If boxing still had broad national appeal, the Mid-Hudson Valley could be one of its Holy Lands. Mike Tyson spent time batting at bags in Catskill in his youth; Livingston Bramble settled down in Saugerties; Floyd Patterson, the 1952 Helsinki Olympics middleweight gold medalist, collector of a 55-8-1 record, world heavyweight champion and Ingemarr Johansson/Sonny Liston foe, was a beloved New Paltz citizen; and Billy Costello, the World Boxing Council (WBC) junior welterweight world champion and loser of only two bouts, one to WBC lightweight champion Alexis Arguello and the other to WBC light welterweight world champion Lonnie Smith, was a prominent Kingstonian.
Mixed martial arts, the du jour mode of self-defense, has a presence, but there are only two serious boxing footholds left in the area: Freddy’s Boxing Gym in Ellenville and the Kingston Police Athletic League (PAL) gym. And real boxing showdowns are fewer and farther between for a slew of reasons. The sport’s popularity is dissolving and recondensing elsewhere (Mexico), as potential pugilists have become more aware of the inherent danger of getting their head batted around for an indefinite period and more intrigued by the gritty allure of ultimate fighting.
The Kingston PAL is going strong through it all. The organization is attracting kids and adults from all walks of life to its free, donation-sponsored boxing gym, where Costello once served as the director after retiring from boxing, and spent a lot of his free time refereeing matches and sparring bouts. The gym itself is named after the Kingston champ, who died in 2011. And on October 12, the PAL will be having its annual Fight Night fundraiser: one of those few-and-far-between chances to see boxers, both local and extralocal, throw down in the ring with something on the line.
What’s on the line for some of these folks is pretty interesting. “This event in particular is going to have senior box-offs,” said event co-coordinator and PAL coach Al Nace, “featuring some of the best boxers from here to around Canada who want to try and make the national team. So they come here and they box, and if they win here they go to Lake Placid. And if they win at Lake Placid – it depends on where the Nationals are; they’ll go to either Colorado or Seattle. These guys are Olympic-level hopefuls.”
Boxers will be coming from gyms all around the state. Fighters from Sweeney’s Gym in Belmar, Bernard’s Boxing Academy in Utica, the Cohoes Boxing Gym in Cohoes, Schott’s Boxing in Albany and students who train at West Point’s boxing club will be in attendance. Local fighters will include Eman King, a 13-year-old girl from New Paltz, and Scott Johnson, a Kingston-based insurance agent, as well as fellow Kingston PAL members Qumari Jackson and Damian Daley.
Johnson, a 58-year-old heavyweight who has been part of the Kingston sparring scene for close to ten years, is revved up for his first-ever sanctioned match. “I’m excited and nervous. I’ve been working hard to prepare myself. Those matches are unpredictable. I’m a Masters boxer at 58, meaning that my opponent has to be within ten years of my age: somewhere between 68 and 48,” Johnson told Almanac. “And 68, well, is a whole lot different from 48 at my level.”
It’s a mixed bag by any standard. Some fighters will be competing for spots at the top amateur level; some will be going at it for the first time; still others haven’t even been paired up with an opponent yet because of the breadth of the applicants. One potential fighter is particularly vexing to Nace. “We’ve got a 69-year-old guy who wants a match,” Nace told Almanac. “I’d love to set him up with one, but it’s hard to find a matchup for a 135-pound 69-year-old.”
The Kingston PAL tries to hold a Fight Night every year. The event serves not only as a stage for local fighters to show off their talents and for PAL boxers to dip their feet into fights with actual crowds to cheer them on, but as the organization’s primary fundraiser. “The Fight Night, in honor of the late, great Kingston champion Billy Costello, is an effort to raise money. We’re a non-profit, and we’re simply striving to keep our heads above water and keep our program going,” said PAL coach and event co-promoter Paul Telesca.
Nace said that the attendance is difficult to ballpark, because attendance waivers greatly every year. As such, he expects anywhere from 300 to 700 people to drop by. However, Telesca said, it’s not all about the foot traffic. “You know, we take our boxers out to various shows when they’re ready. And when we have our own show, Al Nace puts on a fabulous presentation, putting a lot of work into the forefront and the background, with boxer preparation and training – everything to get them ready for the event. It’s just great for our boxers.”
The fundraiser is important to the survival of the gym, at least in its current free-of-charge incarnation. “We need community support in order to make our services happen. We offer our services to the youth of the community for free. We buy all the equipment; we pay for the registration and insurances with USA Boxing, as well as training and certification,” said Nace. “So every boxing glove – everything that comes into the gym – without community support, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Getting people to the Kingston PAL Fight Night shouldn’t be too hard a sell for Nace and Telesca. The fundamental idea behind the PAL, according to Nace, is essentially to mold young minds to appreciate the value of hard work and perseverance with the help of the Queensbury Rules: to build Boy Scouts with boxing gloves. “Our focus as part of the PAL is to have youth become good citizens – not getting in trouble, not getting into fights in the streets; to have goals, to learn that you have to work for them. Because in boxing, if you don’t work to be good, you’re not going to be good,” said Nace. “You learn not to cut the corners; you learn to do a good job.”
Kingston PAL Fall Fight Night, Saturday, October 12, 6 p.m. doors/7 p.m. fights, $25/$15/$10, Billy Costello Gymnasium, Midtown Center, 467 Broadway, Kingston; https://kingstonpal.com.