Boxing will be back to Detroit soon, though it’s too early to say exactly when.
The state commission has to get their protocol figured out, and when that happens, said promoter Dmitriy Salita, he will stage pro boxing events at a most interesting venue.
The contender-turned-promoter, who learned the pro craft of pugilism in Brooklyn, is fixing to place bouts at the legendary Kronk Gym in downtown Detroit.
“The Kronk is the heart of boxing in this city and I’m happy to be bringing these high-profile events to the historic gym,” said the deal-maker, who handles Claressa Shields and works alongside Top Rank with Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.
“Detroit has many great prospects and contenders who can now return to action in a safe, virus-free environment. The fans and fighters have waited long enough and I am grateful to the team at Kronk Gym for hosting these upcoming fights.”
No fans will be allowed in the building, which makes sense, being that it isn’t a large space.
Kronk Gym head trainer Javan “SugarHill” Steward said that his uncle Emanuel Steward would stage amateur fights there, and of course it was home to world-class sparring sessions, and those quite often had the feel of being professional cards — minus the air conditioning people expect at the venues that featured Thomas Hearns and the like, of course.
The original Kronk at McGraw Avenue between 33rd and Junction, in the basement of a rec center, closed in 2006. Kronk is now based at 9520 Mettetal Avenue.
SugarHill gives props to his cousin, Sylvia Steward Williams, Emanuel’s daughter.
“If she hadn’t put this gym together, we wouldn’t be doing this right now. Many thanks to her and all she has done for these events to take place,” said Steward, head trainer for Tyson Fury.
Oh, in case you were wondering: no, the ring mat that Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, Milt McCrory, Jimmy Paul, Mark Breland, et al, left their sweat and blood on will not be used when Salita stages his cards.
The 38-year-old promoter really wants to make sure the commission is comfortable with their protocol, so he’s waiting on sharing more regarding timing and dates. And what talent will be on display, vibing in the aura of the iconic home to a specific brand of pugilism and intensity?
“I have some ideas,” Salita said. “Vladimir Shishkin, the 10-0 super middleweight, has been living in Detroit for the past eight months of so. Heavyweight Jermaine Franklin is from Saginaw. Jarico O’Quinn (14-0-1), also the Bonas brothers (Jacob is 6-0-1, Joseph is 7-1). And there are a lot more local talents.”
Salita is working on the platform so people the world over will be able to tune in, he continued. But he made a solid pitch for how this site will make events a bit more special.
“From a TV point of view, I think this will be better than an arena in some ways. Man, if walls could talk — all that blood, sweat, tears, that ring mat absorbed a lot of grinding!”
The walls will show images of Steward, the gym godfather, who died in 2012, and the fistic talents who helped build the brand name to iconic status.
Not to mention, in the context of the nation’s climate following the George Floyd matter, Salita knows it is crucial that area kids — perhaps feeling that opportunities do not abound for them down the line — can see an example of a gathering place where hard work is rewarded, positivity is the dominant emotion, and personal bonds are forged.
“The gym experience is great for kids, for amateur boxers. It shows that good things happen in the community, and with hard work you will be able to make something of yourself,” he said. “Detroit is coming back, it was making great strides coming back (from a dip made worse by 2008 economic collapse), and many people know of our work on the Detroit Brawl series, so we will continue to push forth with that. This is a little bit out of the box and I feel like there will be a great result.”
Also in the planning stage is the ring return for Claressa Shields, who owns a 10-0 mark. The 25-year-old has been accumulating titles, and Salita said fairly soon everyone should know when her re-set tango with 17-0 Marie Eve Dicaire will unfold.
“We’re working on doing that as soon as possible,” Salita said of the 154-pound title unification match, moved from May 9. Showtime, he said, would be the platform, so it is depending on when the SHO brain trust determines the time is right to hop back into the water.
Salita is also expecting for “Big Baby” to compete, this month or next, and that makes sense since Top Rank is doing fights in Las Vegas.
Salita heavyweight Otto Wallin is working his way back from a foot injury, which pushed him off a scheduled Mar. 28 fight against Lucas Browne. The foot is good, and Wallin has been, I hear, using the lockdown time smartly. The Swede lives in NYC, and trains with Maine native Joey Gamache. He’s co-managed by Zach Levin and David Berlin.
“He’s been training in the park with Joey,” Salita shared. “He’s going to continue his climb to a world title.”
Levin, who, by the way, was and is a heckuva writer, told me that he’s been impressed with Wallin’s work ethic during the pandemic scare in NYC.
“He turned his apartment into a gym, got weights, I brought stuff over, he has kettlebells, he got a used (stationary) bike, he even has a 150-pound weight vest which I’m not sure what he does with. He’s a super disciplined guy.”
I messaged the super disciplined guy myself.
“I’ve been working 10 sessions a week, all through coronavirus lockdown and now I’m back with Joey in the park,” Wallin told me. Central Park, that is, for the record.
“It’s nice to be training outside now when summer is coming around and I’ve been almost locked in my apartment with an injury and COVID lockdown.”
My Three Cents: During times like these, people naturally do gravitate to comfort food and fixtures, places and things that feel solid and timeless. Kronk is that; seems like a smart move by Salita.
END NOTE: One thing Salita has done during the coronavirus era impressed me mightily. I told him I’d like to hear more about it in depth, and he said he’d come on the Everlast “Talkbox” podcast next week, so be on the lookout for new eps dropping soon.