While baseball is heralded as the southernmost pastime, it was boxing that once defined the island’s gritty spirit. And on Saturday, June 9, the sweet science returns to Key West for an evening of professional bouts, resurrecting a tradition that runs deep within the town’s history.

Southernmost Fights will feature up to nine bouts at the East Martello Towers, showcasing an array of world-class boxers. The proceeds will benefit the Key West Firefighters Local 1424.

“We’ve been working on this project for about three years now,” said Loui C. Rock of ATL Productions. “And once Irma happened, we knew this would be the perfect fit to help a lot of the firemen who were personally affected by the storm.”

Along with fighters who have performed on boxing’s biggest stages (including one who recently fought in a world title bout, Southernmost Boxing will offer a chance to see a local talent, Ashot Mnatsakanian. The fighter, who trains out of the PAL gym with notable trainer Ricky Jackson, will be representing Key West in his fourth professional fight. According to Jackson, who has trained local pros like Danny Van Staden and Timmy Lenard, Mnatsakanian has big potential in the sport.

“I believe he has a good future in boxing, but it’s all about the time someone can put into it,” said Jackson. “He comes from a great pedigree of Ukrainian boxing, but he has to work to live here like everyone else, and trying to balance family, work and professional boxing is not easy.”

Jackson, who was 19 when he started boxing in Key West, has witnessed the fluctuation of boxing’s popularity on the island. Some of his most notable stories date back to his amateur fights in the ’70s, when Kermit “Shine” Forbes would referee his fights. It was “Shine” who also refereed, and possibly mixed it up with, Ernest Hemingway (depending on whom you ask).

But Jackson’s love for the sport has been renewed over the past 15 years as head of PAL’s (Police Athletic League) boxing program. It was the late Si Stern who asked Jackson to head up the program in 2004. At the time, Stern had contracted with ESPN 2 to showcase an evening of Friday Night Fights at Mallory Square and needed a trainer for some of the local fighters.

“Stern wanted me to train some of the local guys and I figured I would do it for about two years,” said Jackson. “I got a chance to train Danny and some of the local pros and they really forced me to become a better trainer. So for me, the upcoming fights give me a chance to carry on what those guys started and connect boxing to the community.”

Loui C. Rock also believes the upcoming bouts pay tribute to boxing’s lasting legacy on the island by reminiscing about amateur fights out of the former Iron Bodies Gym. According to Rock, those fights (dubbed Bubba Boxing) would spill into Truman Avenue and later expanded into the Epic building on Duval.

“Those fights would have over 1,000 people in attendance,” said Rock. “Boxing is universal and it’s a big tradition down here. And a lot of people don’t know that Muhammad Ali would come visit the old dog track on Stock Island, which is another testament to our boxing tradition.”

Although an evening of professional boxing in Key West will provide added nostalgia, Saturday’s fight card is comparable to something one might find on major television networks. Aaron Skinner, a KWHS grad who has gone on to work with some of the biggest names in the sport, is bringing his renowned match making skills back home for the first time.

“Saturday’s fights will have a little bit of everything,” said Skinner. “We have heavyweights and flyweights, technical punchers and power guys. And we have an incredible main event—featuring Felipe Rivas (who recently fought for a world title) against Alonso Melendez (14-2 with 12 KO).

Southernmost Boxing at East Martello Towers
Saturday, June 9 at 6 pm
Tickets: keystix.com

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Britt Myers traded in a life of monetary success, a chiseled body and intellectual enlightenment for a piece of the pie of the Keys Weekly newspapers. He is also the proud parent of an incredible six-year-old and a sucker for Michael Mann movies and convenience store hot dogs.