WORCESTER — She arrives at the small dark venue an hour early with her Nikon cameras in hand. She wonders where she’ll be shooting from at ringside. Will other credentialed media members get in her way or even steal her shot? What’s the overhead lighting situation?
“I’ve worked with a million photographers and so many of them don’t know boxing,” fight publicist Bob Trieger told the Boston Globe about her. “You need to catch a guy getting popped on the chin with sweat and blood flying everywhere. She gets that shot. She really works at it.”
Veteran ring announcer John Vena has nothing but high praise for her as well. “Her pictures tell a great story because she really knows the game. Her passion for boxing is always on display.”
Her name is Emily Harney and she is one of a small but growing group of female photographers who work regularly in a tough-guy sport dominated by men. To us, she’s just one of the guys, a reputation she protects. On this rainy Saturday night in downtown Worcester, Harney didn’t find Iron Mike Tyson, Micky Ward or Arturo “Thunder” Gatti at the end of her wide-angle lens. Instead she shot a “Sailor Man” named Rivera and a “New England Bully” called Cobbs.
Their undercard was full of “Spider” Ricos.
Promoted by former WBA welterweight champion Jose Antonio Rivera, tonight’s club show main event featured 27-year-old pipe-wielding Hartford, CT light-heavyweight Richie “Popeye” Rivera (no relation) in against 33-year-old former “Vermont Bully” Kevin Cobbs; now bullying outta Boston after more than two years away from the prize ring to marry up and move south.
“When I first started my pro career I was learning on the job,” Cobbs told me of his time fighting for Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Entertainment & Sports in Rhode Island. “I wasn’t fully skilled like I am now. This is an opportunity to come back and do what I love. I never stopped training. I know some people were wondering if I was just sitting on the couch but I’m not a pushover.”
Rivera, like his promoter, promised a good show if nothing else. “I’ve analyzed Cobbs’ losses. It’s going to be hard for him to come back after a two year break and be as sharp as he was.”
“Popeye” was right about that. Rivera 6-0 (5) made his pro debut last year after winning a Rocky Marciano trophy in 2016 as an amateur. Cobbs 10-3 (4) is originally from Hartford, CT himself, making this vacant UBF title bout more about hometown bragging rights than most people in the region even realized.
Though his last fight was a 2016 knockout loss to 21-year-old David Benavidez in Los Angeles, Cobbs is proud of the fact it came at the hands of boxing’s youngest current world champion.
He’s also sparred with Chad Dawson, Peter Manfredo Jr., Edwin Rodriguez, Thomas Falowo and even John Scully. “I’ve been in with anybody my opponent has been in with—and some.”
Want more proof?
When Andre Ward came to Cobbs’ Boston gym last year for a promotional appearance, Cobbs took advantage of a golden opportunity to “pick the brain” of boxing’s best P4P fighter. Cobbs didn’t get to spar with Ward but he did pick up some “SOG” pointers on “stabbing” with the jab.
It didn’t make any difference.
Rivera, 172, stopped Cobbs, 173, in the third round of a scheduled eight after scoring two dramatic drops. That was more than enough for referee Jackie Morrell who waved it off at 2:51.
Cobbs, a long and lean counterpuncher who stayed behind a very high guard, looked fitter than he fought but was visibly fatigued after just two rounds. That obviously had a lot to do with the intense pressure being applied by the free swinging Rivera—who packs some pop!
TSS spoke to an emotional “Popeye” at ringside after the victory. “I wasn’t gonna look for the knockout but if it came I was gonna take it,” Rivera said. “I noticed he stopped throwing as much as he was, so then I was trying to go for that big right hand but he was overcommitting on his duck. When I changed it to an uppercut, my punch landed flush and he was outta there.”
Single mom Harney, 37, studies photography in Cambridge and teaches it at Gloucester High School. She made her debut as a boxing photographer in 2000 after reading about the tragic ring death of a young Saugus, MA boxer named Bobby Tomasello who died five days after a brutal draw in Boston. Her time spent in local New England gyms brought her to the attention of Lowell’s Dicky Eklund.
The former fighter introduced Harney to his half-brother Micky Ward. It was a good match-up. Harney ended up doing her senior thesis on Ward, following Irish Micky for a year with her cameras; culminating in Harney’s unlikely involvement as a ringside photographer for the epic Ward-Gatti “Fight of the Year” in 2002 at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.
“That was the last fight I planned on ever covering,” she recalls. “My undergrad work was done. I figured one last fight but I was so wrong. That night changed me. I left the arena realizing I had seen something epic. That fight changed what I thought about sportsmanship and what I thought boxing should look like. And I was the only woman at ringside besides a female commissioner.”
In her 17 years of freelancing, Harney has travelled the boxing circus in New England for media outlets like Fight News, The Ring and ESPN. Sometimes Harney works for the show’s promoter.
Those have included Lou DiBella, Golden Boy, and Banner Promotions to name a few. Other times she works directly for a fighter like Beibut Shumenov (he’s back BTW) or for a manager.
Harney always follows the money.
When Hollywood called looking for the rights to use her images in boxing movies like 2007’s Resurrecting The Champ, 2010’s The Fighter, and most recently CREED starring Sylvester Stallone, Harney jumped at the chance to see her work (and her name) on the big screen.
Harney was plying her craft Saturday night in Worcester for a different kind of credit. “I’m filming for my MFA in photography and integrated media from Lesley University’s College of Art and Design,” she explained to me. “I’m writing my master’s thesis about my experience in boxing.”
Those experiences include second and third place finishes in the annual BWAA awards for boxing photography, her once-in-a-lifetime coverage of the classic Ward-Gatti war as well as so many others through the years but most importantly it’s having an influence on the next generation; the kids coming up. Harney educates by example, inspiring attainable goals with the first Ward-Gatti fight; showing her high school students Round 9 to pump them up.
Rivera’s new title belt pumps him up.
“I never want to take it off,” he said.
RIVERA PROMOTIONS UNDERCARD:
Southpaw super middleweight Jose “Rated R” Rivera 4-2 (3) Hartford, CT, rumbled hard for six rounds against Troy “KO Artist” Artis 5-7-1 (3) Danbury, CT, but came up a little short on the cards; dropping a tough six round majority decision. Glenn Feldman saw a draw 57-57 while judges Ken Volovick and Leo Gerstel each scored it 58-56 in favor of the “upset” winner Artis.
Light heavyweight Ray Graceski 6-0 (3) Springfield, MA, survived being hurt bad late in the first round to pull out a four round draw with professionally debuting Pawel Banasiak of Hartford, CT. As a former sparring partner for local power puncher “La Bomba” Rodriguez, Graceski’s chin held up to some Banasiak bombs. The crowd booed the 38-38 scores from all three judges.
Sentimental crowd favorite super middleweight Bobby Harris 2-0-1 Worcester, struggled mightily with pasty white cage fighter Saul “Spider” Almeida 0-8-2 Framingham. Almeida really can’t box at all but he was able to frustrate and outwork Harris III who received a generous majority draw.
In a junior middleweight bout, Derrick “Bad Boy” Whitley, 3-0, 157, Springfield, MA, easily outpointed Robert Blankenship, 1-3, 147, Cleveland, OH, in a four rounder. Those listed weights are not a typo. Whitley came in ten pounds overweight (bad boy!) and had to forfeit a quarter ($180) of his already meager purse to Blankenship. Official Scores: 40-35 and 40-36 twice.
Welterweight Samuel Vasquez 1-3 (1) Montreal, Canada, was knocked down hard in the second from from an uppercut by debuting Joseph Goss 1-0 Bridgeport, CT, and he never fully recovered. Goss stayed busy and was awarded a unanimous decision 40-35, 39-36, 38-37.
Super lightweight Wilfredo “Sucaro” Pagan 4-0 (2) Southbridge, MA, destroyed trial horse Bryan “The Brick” Abraham 6-29-2 (6) Schenectady, NY, in two rounds. Pagan scored a knockdown late in the first and then scored with lefts at will in the second for the TKO at 1:25.
Junior lightweight Luis “Lobito” Rivera 4-3 (1) Hartford, CT won a hard fought four round majority decision over Carlos Marrero 0-2 Bridgeport, CT in an entertaining scrap. Marrero was cut up over the right eye in the final round but performed well with his more experienced opponent.
Junior welterweight Omar Bordoy 4-0 (1) Danbury, CT went to the body of Seth Basler 0-5 Marion, IL and scored an easy unanimous decision. Bordoy pressed for a stop of his exhausted foe but Basler heard the final bell. Scores in favor of Bordoy 40-36 on all three scorecards. Lynn, MA super middleweight prospect Jelame Garcia 7-0 (6) decisioned Nathan Schulte 0-5 Woburn, MA over the four round distance in the evening opener. Scores: 40-36 twice and 39-37.
Photo credit: Emily Harney
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.