TONIGHT: Boxing returns to Brooklyn at Barclays Center

The 86th annual New York Golden Gloves Finals will be held this Thursday and Friday evenings at 7 and 7:30 p.m., respectively, at Barclays Center.  The two-night spectacle will showcase 25 amateur bouts, with contenders spanning all weight-classes and both genders.  

Appropriately for a competition that has produced the likes of Riddick Bowe, 14 of the 50 finalists are Brooklynites.   The choice of venue off of Flatbush Avenue for this, the most prestigious and largest amateur boxing championship in the country, may signal a passing of the baton, or may be a warning shot across the bow of Madison Square Garden.

This is the first time in tournament history that the finals will not be held at MSG, and the Garden, so long synonymous with New York sports, may at last be facing competition from a legitimate contender.  Those who are in the know consider that such a rivalry can only serve to reinvigorate boxing, Brooklyn and the city itself.

Though it is now only a distant memory, at the turn of the 20th century, boxing was the most popular sport in the country, and its practitioners were idolized by the American public.  Babe Ruth, who famously quipped about having a better year than the president, was reportedly driven to distraction by the disparity of wealth and fame between himself and heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey (Dempsey was the winner on both counts).  Kings County hosted its first heavyweight championship on June 9, 1899, when James L. Jeffries took the title from Bob Fitzsimmons at Coney Island by way of an 11th-round knockout.  

Historically, Brooklyn has turned out more than its fair share of champions. Mike Tyson (Brownsville) and Floyd Patterson (Bedford-Stuyvesant) spring to mind.  With its working-class ethos and ever-changing pool of immigrant populations, boxing and Brooklyn seem to go together like fist and glove.  Everyone knows that Brooklyn is tough.

With last month’s historic win of the International Boxing Federation (IBF) light heavyweight title by 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins, Barclays Center may have been christened as the new home of New York boxing.  Brett Yormark, CEO of Barclays, certainly hopes so.

“The Golden Gloves will be the lynchpin of our grass-roots boxing program,” he says, “There’s a rich heritage of boxing in Brooklyn, and we are thrilled to make the sport a major part of our new arena,” which, he adds, is “made for boxing.”  

“Grass-roots” is an apt description for diehard fight fans, the most devoted and numerous of whom are currently comprised of young Latino males.   There is an excitement accompanying a Golden Gloves tournament, which perhaps outstrips that of a professional contest. As with all amateur events, heart and not stomach is the principal driving force.  Also with reasonable ticket prices and such an array of skilled competition, such matches may be among the few times that fans are virtually guaranteed to get their money’s worth.

Bruce Silverglade, owner of DUMBO’s famed Gleason’s gym, which has trained such fighters as Jake LaMotta and Roberto Duran, has three fighters competing in this year’s finals. One hundred and fourteen-pound Khalid Twaiti, of Gleason’s, will go up against fellow Brooklynite Jordan Rodriguez in the final card on Thursday night.   

“Boxing in Brooklyn has been great historically,” he says, when asked about the change in venue. “Treat champions great rivalries, but it’s been dormant for a while.”

Silverglade sees the shift as a positive for the borough, “It’s a real boost for Brooklyn,” he says, “The Garden has out-priced themselves in recent years, and hopefully it will force them back into the game.”

Like many, he believes that a rivalry between the Garden and Barclays can have only a positive effect for the sport.  Boxing at its best displays a vitality above all other forms of athletic contest.  It can be brutal and elegant all at once.  It seems only fitting then that its renaissance coincides with that other tough and elegant revival – the revival of Downtown Brooklyn.