Pat Russo first gloved up, repping the cops, 30 years ago.
He’d grown up in Brooklyn, had his share of street rumbles, but never boxed. Then he joined the police academy..it was 1984, he saw a poster advertising the annual scrap, between the Finest and the Bravest.
Why the heck not..it would be a good idea to get some technical skills under my belt as I walk these sometimes mean streets, he said to himself.
So Russo took himself to the Starrett City gym, and started to learn the art and science of pugilism. He had only a few weeks in the gym to get ready for his firefighter foe. That night, at the then Felt Forum, he had those butterflies doing the cha-cha in his gut…and they all felt caffeinated when he looked into the front row. There was Smokin Joe Frazier, front and center.
“The place was sold out, five, six thousand people,” he recalls, days before another battle between cops and firestoppers takes place at MSG, in the Theater. “But it don’t get better than that. First fight, in front of Joe Frazier.”
And it got better…he got the W. The fire-fighter wanted a rematch and they fought again the following year and again, Russo got the W. It was his last match…but tonight, the butterflies will be back, and he wonders if the Russo win streak will go to 3-0.
Because on the Battle of the Badges card this evening, Frank Russo will be gloving up, and dad will be in his corner. Russo is executive director of the team which Dave Siev coaches, and day to day, the retired cop runs the three Atlas Cops and Kids boxing gyms (two in Staten Island, one in Flatbush, Brooklyn), which attracts wayward and at risk youth, as a place they can come and learn to be self disciplined and gain self confidence.
Frankie is 19, not yet in the academy, but the cops needed to fill a slot, at 152 novice, so he raised his hand.
Dad worked in Sunset Park, left the department in 2000. He saw so many boys get off the streets, get to the gym, get on a better path, and sees it happens in the three Atlas gyms now. Some of the funds raised tonight (the undercard starts at 7:20, main slate at 8 PM) from people buying tix to see which service sector has the better boxers will help fund those gyms.
That good cause will be in the back of Pat’s mind when he sees his son step to center ring. The Tottenville resident, in college at St. John’s studying criminal justice, was a weight lifter but his knees started bothering him, so he decided he’d use his fists more.
And will Pat Russo be feeling more butterflies than when he debuted all those years ago, in front of Frazier?
“Probably worse than boxing myself,” he said. “I’d rather get punched in the face. I do ask that people come and see the event..pride is on the line, the matches are very competitive, and there’s always that things, between cops and firefighters. What’s that thing? We’re the bravest and you’re the finest.. let’s see who is the best!”
Tickets for Battle of the Badges are currently on sale and priced at $65.00, $50.00, and $30.00 and can be purchased at the Madison Square Garden Box Office, Ticketmaster outlets or online at www.thegarden.com. The match is a charitable effort, with proceeds benefitting the Atlas Cops & Kids Boxing Program and Building Homes for Heroes.