Cristian De LaCruz is a likeable eighth grader from Bristol, who, on most weekends, enjoys hanging out with his friends from Kickemuit Middle School. Last Saturday night, however, Cristian hung out with an older crowd with nicknames such as ‘The Honey Badger’, ‘The Juggernaut’, and ‘Dutch’.
After the group met up at a plaza on Gooding Avenue, Cristian and a 16-year-old Fall River boy fought while a group of onlookers cheered. When it was over, the 13-year-old boy came out of the brawl unhurt, breathless and smiling broadly.
“It felt awesome,” he said.
Cristian ‘The Beast’ De LaCruz’s fight was one of six exhibition bouts presented by Jesse Amarelo, owner of the Ultimate Fitness and Boxing Gym on Gooding Avenue. Inside the boxing gym, all of the 120 folding chairs that were set up around the boxing ring were filled by cheering spectators there to support friends and family members who found boxing to be a great way to stay in shape.
“These are not fighters,” Mr. Amarelo said to the crowd of spectators before the bouts began. “They’re regular guys who have to go to work on Monday morning. It takes a lot of guts to get in (the ring),” he said.
The Saturday night exhibition was a family event, with spectators ranging in age from senior citizen to elementary school age. For the event, the Ultimate Boxing Gym was filled with thundering music and flashing lights to give the look and feel of a prize fight event. When the final bell rang, however, there were no losers.
“It’s all about learning and having fun,” Mr. Amarelo said. These guys started boxing for a workout. That’s how they got here.”
After stepping from the ring, Cristian took a moment to speak with a reporter about his boxing experience. As he caught his breath, the teenager was overcome with emotion, recalling why he took up the activity.
“I was the fat kid,” said the now toned athlete. “I was starting a new school and I wanted to lose weight. I decided to get into it.”
Cristian held his ground through the three, three minute rounds, sho
wing his strength, stamina and sportsmanship against an older and taller opponent, Manny Abrantes from Fall River, Mass.
Similar stories were shared throughout the evening.
Bernie Kelley, a Barrington resident who works with developmentally challenged adults during the day, became ‘The Honey Badger’, going up against Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Jeremy ‘The Hired Killer’ Kaufman in the welter weight division.
“I’m 47,” Mr. Kelley said. “I’ve been doing martial arts for 10 years.”
For him, boxing is a way to de-stress.
Leading up to the final exhibition bout of the night, when Mr. Amarelo – Jesse ‘The Bull’ Amarelo – went up against John ‘Doomsday’ Howard, the current CES middleweight champion in the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), a Barrington orthodontist, exchanged blows with a commodities broker from Portsmouth, by way of Greece.
“I’m a 40-year-old orthodontist,” said Dr. Jordan ‘Dutch’ Jaffe. “There are a lot of professional guys who come in here,” he said.
Among them was his opponent and friend, Vassilus ‘The Hulk’ Cosmatos.
“I let Vassilius beat me up for a few rounds. It’s a lot of fun,” he said of his first experience boxing in front of a crowd.
The most active bout of the night came when friends, Jared ‘The Juggernaut’ Benson of Warren and ‘Dynamite’ Dave Spivack, a Roger Williams University student, entered the ring. From the opening bell to the closing one, the two battled it out as if a heavyweight belt was hanging in the balance. The crowd reacted with every punch thrown. Watching from the back of the standing-room-only crowd, even a smiling ‘Doomsday’ Howard emerged to get a closer look at the action.
“That was fun,” Mr. Benson said after the bout.
He and Mr. Spivack hugged to congratulate each other after the match.
“I wasn’t holding back,” Mr. Benson told his friend.
Neither man showed any ill effect from the punches they exchanged and looked forward to their next opportunity to enter the ring.
Besides the opportunity to give his students some ring experience and offer a preview to ‘Doomsday’ Howard’s upcoming mixed martial arts bout where he will defend his championship belt, Mr. Amarelo used the event to raise money for Kids With Food Allergies Foundation. The Amarelo’s youngest daughter was found to have allergies to dairy and eggs which prompted Mr. Amarelo to help the new foundation.
“Being a young parent it’s challenging when you find your little one has this kind of allergy,” he said. “But if this is the worst we’ll have to deal with, I’ll take it.”
Given the enthusiasm of the night, Mr. Amarelo hopes to repeat the event in a few months. It appeared he’ll have no shortage of fighters to place on the card.