supervision of Steve Felton for about 12 years. Like Frankie at the Chilltown boxing club, Steve works a day job and after his shift runs the gym in the basement of his own home. As I first entered Steve’s gym, he was taking body punches from a 21 year old sub-novice light heavyweight fighter named Denzel Suitte. They traded body blows trying to emulate an actual fight.

“12 years I been running this gym,” said Steve Felton, 50, Jersey City. “I’ve had about 67 experienced fighters at one time and many champions,” he said.

Steve was able to develop champions with the limited equipment he has at his gym, which is astonishing and with no boxing ring, Steve’s fighters have to visit other gyms in the area to find sparring as he says “a fighter should spar at least twice a week.”

“It can be done where it’s not adequate, I started in 2003 with one heavybag,” Steve said.

For some of the kids at Renegade, spending time in the gym everyday can be an escape from the dangers on the street.

“Boxing is a lot of fun,” said Denzel Suitte, 21, Jersey City. “It’s helped me stay off the street.”

“I’m following my dream and because of my age people say I can’t do it, but I learned that in the street you end up in jail or dead,” Nicoy told me.

After his victory on March 15th in Hudson Catholic High School, Nicoy was already in the finals of the Super Heavweight novice division because of limited number of fighters that entered in his weight class. On April 19 2013, Nicoy defeated William Pannisidi of Ike & Randy boxing club by decision and became a Golden Gloves champ for a second time. Nicoy would like to fight in the professional ranks and he sees himself as a journeyman fighter. His favorite boxers are Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins.

As for Steve Felton, he will continue to train fighters in his basement, but hopes to one day get support from the community to help find a better space for his fighters to train and acquire much need equipment.

“These youngsters keep me going and I’m 50 years old,” said Steve.

Amateur Olympic Style Boxing as a whole will be going through changes in June of this year at the national and international level in competition. For more than 20 years, Olympic style boxing has been using a computerized scoring system, where the punches that are landed are a big component to winning boxing matches, but over the years the sport has taken harsh criticism to where this style of boxing is being compared to fencing with gloves. AIBA (International Boxing Association) are the powers that be that are responsible for the coming changes in the sport in hopes of bringing the sport back to its glory days where no head gear was involved and the sport was featured in primetime on network television. The changes that are in effect for June of this year will be a 10 point must scoring system, an Elite Men’s boxing division 19-40 age group for the Nationals where the men in this division have to compete without headgear and will be eligible to compete for a berth in the United States Olympic team. There will also be a Senior Men’s division for Men who still prefer to box with headgear on, but will not be able to compete internationally.

“The powers to be made the change,” said Henry Hascup, President of the New Jersey Association of USA boxing. “I guess they wanted it more like the Pro’s, plus if they go to the 10 point must system, an uneven amount of rounds would be much better.”

The duration of rounds recently changed from 4 rounds for 2 minutes each, to three rounds for 3 minutes each for open class amateur boxers (fighters with 10 bouts of experience or more).

The new rules that will be implanted this year has brought excitement to many in the boxing community who have noticed that Amateur Boxing at the Olympic level has dwindled in its popularity in recent games because of the lack of television coverage.

“USA Boxing did not make the new rules,” said Dr. Charles Butler, USA Boxing President. “Countries throughout the world are asking for these changes. They want to restore Boxing to what they see as the “Golden Age. They do not see it as a safety issue because of the changes in the engineering of boxing gloves.”

Dr. Charles Butler however, also argues that an American Boxer should not be forced to compete without headgear if they don’t want to. Although the advantages in competing with headgear is a decrease in cuts, concussion studies have shown that headgear has caused twice as many concussions as competing without headgear in a study of over 15,00 boxer rounds. According to Dr. Charles Butler For example, The Kazakhstan National Championships were conducted without headgear. There were 169 bouts with only one concussion with no loss of consciousness. This is lower than what has been seen in the United States and International Tournaments that compete with headgear.

However, with Elite Men looking to compete without headgear, adjustments in training and equipment will have to be made.

“To box without headgear, coaches will have to teach athletes to keep their heads and hands up,” said Dr. Charles Butler. “And learn the proper technique of getting into a clinch without butting heads. This equipment change will impact how our athletes train and they will need to train to prepare for this change in our sport.”

Now that this year’s National Golden Gloves will a feature a division of fighters without headgear, and the 2016 Olympics will be under the new rules implemented by AIBA; will amateur boxing at the regional level also feature the new rules in future events?

“10 point must and the new system goes into effect of June of this year, so (New Jersey) Golden Gloves will not use it this year,” said Dan Doyle President of the NJ Golden Gloves. “Headgear will stay on for this year, we are still waiting for final rule changes for future years,” he said.

It’s true that boxing has lost popularity in both amateur and professional levels the last decade. However, this year over 350 boxers ranging from ages of 8 to 34 competed in this year’s tournament, which proves that boxing is still relevant in New Jersey.

No matter how many people say boxing is a dying sport, there are still people watching it; still people making money off it, and a small group that will still be passionate about it.


See other stories by Bryant Romero: “The Eye of the Tiger”

See video from Bryant Romero: “Diddy’s Second Fight”