Before this week, I had never met or even talked to a person named "Cletus." The only time I'd come across the name was when I watched "The Dukes of Hazzard," a silly comedy which ran on CBS from 1979-1985. "Cletus Hogg" was the name of a deputy sheriff.
That changed on Wednesday, when I talked to one Cletus Seldin, who is featured tonight at the Paramount Theater in Huntington, Long Island, New York in a welterweight fight against Marcus Hall.
I suspect even if I had many Cletuses in my sphere, the muscle-y boxer with a 6-0 (4 KOs) record would be at the top of my list, because Seldin is entertaining, amusing and boasts an interesting backstory which makes him one to put on your watch list in coming years.
First off, we had to get out of the way his name. Where the heck did "Cletus" come from? It turns out his parents were friends with ex Yankee third baseman Clete Boyer, and named their baby Cletus in honor of Clete. The boxer, who has the ability to talk big without coming off jerky, notes that strangers often admit they were expecting a southerner, maybe an African-American one, when they meet him.
"I should be the main event," said Cletus about the card topped by Chris Algieri, who meets Winston Mathis. "Watch my style, the way I fight, I'm always the most exciting fight of the fight."
The 25 year-old Cletus only started boxing at age 22, but really, he has fighting buried in his body. His grandfather Lee Seldin (who passed away in 2003) headed up a motorcycle club in Brooklyn in the 50s, and was known for having concrete in both hands, as well as as an ability to put a vehicle together out of a mess of spare parts. "My father said Lee was tough, in a tough gang back in the day," Cletus said. In the Bed-Stuy region, "he was one of toughest guys, and you never wanted to mess with him, and he was short just like me."
Like most any successful boxer, Cletus comes from a house without butlers, shall we say. "My dad Harry is nicknamed "Iron Man," and he came from a tough, tough lifestyle. We were never, ever given anything and had to fight for everything. I grew up in Shirley, middle class, and where I lived definitely I was one of the poorest kids in the neighborhood. I used to go to school to eat free breakfast and lunch." Yes, that'll make you a bit hungrier than than the other guy facing off from you in the ring...
I got "Iron Harry" on the phone, and he offered me some more specifics on the Seldin crew, and some insight into what makes Cletus tick.
"My father back in the day was president of not a gang but a club, "The Dragons," in Bushwick, Stuy, Floyd St. Were they like Hells Angels? No, not that bad. But they had Harleys, and raced cycles and dirtbikes. Lee was in the Merchant Marines for ten years, then he built tow trucks, he put bus motors in tow trucks. You couldn't look at him wrong. If you gave him a dirty look, he'd like to know why. You'd better have a good reason. He was a little guy, but let me tell you, he was feared throughout Brooklyn."
Harry said back in those days, everyone carried a piece, and he recalls holding it for his pop, when he was as young as four years old. He is brought back to that era, he said, when he sees Cletus in action in the ring. "He is going to go all the way, even if he has a couple defeats, he's going to come back. He has the toughness and desire like Lee. My father would never give up. Only a broken heart, after his wife died, killed that man."
Cletus, truly a throwback sort, promises an all-action scrap tonight. He said he's psyched to fight at the Paramount, an intimate venue. "The only thing missing from the old days is the smoke...and I would mind that at all."