For amateur boxers, making it to the finals of the Daily News Golden Gloves tournament is a huge achievement. Recently fighters from Port Jefferson Station’s Royals Boxing Gym had their chance for glory in the ring, and one of them brought home the gold.
Two days before the fights the energy was high and the excitement was palpable at the gym as co-owner Michael Calvin of Setauket was balancing work and training to compete in the welterweight finals of the tournament at Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom April 21. Golden Gloves finalist and Stony Brook resident Michael Misa was also at the gym that night. He was sparring in preparation for his light heavyweight match that was held at the Aviator Sports and Event Center in Brooklyn April 22.
Calvin, 26, a Ward Melville graduate, made it to the semifinals in 2013 but had to bow out due to an injury. He was looking forward to fighting in the finals this year.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” Calvin said. “I guess it will sink in more when the experience is over. Right now, I am so immersed in the circumstances.”
Misa, 26, was also excited and said he was preparing to face his competitor Matt Klingerman with his trainer Adam Willett.
“It’s always a challenge, the finals,” Misa said. “I know my opponent. He has really good cardio. He always comes forward. We’re just working on using range and everything we worked on in the gym.”
Misa, who just started boxing last year, said this would actually be his third fight in the tournament, as opposed to his fourth like others in the Golden Gloves, because his opponent didn’t show up for the semifinal fight.
“It was kind of bittersweet,” he said. “You know it’s nice to get into the finals but I really wanted to earn my way into the finals. We worked really hard on it.”
Calvin said the two were training at least 20 hours a week in the lead-up to the tournament. Hard work is nothing new to them.
Besides running Royals Boxing Gym with his partner, Calvin is a personal trainer at Remedy Gym in Setauket and works with Giant Step Services, which educates and assists adults with developmental disabilities.
Calvin said he has been involved with boxing since he discovered it at the age of 16 when he saw children competing outside of the Boys & Girls Club of Suffolk County. He said working with boxers seven days a week in addition to training keeps him in top form. He said whether practicing, training others or leading demonstrations, he’s always going over his technique.
“My biggest weapon is this constant reinforcement of my fundamentals — it has gotten me exponentially better,” he said.
Misa, who grew up in Mount Sinai and is a liberal arts student at Suffolk County Community College, said years ago he became involved in jiujitsu and mixed martial arts at a competitive level. It was after a four-year stint in the Navy that he first tried his hand at boxing, even though he always followed it as a kid. He said he believes his training in the martial arts helps him when it comes to boxing. Misa also played hockey growing up but he said he prefers competing on his own like he does in boxing.
“It’s an individual sport so it’s more on you,” Misa said. “Obviously you have your coaches and teammates that are pushing you in the gym, but at the end of the day, it’s only you and the other guy in the ring. That’s why I love it so much.”
Besides physical dedication, the sport takes a strong mental attitude.
“It takes a lot of mental preparation,” Calvin said. “I stay pretty calm. I never really get nervous. I’m not nervous until the walk to the ring, and that walk to the ring is the most heart-wrenching thing. It’s terrifying. Everything in you is telling you to turn around and walk away because you know there’s a 100 percent chance you’re going to get hit, but all your training and everything and your ego tells you to keep trucking
As for punches, Calvin said when he’s fighting, he doesn’t register them coming.
“When you’re in the ring everything happens so fast,” he said. “It’s all reactive. You don’t have time to process anything in the ring at all. You have to react … all a result of training.”
Before the match, Thomas Cooper, co-owner of Royals who also trains Calvin, was optimistic about the fight and said that the boxer is a “special talent in the sport” and felt he was the top fighter in the competition.
“He has speed and power and that’s an excellent combination to have in boxing,” Cooper said. “He has fast feet, fast hands. He always listens to what you have to tell him. He’s always trying to do things better.”
“I stay pretty calm. I never really get nervous. I’m not nervous until the walk to the ring, and that walk to the ring is the most heart-wrenching thing. It’s terrifying.”
— Michael Calvin
Willett coaches both fighters and had great faith in them before they met their opponents in the ring. He met Misa a couple of years ago in the world of mixed martial arts.
“He transitioned very well because he has an open mind,” the coach said. “I always tell everyone I gave him a map, and he followed it to the ‘t.’ So, it’s why he’s at where he is now. It’s kind of unheard of for someone who was in mixed martial arts to go into open class, because open class is semi-pro.”
On the night of April 21 Calvin was unanimously declared the 152-pound open title champion in the welterweight division. The next day Misa lost his match in the 178-pound open title bout. Calvin said making it to the finals, for a new boxer like Misa, is a great achievement in itself.
Cooper was extremely proud of Calvin after the fight, and said the boxer dominated his opponent, Michael Hughes, a 2012 Golden Gloves champion, with his in-and-out movements and speed and power in the three, three-minute rounds.
“He did all the things we’ve been working on, and it really seemed in that final fight that a lot of things came together,” Cooper said. “He put it all together. He was in and out, he was moving. It was fantastic.”
He was excited to see his business partner and teammate win after years of hard work.
“When he got those golden gloves around his neck, I was extremely happy for him because it changes his life,” the coach said.
A couple of days after the fight, Calvin was still shocked as he prepared for the national tournament, which will be held in Lafayette, Louisiana’s Cajundome the first week of May.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet because I’m so focused on nationals,” the boxer said. “But the feeling of having those gloves around my neck was really spectacular … and getting my hands raised in front of all those people.”