Undefeated junior middleweight Pawel “Raging Bull” Wolak, 19-0 (13 KOs), a native of Debica, Poland, who fights out of Brooklyn, cannot believe his good fortune.
The 26-year-old grandson of Polish farmers and son of a carpenter who arrived in New York as a teenager will be co-featured in the pre-St. Patrick’s Day extravaganza at Madison Square Garden’s Theater on Saturday, March 15th.
Headlining the event, which is being promoted by the newly created Celtic Gloves Promotions, is James Moore, another red-hot, undefeated New York junior middleweight.
Moore, 14-0 (10 KOs), a veteran of over 300 amateur fights and the longtime captain of the Irish national amateur team that included John Duddy and Andy Lee, hails from County Wicklow, Ireland, but now fights out of Queens.
He is scheduled to take on grizzled veteran J.C. Candelo, 27-9 (18 KOs), of Colombia. Candelo has only been stopped once, by Kassim Ouma, and has gone the distance with such top caliber opponents as Winky Wright, Verno Philips and Alex Bunema.
Also appearing is lightweight contender Oisin Fagan, 20-5 (15 KOs), a Dublin native who fights out of Oklahoma City. An elementary school physical education teacher by day, the 34-year-old Fagan is renowned for his toughness, as well as for giving Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. his toughest fight to date.
In their February 2004 encounter, Chavez Jr. won a unanimous four-round decision but Julio Sr., his legendary father, later told the never-say-die Fagan he had given his son the toughest test of his career up to that point.
The hard-punching and always aggressive Wolak is also in for a tough night. His opponent is 38-year-old Dupre “Total Package” Strickland, 18-2-1 (7 KOs), of Shreveport, Louisiana. In Strickland’s last fight, in May 2007, he managed to go the 10 round distance with the undefeated knockout artist Duddy.
As if that is not enough motivation for Wolak, the fact that he is fighting at MSG has only made him train more determinedly and intensely than he usually does. He realizes this is unquestionably the biggest fight of his life.
“Madison Square Garden is a very historic place, the most historic sporting place in the world,” said Wolak, a former high school wrestler and kick boxer who earned a degree in business from Berkeley College in Manhattan.
“Any fighter would be honored to fight there. A lot of Polish people live in the New York area and they have always supported me a great deal. For a fight as big as this one, I think there will be more Polish people than usual in attendance.”
Since turning pro in July 2004, Wolak has been creating quite a stir in New York boxing circles. Scores of fans waving Polish flags have been present at nearly all of his fights, most of which have taken place in the greater metropolitan New York area.
In his last fight, in December 2007, he won a 10 round decision over the well-traveled and always durable veteran Sammy Sparkman in Ozarow, Poland.
As thrilling as fighting in his native country was for Wolak, fighting at MSG will rival that experience. Someday soon Wolak hopes to win a world title, and then defend the crown at both MSG and back home in Poland.
“There is a lot of pressure on me in this fight,” said the extremely erudite Wolak. “At this point of my career, it is becoming obvious how serious things are. This is big, very big. I am always focused, but I will be even more focused than usual for this fight.
“Fighting at MSG is very motivating for me,” he added. “There is a lot of pressure involved, especially on a card where there will be so many Irish and Polish fans on such a big [pre-St. Patrick’s Day] weekend. But I love pressure. I react very positively to pressure.”
Asked if he is an adrenaline junkie, Wolak is quick to discount that assessment. “No, I’m not, not at all,” he answered. “But when something big is on the line, I have a history of performing well.”
In Strickland, Wolak will be facing a slick lefthander who knows how to make his opponents work harder than they might like to emerge victorious. As his record will attest, he is hard to dominate and even harder to knock out.
Wolak, however, is too smart and seasoned to even think about a knockout.
His bulldog style will reap dividends, regardless of whether or not he stops Strickland. As difficult as Strickland might be to dominate, Wolak’s sheer aggression and super-human strength will make it difficult for Strickland, or most other fighters at his level, to have their way with him.
“I’m completely focused on winning,” said Wolak, who took a hiatus from his normal employment duties as an assistant manager at Channel Jewelry Creations in Manhattan’s Diamond District so he could train full-time with no distractions for this fight.
It seems that Wolak has been focused on personal excellence for much of his life. As a high school wrestler he dreamed of becoming an Ultimate Fighter. While still a teenager, he was capable of squatting 600 pounds.
As a young pro he regularly sparred with such seasoned professionals as Zab Judah and Chris “The Mechanic” Smith. Under the watchful eyes of head trainer Patrick Ford and assistant trainer Don Saxby, it is not unusual for him to throw 1,200 punches per training session.
While Wolak’s grand dreams extend far beyond March 15th, he is only looking at the here and now regarding Strickland and the more than 5,000 boisterous fans that are expected to be in attendance.
“Most people that see me fight become fans because I give my all in the ring,” he explained. “There will be a lot of Irish and Polish fans at MSG on March 15th. When my fight is over, I hope to be successful (victorious) and I also hope to have as many new Irish fans as I have old Polish fans.”
Among the other Irish fighters scheduled to appear are junior middleweight Henry “Western Warrior” Coyle, 5-1 (5 KOS), who hails from County Mayo but fights out of Chicago, and middleweight Simon “Slick Fighting Irish” O’Donnell, 5-1 (2 KOs), of County Galway.
A female welterweight special attraction is also scheduled between Olivia Fonseca, 1-1 (1 KO), an aspiring model who is of Colombian and Puerto Rican lineage, and Cristy Nickel, 7-5 (4 KOs), a well-respected personal trainer who lost a decision to Miriam Brakache in an IBA title fight that was held in China in August 2005.
Nickel, whose parents are both part Irish, counts Katie Couric among her many celebrity fitness clients. She said she was in a Manhattan bookstore when manager David Selwyn called and told her she’d be fighting at MSG.
Ironically, she had been shopping for a Nora Roberts romance novel called “Irish Hearts.”
“My knees went weak and I grabbed the bookshelves to get my balance,” said the 31-year-old Nickel. “This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. Anybody who has ever boxed has dreamed of fighting at MSG.”
In addition to a night of great fights, there will be live Irish music from the band “Big Girl’s Blouse.” Doors open at 6:30 P.M.
Tickets, which range from $400 to $50, can be purchased through Ticketmaster, 866-448-7849, or by calling Celtic Gloves at 917-559-8467 or Gleason’s Gym at 718-797-2872.
For sponsorship and advertising opportunities, contact Mike O’Sullivan at 516-242-0428.