It didn’t take long before the seemingly docile crowd packed into the Variety Boys and Girls Club in Long Island City began to jostle with intensity.
“Work the body!” came a shout.
“Keep your elbows in!”
“Let them hands go!”
All it took was a few solid blows and the crowd was on its feet, groaning, shouting and wincing as 22 sweet scientists duked it out Friday night at the men’s quarterfinals of the 81st annual Daily News Golden Gloves. The prestigious, citywide amateur boxing tournament has helped ignite the careers of boxing legends like Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson and Riddick Bowe.
Gyms from all over the city were represented that night, most of them outside of Queens. However, five of the boxers were, themselves, from Queens, each of whom put up valiant efforts.
For most of the boxers, just getting to the quarterfinals was a feat in itself. Almost 600 fighters entered the competition, which consists of 30 nights of elimination bouts, spanning 10 weeks, all around the city.
The Queens Boys and Girls Club got to share in the excitement by hosting 11 bouts — most of the men’s quarterfinals. The remainder of the men’s quarterfinals were to be held this Wednesday, March 19. Women’s quarterfinals were also being held Wednesday.
Unfortunately for Queens boxing fans, all five Queens-based boxers lost their bouts to fighters from other boroughs.
But the night provided plenty of thrills — and its fair share of blood.
One Queens pugilist was Kevin Kirrane, a Jackson Heights native, and a firefighter in the Bronx, who fought for the New York Fire Department team.
“Hopefully I’ll come back next year and maybe have a better performance,” he said.
Kirrane has been boxing for fun since he was about 19 years old, but only recently joined the Fire Department team, boxing against other firefighters (including his older brother), against Police Department fighters, and a variety of other civil servants.
“When you box other civil servants, you don’t really box seriously, not like with this guy right here,” he said laughing, referring to his opponent.
Plenty of friends and family, among them numerous firefighters, cheered him on raucously from the bleachers and folding chairs surrounding the ring.
“The guys from the firehouse are great,” he said. “They come no matter where I fight. I fought in Boston and they traveled up there. So wherever I go, they come.”
A handful of big names came out for the fights, including a number of former professionals, many of whom refereed or coached. Juan LaPorte — who fought Julio Cesar Chavez at Madison Square Garden and himself won a title at the Golden Gloves in 1976 — was there as a coach for one of the Queens fighters, Tyrell Webb, a 20-year-old fighter for Gleason’s Gym, in Brooklyn.
“I’m very proud of all of them. This is a good day for the kids,” he said. “It’s a contact sport, but it’s a lovely sport. Guys outside they want to fight, they want to shoot each other.
“They get it off here, and then they hug each other,” he added. “This is the beautiful thing about it. I wish they would do it more in this city and get these guys out of the streets.”
Former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, who spoke to the crowd between bouts, said he agreed.
“It brings me back to the old days,” he said, when his father, a boxing judge, used to bring him to matches.
“It’s good for people to see that there are legal ways of expressing yourself without getting hurt, or killing people,” he said.
Asked if he was rooting for anyone in the coming bouts, he smiled.“If they’re brave enough to get in the ring, I’ll root for both of them.”