Given that their primary mandate is the health and well-being of retired fighters (as well as the celebration and recognition of those we may have already lost), each and every monthly RING 8 meeting begins with a moment of silence for those members of the fight community who’ve passed away since the previous gathering, a poignant tribute enhanced by the simultaneous ringing of a bell for a full 10-count.
Professional boxing is the only major sport whose athletes do not have a union, pension plan, or even a centralized authority to keep things somewhat tidy. RING 8 was formed in 1954 by an ex-prizefighter named Jack Grebelsky, who believed in the adage that “charity begins at home.” It became the eighth subsidiary of what was then known as the National Veteran Boxers Association, hence RING “8.” And in more than half a century, the organization’s motto hasn’t changed a bit: “Boxers Helping Boxers.”
Comprised of some 5400 or so former boxers and others associated with the prizefighting life – managers, trainers, officials, etc. – RING 8 (which is the New York City chapter of the Veteran Boxers Association) dedicates itself to lending a hand – in whatever way, shape, or form – to any and all members of the fight community in need.
For years, its official meeting place was The Waterfront Crabhouse in Long Island City, thanks to the largesse of proprietor Tony Mazzarella, the group’s treasurer and a former NY State Athletic Commission board member. After a fire forced Mazzarella to shut down for seven months while undergoing reconstruction, George O’Neill offered the group a temporary home in Maspeth at O’NEILL’S, but now that work has finally been completed at the Crabhouse, the organization’s returned to its roots again. “Their clubhouse,” as Mazzarella calls it.
The work that RING 8 undertakes is incredibly varied, but all with the same sense of purpose and generosity of spirit. Its aid can take the form of something as prosaic as helping down-on-their-luck fighters to pay the rent. Or assistance with medical costs ranging anywhere from major surgery to a new pair of glasses. In fact, perhaps one of the most noteworthy of the group’s recent accomplishments just might be the exhumation of the body of former welterweight World Champion Kid Gavilan from a potter’s field, whereupon RING 8 subsequently oversaw the re-burial of the deceased fighter in a proper grave, headstone and all.
“It just wasn’t right” says Henny Wallitsch, RING 8’s Vice-President, a much-loved Brooklyn/Queens heavyweight from the 50’s and 60’s who held the organization’s top post until very recently. “We had to do that. This is Kid Gavilan we’re talking about.” (And by the way, you may never think of Mike Tyson the same way upon hearing that it was he who shelled out the $5000 for Kid Gavilan’s headstone.)
Given the understandably limited resources our current economy has created, it’s definitely the kind of unglamorous and unheralded work that requires a great deal of time, some tremendous dedication and persistence, and an unwavering commitment to doing the right thing.
To that end, on the afternoon of December 20th, beginning at 12:30 pm, RING 8 will be holding their annual Holiday Party and Awards Ceremony at RUSSO’S ON THE BAY in Howard Beach, an affair that while celebrating the sport in general, will also make sure hearts and minds are keenly aware of its higher purpose, helping those of the fight community in need, towards which the event will be raising much-needed funds.
Some of this year’s RING 8 Honorees, among others, will be Mark Breland (Ring 8 “Community Service Award”); Bill Gallo (Ring 8 “Good Guy Award”); Bob Goodman (Ring 8 “Lifetime Achievement Award”); Vinny Maddalone (Ring 8 “Uncrowned Champion Award”); and Dr. Jerry Lynn (Ring 8 “Humanitarian Award”).
If you’re a fight fan, but have perhaps never been privy to some of the more life-affirming aspects of the sport, here’s your chance to do so, as well as to get up close and personal with guests like Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Larry Holmes, Gerry Cooney, Leon Spinks, and many more.
As RING 8 president Matt Farrago puts it, “There’s a lot to fighting that people don’t really think about. It’s not just throwing two pit bulls into a ring, just to see who comes out on top. When a fight is over, those hugs you see...no matter who won, no matter how brutal...those are probably the thing that’s most real about boxing. Because that’s a very real sign of respect, from one fighter to another, that we’re all part of this elite fraternity, that we’re all in it together.”
For more information on this year’s RING 8 Awards Ceremony, and to purchase tickets at just $125 each, please make sure to visit their website, or feel free to contact Matt Farrago directly at (631) 948-6028.