My Heavyweight Joey Cusumano is slated for a 4 round bout against seasoned veteran Zefarino Albino this Friday. Joey has been training hard and sparred world title contender Bryant Jennings again this Saturday at Fred Jenkin's Gym near the border of Brewerytown and Tioga sections of Philadelphia. I went to watch the sparring...and let's just say I was pleased my Caddy was still on the street when I left the gym. This gritty Philly boxing gym has been around for years and has hosted the sweating hopes of countless young fighters. The joint looks like a movie set in its postered walls and jumble of equipment.I mounted the steps and entered the cavernous room in the ABC Rec Center at 26th and Master. In a Saturday morning uniform of jeans and cowboy boots and crisp white Oxford, I am instantly made for what I am to the guys busting their asses developing their jabs and right cross...a white boy with cash behind a kid. But some of the looks say... I may be a cop...come to check on something from the 'Hood. I remove my Raybans and nod some diffident hellos to some of the guys I know. Jenning's manager has met me before but looks me over with a jaded eye and caution. As a manager I stand with folded arms observing my fighter battle in the ring during the sparring session. While I make mental notes about jab speed and counter punches and balance,nearby, young sinewy black kids slam the bag and shadow box and get in shape for a fight they hope will come.These kids are in incredible shape and form and they go at their training hard as Hell. They have deltoids like grapefruits and balled- up biceps on lean arms...six pack abs...dread locks..taped hands...sweaty and tough. One of the fighter's 4 year old son scampers about whacking everything below knee-height with a purple foam "noodle" and yealling yah-yah.
You can feel glances shot at you. Perhaps they think the white guy with the boots and the "phat" Rolex will notice them and want to add them to the Stable. Maybe it is just a "what the fuck is that cracker doing in my gym on Saturday morning." Most of these kids are what are called "ordinary" fighters. They may assemble a decent amateur record and they may scrap away for a $500 purse for a 4 round Club fight. They dream of a title shot on TV...some hope to stay out of the joint..or not go back. Some hope to escape the shit job at Aramark at the stadium or hoisting cartons at UPS.Whatever their purpose, you can see the dedication in every skip of rope and rotating hand on the speed bag.
This evening Joey and I attended the Press conference for the Friday fight. Bernard Hopkins' trainer was there. Joey wanted me to take a picture with him and he obliged. Joey is a big,tough Italian kid. He has identical hopes and dreams to the kids I saw on Saturday. The difference is Joey may realize his.