It's a near given, every boxing press conference I attend, if I chat with a couple of the fighters, I will find at least one who tells me the sport saved their life. It happened on Monday, when I hit the presser for the Wednesday (Dec. 18; doors open at 7 p.m.) show at Webster Hall (Manhattan), which is being put together by boxer-promoter Dmitriy Salita. Levgen Khytrov, who repped Ukraine in the last Olympics, is the headliner, in his pro debut.
Khytrov, who'll campaign at middleweight, is slated to face 4-6 Kansan Romon Barber. He kept it short and sweet at Taras Bulba, a Ukrainian restaurant downtown on Broadway. He could well be the real deal, a future star, and one to watch in the next couple years, as his trainer, Buddy McGirt, assured me that the kid is a true talent. "Everything he needs is there," Buddy told me.
But it was Peter Reyes (3-0), a 26-year-old middleweight slated to fight 0-2 Ruben Ortiz, who made a slightly bigger impact on me. This is because it is quite clear that Reyes is an advertisement for what is good about boxing.
Reyes had the media cracking up, when he put on a Batman mask, popped two confetti poppers, and held up a coconut, referring to his nickname, "Coco Loco." But his deeper self came through when he told me that boxing has been his savior.
"Boxing gave me life," said the LIC resident, who grew up in Bushwick. "It saved my life."
Reyes spent seven years, all told, in jails and institutions, he said, for various transgressions, and fought other inmates and residents in each place. His last stint, he said, was in 2008, and he's been concentrating on boxing since.
He quit using drugs eight years ago, he said, and now that he's sworn off the ladies during training camp, he says he's reaching peak form.
"I'm a lonely man," he said, chuckling, "I'm married to the sport."
Back to the serious side, he told me he was placed in a psych ward at 16, after being popped for an unnamed transgression and being held at Rikers. He got jumped there, and grew paranoid. He was medicated to attend to his temper and paranoia, he said, and grew despondent. He attempted suicide a few times, but stayed alive, and gravitated to the ring as his safety zone. Reyes ticked off the names of a bunch of facilities he was housed in, including the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, N.Y. But he seems to have found stability, in LIC, and in the ring. "Yes, I've just been boxing," he told me, in closing, promising to keep on the straight and narrow path. "Boxing is my life."