Pier pressure in the form of punches on the Hudson


By Judith Stiles

A fellow from Brooklyn who goes by the name of Bam-Bam, is known by his friends to be a true-blue boxing aficionado, so it was no surprise to find him with a ringside seat at “Rumble on The River,” a gala boxing event held outdoors at Pier 54. He brought his own lawn chair, and even some mini-chairs for his kids who had a great curiosity about this usually “adults only” sport called boxing. Sponsored by Church Street Boxing Gym and the Hudson River Park Trust, this free event open to the public, was part of a series of amateur boxing matches held under wide open skies and the backdrop of a summer sunset.

In the early evening, Pier 54, at the end of W. 13th St., was hopping long before the first flyweight match began. The crowd was buzzing to the latest pop music, amplified by Scratch D.J. Academy, as they downed hot dogs, pretzels, soda and, of course, chilled Corona beer. Church Street Boxing Gym set up an authentic boxing ring smack in the middle of the pier on an elevated platform with stadium-type lighting. In the corners were signs from boxingranks.com, which indicated this would be an evening of fair fights because boxingranks.com is run by “Honest Howie” (Howard Sirota), and is free of any ties to promoters. Justin Blair, founder and owner of Church Street Boxing Gym, had the brilliant idea to move boxing out of typically sweaty indoor venues to Pier 54, where this time families and boxing fans could enjoy the fun as they cooled in the river breeze.

Somehow, fast cars and motorcycles go hand in hand with boxing, so before the matches began, onlookers could get up close and personal with dazzling high-end vehicles from Toyota Scion and BMW of Manhattan. Blair could be seen zigzagging his way through every corner of the pier, making sure that the entire event ran like clockwork, which it did.

Jumping into the ring, the master of ceremonies, David Diamante, began the night wearing a snappy gray suit and tie. With regal dreadlocks tied back off his neck, he introduced the fighters with an engaging mellifluous ring that footnoted his deep voice. The event was magical, just like in the movies, when flyweights Gustavo Naranjo and V. J. Williams paraded up to be introduced by Diamante for the first fight. There were two doctors on hand, but they were never needed, as the 115-pound flyweights wore protective headgear and fought a clean fight, in keeping with the spirit of the evening. Bam-Bam and his buddy Lorenzo had a colorful running commentary during the match, shouting out, “Hit that body!” or “Pop the jab, big man!” Naranjo was the better fighter this night, winning in Round 3 after a standing 8 count. Both fighters were awarded trophies and the crowd roared as they raised them up high.

In the heavyweight category, an affable Phil Pape of Fire Department Ladder 123, Engine 234 took on and beat Jeffrey Smitt in three rounds. With sweat pouring down his cheeks and a big smile on his face, Pape said with a trophy under his arm, “I box to stay in shape. I wanna live a long life!”

Blair of Church Street Boxing Gym hosted 11 matches that night because he wanted the public to enjoy some good healthy boxing for free. An onlooker who had worked out at his gym at 25 Park Place noted that Blair puts on unique boxing events that are known in the business for being a dignified celebration of boxing.

Well-known fighters such as Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson have prepared for fights in his 10,000-square-foot gym that boasts two welterweight rings and a plethora of speed bags and training equipment. Usually, Blair is on the phone a good part of the day, organizing more than 10 shows a year, including events held for 1,200 spectators at the Hall at St. Paul the Apostle Church on 60th St.

The next “Rumble on the River” will be held again at Pier 54 on Thurs. evening, Aug. 25, at 7:30 p.m. Bam-Bam declared the summer outdoor boxing event a resounding success and so did his kids, who chimed in during one of the matches, “Pace yourself!” and “Double-jab!” indicating they had quickly picked up on the lingo and the summer evening’s fun.