The trick to finding the Portland Boxing Club for the first time is not giving up right at the end, when you’re getting close. The tiny brick building, which looks too small for its purpose from the outside, is so far back in the parking lot of 33 Allen Avenue, behind Bruno’s Restaurant, that someone on a maiden voyage could easily get frustrated and turn around, thinking the directions are wrong. Keep driving across a long, bombed-out looking parking lot, even when it looks like nothing is back there. It will remind you of scenes from The Warriors, but don’t worry. The Riffs or the Lizzies aren’t lurking, waiting to pounce. Just aim for the tall smokestack with the word BOXING painted on it.
And who should be looking for the Portland Boxing Club? Local fight fans should, especially this month, because three Saturdays in November will feature great boxing here in P-town. That’s why anybody with even a passing interest in the sweet science (maybe you enjoy the big fights on pay-per-view, but you’ve never seen a live bout) should attend the 122nd annual USA Boxing New England Championships. Yes, you read that right. This tournament has been happening since Grover Cleveland’s first presidential term, in 1886. Tickets are fifteen bucks, beer is available, and you’re sure to have a few views of the always-compelling sight of a fighter prostrate on the canvas wondering what the hell just happened. As a bonus, your ticket price will support the Portland Boxing Club, a non-profit gym that helps kids avoid trouble by teaching them how to box. I, for one, won’t miss it.
The fights will be held at the gym at 8 pm on November 8 and 15. Only on the night of November 29, for the tournament finals (also at 8 pm), will the action shift to the larger venue of the Stevens Avenue Armory, which is much easier to find. Tickets are available at Bruno’s Restaurant — ask at the bar. First-time spectators will thrill to the electric atmosphere that accompanies a boxing card, especially for the fight nights at the gym, with its low ceiling, roar of voices, and an excited standing-room-only crowd of partisans.
The USA Boxing New England Championships are a departure for the Portland Boxing Club, which had hosted the Northeastern Regional Championships for the past 13 years, but the previous tournament did not allow winners to move forward. Boxers who prevail in the USA Boxing tournament’s open class will travel to Lake Placid, New York, to battle New York and New Jersey boxers for the regional title. Winners there go to Colorado Springs, for the US National Championships.
The new tournament is part of an organization that has helped develop some of the greats in New England boxing history. Its alumni include the first heavyweight champion, John L. Sullivan; the only heavyweight champ to finish his career undefeated, Rocky Marciano (OK, he died in a plane crash, but that counts); and my all-time favorite pugilist, middleweight champion “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler. Other notable past participants include super-lightweight champion “Irish” Mickey Ward, and the only world champ Maine has ever produced, the Pride of Lewiston, lightweight Joey Gamache.
Find time this month to watch some great athletes, and to support an excellent local cause. Everyone will have a fine time, with the possible exception of the fighter crawling around the ring, trying to locate his mouthpiece while the ref counts ten. That’s much more fun to watch than to experience, I’d bet.
Rick Wormwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.