Cincinnati's Boxing Legacy Grows with Olympic Event
Mention Cincinnati sports and the conversation can span from the Red's fabled history to the unfortunate off-field exploits of the Bengals. But there's another high-level sports scene that is capturing national attention, even drawing a pre-Olympics qualifying event to the city next month, that everyone will be talking about soon: amateur boxing.
Andrew Williams, founder of boxing and event promoter R & R Promotions
, said more Olympic boxers have come from Cincinnati than from any other city in the U.S. Likewise, one third of the nation's top 30 boxers call Cincinnati home, or came from Queen City gyms.
The city's boxing community will have its biggest chance yet to mark its place on the national sporting scene in early July, when an estimated 300 boxers from around the country descend on the Taft Theatre for USA Boxing's
Last Chance Qualifier tournament. The tournament, organized by R & R Promotions, is one of the key events leading up to the Oympic Qualifier tournament in August 2011. The 11 fighters who win their weight classes in Cincinnati next month have a good chance of appearing on Olympic fight cards in 2012.
According to Anthony Bartkowski, executive director for USA Boxing, choosing Cincinnati to host this important event was an easy decision. R & R Promotions has hosted the 2007 Midwest Olympic trials, as well as the 2010 U-19 National tournament for the sanctioning body, both to stellar reviews by the national sanctioning body.
"Quite honestly, it's a very easy decision to say we're coming back to Cincinnati," said Bartkowski. "Cincinnati has proven itself time and time again for us."
Boxing talent: a hidden city secret
Williams said he started promoting fights after Michael Stafford, a Cincinnati-based boxing coach who will coach his second Olympic team in 2012, contacted him about promoting amateur events showcasing the city's talent.
"I only had to see a fight once to know I was hooked," Williams said. "We had this movement happening and nobody knew about it."
Bartkowski is quick to credit Stafford for the strong field of both pro and amateur boxers in the city. The coach's eye for talent has cultivated champions out of young kids hanging out at local gyms with little more than enthusiasm and latent talent, he noted.
"Mike has been able to create synergy in boxing in Cincinnati," he said. "When you have that commitment from a grassroots coach, it just extends to highlight [the city's] accomplishments."
Williams agreed that Stafford's strong coaching has been critical to the success of local boxers such as two-time Olympian Rau'shee Warren and pro Adrien Broner, who was scheduled to fight American Jason Litzau in Guadalajara, Mexico for an international junior lightweight title Saturday, June 18.
But the promoter also ascribed credit for Cincinnati's boxing scene to another local, this one well-known for something completely unrelated to the boxing ring.The pizza man cometh
Boxing is a sport in which every fight matters. Each fighter takes his or her own approach to the sport, and too many fights with the same opponent can leave a boxer stale and unprepared for faraway competition. The key to success often involves travel to tournaments around the country, where fighters can gain experience against the unique challenge of unfamiliar rivals. This kind of practice comes at a high cost, in terms of travel, lodging and food.
But Cincinnati fighters have an edge on many other regions, thanks to the support of Buddy LaRosa.
Yes, that Buddy LaRosa. The well-known Cincinnati restaurateur has supported local boxing by sponsoring gyms, events and travel for local fighters to distant tournaments. Williams said the city's boxing scene would be a shadow of itself without this level of support.
"You have to have a sponsor to send you to different cities to compete in these tournaments," Williams said. "When you get in the van and take these kids all over the country, you find out how good they really are." He added that many of the city's top amateurs will go into July's tournament with 200 to 350 fights under their belts, far more than many of their competitors could hope to have.
LaRosa explained some of his interest in boxing in his foreword to the 2006 book, 'Cincinnati Boxing,' by Kevin and Joshua Grace. After a youth spent watching his father fight - and then fighting in the amateur ranks himself - LaRosa wrote that he retained a deep interest in the sport.
"I know what it did for me, along with other sports I had been involved in," he wrote, noting that the confidence he gained from sports served him well as he built his successful chain of restaurants.Hometown history
Williams said he likes the odds for the city's fighters at the tournament. Warren is slated to fight a feature bout, and Williams noted that a number of local fighters have been honing their experience in the World Series of Boxing, a professional-level circuit that still allows them to retain their Olympic eligibility. That, more than anything, could be a factor in not only putting a Cincinnati fighter onto the Olympic team, but putting one into a medal round.
And as locals spar and train in gyms throughout the city, the history of boxing in Cincinnati, and its ongoing reputation as a premiere fight town, add their own push to their drive toward victory.
"You have a history to look to," said Williams. "You understand you have something to be proud of."Photography by Scott Beseler.
All photographs taken during a training session at Mt. Auburn Rec Center
Final photo is Arthur Neuman who has taken over as lead motivator in place of Buddy Larosa