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Local Youths Get Off The Street, Into The Ring
By Mark Ginocchio
June 25, 2003
STAMFORD -- Gabriel Mojica sat quietly in the back corner of the musty, dimly lit gym, getting his hands taped up. The 15-year-old Stamford native still had his sweatsuit on, but remained all business as he started to ready himself mentally for his boxing match.
"I'm loose, I'm concentrated. I know what I got to do," he said.
Gabriel was scheduled to spar in the main event of the Montalvo Boxing Association's "Fight Night," held Saturday at the Lathon Wider Community Center in Stamford. His opponent was Elvin Silva, a short and stocky 127-pound, 23-year-old from Hamden, who was seeking a little vengeance.
Silva was defeated in his hometown three weeks earlier by Gabriel. This time, he wanted to return the favor.
"He's not a heavy puncher, he just got the better of me last time," said Silva, who has been boxing for 10 years.
The event's ringleader and Gabriel's trainer is Orlando Montalvo, a former amateur boxer who brought the bronze medal home to his native Puerto Rico in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
Two years ago, after working as a trainer for 21 years, Montalvo decided to put together a boxing club for Stamford youths looking for some direction and discipline.
"I want to get these kids off the street," Montalvo said before the event began. "They need something to do, and though boxing is not for everybody, if they have the skill, why not?"
Although everyone in attendance looked forward to good fights, some were there just to support Montalvo. Among them were Gerald Fox, his wife, Kathy, and their 16-month-old daughter, Kelly.
"It's great that Orlando can get these kids together and give them something positive to do on a Saturday night," he said.
Montalvo's Boxing Association is a nonprofit organization open to anyone, male or female. Members are not only trained how to box, but also to show each other respect and sportsmanship. Montalvo tries to hold practice with his students every day, mostly after school, in a variety of training facilities, including the Union Memorial Church in Stamford.
He knows it's not glamorous, but Montalvo, who gets help from his wife, Sandra, hopes he can get his kids a real place to practice after a few more fights.
"I keep putting on these shows so people can see what it's like," Montalvo said, pointing toward the boxing ring. "This all costs a lot of money, but I want to try and keep raising some so I can get these kids a boxing gym."
For his fifth "Fight Night" in the Stamford area, Montalvo garnered the support of USA Boxing, a national organization that is a division of the Olympic Committee. The group sent six officials to referee, judge and assist with the night's festivities.
"We all pitch in here where we can," said George Siegel, who has refereed at the national level across the country. "I've seen a number of kids go on to be great boxers who started in this area."
Montalvo also gets a hand from his longtime friend Mike Rinaldi, assistant principal of Dolan Middle School in Stamford, who plays the role of ring announcer, enthusiastically introducing each fighter before they knock gloves and get ready to fight.
"There's a lot of value here for the kids, and it's unfortunate that there isn't more support for this, but people have preconceived notions about boxing," Rinaldi said. Although Montalvo chooses not to speak about it, those close to him say that it's been an uphill struggle for him to get clearance to host his fights in the Stamford area.
That doesn't stop young amateurs from all over Connecticut and beyond from participating. One fighter, in black-trimmed silver shorts, stands off to the side, shadow boxing. His stone face, shaved head and intricate arm tattoos make him appear intimidating, but when approached, a smile creeps on his face and he becomes as charismatic as a young Muhammad Ali.
"I started four months ago and tonight's my first fight," said Eddie Irizarry, 26, a student of Edward Martinez's from the Bronx, N.Y. Irizarry said he became interested in boxing when his older brother moved next door to a gym and he went inside and started checking out the boxing ring. He was instantly hooked.
As he continued his warm-up, he stayed confident.
"I'm not scared. It all comes with the territory," he said.
And in his fight Saturday, Irizarry had the look of a veteran, defeating Edwin Carmona of Hamden.
Some of the other bouts that evening featured fighters who were barely tall enough to see over the top rope, like the one between Josh Crespo and Keith Robinson, junior high-schoolers from New Haven and Hamden, respectively. There was also another first-timer out there, Montalvo's own John Lacen, 14, who lost to Robert Pry, a heavy hitter from Bridgeport.
The anticipation and volume of the 100-person crowd jumped to its highest when Silva and Gabriel entered the ring for the main event. As Rinaldi called off the names and the two boxers hit gloves to signal they were ready, the opening bell was inaudible as the audience screamed for its hometown hero.
The fight itself was a classic in the tradition of Liston/Patterson and Ali/Frazier. The two young guns pounded each other for three two-minute rounds. Silva managed to bloody Gabriel's nose, but Gabriel landed a well-timed punch to the side of Silva's head, knocking him silly and bringing the official over to administer the 10-count.
The whole time, Montalvo stood off to the side, stomping his foot and shouting alongside the crowd, nearly leaping into the ring after each round to check on his fighter.
As the final bell rung, the crowd rose to his feet. Rinaldi mouthed "That was good" to someone in the audience as he stood in the ring, microphone in hand, awaiting the judge's decision.
After being handed the winner's sheet, Rinaldi announced that it was a split decision. The crowd gasped with tension as they wondered which fighter ultimately got more points from the judges. The official stood center ring, holding both fighters' arms high in the air until Rinaldi shouted that Gabriel was the winner.
The crowd went wild as the two exhausted fighters retreated to their corners to greet their trainers.
Soon after, Silva walked toward Gabriel. After losing his second close fight to the Stamford boxer, it was hard to predict how he was going to react. Then Silva picked Gabriel high in the air and bear-hugged him.
Then the crowd really went wild.
-- Montalvo's Boxing Association generally holds "Fight Nights" every four months and expects to hold a monthlong tournament in the fall. For more information, call 554-4949.