SUNIL JOSHI | E-MAIL
The Barclays Center glows rusted gold as the afternoon sun hits it just so, visible from blocks away, rising from the low-density Park Slope skyline like a fiery tribute to the power of the modern urban government. It’s a beautiful, steadfast gleam in the right light, befitting the relentless effort it took to build the thing; look long enough, and it almost makes you want to forgive what they did to Freddy’s Bar. Almost.
It is raining on a Thursday in April as the best amateur fighters in New York take to the canvas in the $1 billion silver-star that somehow was built for cheaper than intended. This day, grey skies mean luminosity from the newest athletic trinket in the World’s Most Powerful Metropolis (TM) will have to come from within. The fighters are the undercard, the stadium, truthfully, the main event.
Quick: name another American city with two arenas built to compete simultaneously for the same events, in the same leagues and markets. You can’t. But that’s the stated goal of Barclay’s — to compete with, and serve as an affront to, MSG, that Shrine to Old Money on 34th Street. And that’s why the Golden Gloves are here, that and to serve as a dress rehearsal for the first big prize fight later this month, when the borough’s own Zab Judah will try to press his home-court advantage against Danny Garcia.
But first, the Arena.
In front of a Starbucks kiosk on the spacious concourse, two security dogs greet each other from 100 paces, each forcefully pulling an amused handler to the other. I am reminded of once being accosted at a $300-for-eight-weeks training course elsewhere in the borough for letting my hound walk me; so I think about storming over and retraining the handlers wearing their guns and broad chests. I want to tell them I ain’t the least bit intimidated, but lets’ face it, I wouldn’t do well in confinement. Besides, I am distracted by the usual banalities of the modern sporting Mecca.
Such as the Honda Interactive Zone, where an Acura RLX forlornly waits for a forever home. Sleek and rounded at the ends, four doors, a toothy grill and utilitarian fin just above the back window. No faltering in my vigilance, because I, too, watch Shark Week. An adjacent digital readout gives the Monroney facts: 24 mpg on average, 20 in the city, 31 highway; you spend $250 more in fuel costs in five years than the average new vehicle, it boasts. It is 10 percent U.S. made.
Next door in the National Grid Zone, leather couches and chairs and charcoal tables beckon — the finest Ikea wares. On the wall closest to the concourse 21 phone chargers stand at attention in a 24-slot charging station, iPhone slots on each edge and straddling the center divider. How can you tweet from the seats without full juice?
As if the stadium weren’t a masterpiece on its own, there is art for sale at Victory Fine Art, where you can get the perfect portrait of Brook Lopez to hang above your mantel. Six color and two black-and-white portraits are hung, though some are no longer for sale. Of the ones that are, the black-and-white “Thoughtful Ali” — one of three depicting the G.O.A.T. — retails for $395. This is the same price as “Deron Williams,” a black-and-white giclee as underwhelming as the max-contract point guard it glories. “Joe Johnson” costs an extra hundred, a color giclee on canvas; pigments apparently run an extra C-Note.
Well before the event, Karen Rodriguez, who placed 12th in Season 10 of American Idol, takes two practice croons through the anthem. The second version clocks in at 2:16:01, although she pauses before “Oh, say does” to ask a handler to photograph her climactic finish. When I was a kid, we often listened to a tape-recorded version of Whitney Houston’s anthem before hockey games; needless to say, Karen Rodriguez’s take won’t get the same treatment anywhere.
Just before the event, three recently deceased members of the boxing community are honored with 10 soundings of the ringside bell: Carl “The Truth” Williams, Emmanuel Steward and Hector “Macho” Camacho.
American Idol’s own Karen Rodriguez returns in a one-third-thigh black skirt, large gold rope necklace with several loops and heels that are at least five inches. The anthem is fittingly self-indulgent.
D.J. Scratch, an acknowledged Jam Master since 2010, sets the mood. It’s time for the fights.
Devaughn Greenwood, a 22-year-old Judah Brothers trainee, who, we are told, works for UPS, outclasses a flailing Joe Paul, despite Paul’s seeming size advantage, in a 201-pound novice bout. Greenwood’s technique and combos are too strong for Paul’s raw aggression, and he easily defeats the stockier man, winning convincingly on points and taking home the prized “Winner’s necklace,” a pendant of two boxing gloves.
We are assured via the PA system that this is an historic event, the first officially sanctioned fight at Brooklyn’s newest athletic palace. In 1,000 years, when our descendants return to an earth too polluted to inhabit, they will no doubt continue to recognize it as such.
The most impressive bout may be the fifth of the night, a 152-lb. open match between Peter Dobson and Jose DelaRosa, both of Atlas Cops & Kids. Dobson, who is wearing a yellow kit except for ruby shoes with white Adidas stripes, has a thicker build and three tattoos on his left arm, none on his right. DelaRosa, wearing a blue kit, clearly is balding, though his head is completely shaved except for a shock of chestnut hair protruding from the back, as if blaring a middle finger to the advancing forces of alopecia, call it the apotheosis of the “Drew Gooden mullet.” DelaRosa enters to Jose Reyes’ infamous chant; the Met is gone, but the lyrical refrain he rang in reverberates on Long Island.
Dobson appears to be the more skilled fighter early on, and he exerts his will in the early rounds, taking a clear edge. But DelaRosa persists and lands enough shots that, despite bleeding from the mouth from an early blow, he takes the fight on points. Fans in the audience generally agree, seeing Dobson was too confident in his early success.
The best fight of the night is immediately followed by the worst, a women’s 165-lb. bout that pits Alicia Napolen against Krystal Correa. Correa is a modern American success story; she told her hometown paper that she began fighting one year ago, when she weighed 206 lbs. Forty pounds later, in her second career fight, she is in the ring with a far more skilled opponent. Boxing is, at its core, a foolish pursuit, given that the stated goal of the sport is to inflict head injury on one’s opponent, but it’s even more foolish when a clearly overmatched fighter is allowed to take the ring to be smashed. Correa, for all her success in getting here, retires in the second round, calls of “Stop the fight” starting much sooner, the witnesses all understanding this should never have happened.
D.J. Scratch chases the Napoleon-Correa fight with the “Harlem Shake.” It takes until after the 11th fight for him to play “Eye of the Tiger.”
The night’s 12th, and penultimate, bout features the two largest fighters of the night in the 201-plus-pound open event. Timothy Dougherty, of Core Boxing Club, faces Elijah Thomas, of Juan Laporte Boxing Club. At 26 years old, Doherty is an engineer for the Merchant Marines competing in his second Golden Gloves final. At 28, Thomas is a Golden Gloves veteran, having won the division in 2010 and finishing runner-up the following two years.
Doherty has a boozy, profane cheering section, which exhorts him, “Come on, you Irish piece of shit!” Later, the same friend — one would assume — screams, “You owe me a hundred dollars if you lose this shit!” Doherty apparently ends in the red.
Thomas’ experience shows during the course of the fight, although the engineer lands his fair share. The fight is stopped 47 seconds into the third round, after Doherty is eight-counted for the third time. Later, Doherty says he wanted the bout to continue. They always do.
Khalid Twati defeats Jordan Rodriguez on points and D.J. Scratch delivers the exeunt: Drake’s “Started from the Bottom.” The crowd files out, the 16-foot by 32-foot JumboTron menacingly hanging above my head, Drake calmly explaining how, despite starting from the bottom his whole team fucking is here. This gleaming cube is a paean to progress, sure, its glory all steel and radiation. Yet you pine for simplicity among all its beams and glass. As I stride away, I can’t help but miss “Psycho” on its endless loop and the open-mic night at the old Freddy’s.
I head to the reincarnated version of Freddy’s in South Park Slope, but it’s not the same. I sit alone at the bar and get blottoed. I’ve seen the future and I need another drink.
Sunil Joshi is a writer in Brooklyn.