A Garden Variety Boxing Rivalry Grows

SI Advance - September 30, 2009

by Stephen Hart

Not every matchup in sports is a rivalry. But when it comes to boxing, if two people step into a ring with the intent of punching each other in the face, a rivalry is pretty much a byproduct of the process.

It becomes a little more intense when you're dealing with team boxing. And when those opposing squads happen to be New York's Finest and New York's Bravest, that rivalry quotient goes through the roof.

On Friday, Oct. 9, the NYPD will square off against the FDNY in the annual "Battle of the Badges" at Madison Square Garden's WaMu Theater. The lengthy card is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7), and Staten Island will be represented on both sides.

For Firefighter Brian McNicholas, the idea of bragging rights between the two forces takes on a personal meaning.

"My older brother, Christopher, is a detective with the NYPD," noted the 32-year-old Dongan Hills resident. "I'm sure I'll hear about it from him if I don't win."

A member of Engine 255 in Flatbush, Brooklyn, McNicholas is like several of those on the card - a boxing novice.

"I'm too slow to play softball and I'm not good at golf," quipped the 5-foot-11, 178-pounder, a four-year member of the FDNY. "I've always liked boxing, and at 32, it's something I can still try to do; I certainly can't do it when I'm 52."

McNicholas said the toughest thing is "trying to maintain my workout regime and stay on a good diet. (In the firehouse), guys are always bringing in pastries or cake or making things like chicken parm. There's always food around."

The biggest thing McNicholas said in his favor "is that I'm not putting any pressure on myself. I'm just going there looking to have a good time."

Firefighter Coleman McMillan is another newcomer to the sport.

"I've been training for maybe three months now, and I've lost 20 pounds so far," said the 5-11, 195-pound West Brighton resident, a member of Engine 158 in Mariners Harbor. "The training for this is unbelievable ... between running and sparring, weight training and calisthenics. If you're not 100-percent committed to it, you won't get much out it."

McMillan, 34, a two-year member of the FDNY, also became involved because he saw his window of opportunity closing.

"I didn't want to miss out on this chance. I've always thought about fighting and wanted to make sure I didn't have any regrets," McMillan said. "And it's not every day you get the chance to fight at Madison Square Garden. I would've done this anywhere, but having it there makes it more special."

Lt. Ray Braine of the NYPD has been fighting for a few years, but this will mark his first time going up against the FDNY.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said the 31-year-old Rossville resident and 11-year member of the force, who works out of the Manhattan-based office of the Deputy Commission of Management and Budget.

"And to have it at the Garden is great for both departments, and great for the sport," added the 5-11, 178-pounder. "Usually, there's only two ways you can fight there - either through the Golden Gloves or as a professional. So to have this chance is special."

Tottenville resident Pat Russo, the NYPD's executive director for boxing, participated in the "Battle of the Badges" in 1985 at MSG.

"That night was my first amateur fight. I fell in love with the sport, and I immersed my life in it," said Russo, who created boxing programs in Park Hill, Red Hook and Sunset Park through his work with the Police Athletic League. A 20-year NYPD member, the retired sergeant has now personally financed the Cops ‘N Kids program after the PAL dropped sponsorship of boxing due to budget cuts this year.

The first "Battle of the Badges" took place in 1982, and the all-time record is tied at 13 wins per department. This will mark the event's return to MSG for the first time since 1986.

McMillan summed up the feelings of all those involved.

"I'm pumped up, man," he exclaimed. "I'm sure there will be some nerves, but I'm excited. It's going to be a great night." Tickets for the "Battle of the Badges" are priced at $65, $50, and $30 are currently on sale and can be purchased at the Madison Square Garden box office, all Ticketmaster outlets or online at www.thegarden.com.