Locals Ready to Throw Down at Thrilla in Camilla

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It’s that time again. When those who fight fires take on those who, well, fight. On Friday night, July 12, the FDNY takes on the Irish in the boxing ring at St. Camillus for the annual Thrilla in Camilla. And with this year’s local grudge match set between Robbie Salmon and Rich Pontieri, Friday’s event is sure to draw in a big crowd for a good cause.

Each year, FDNY Bravest Boxing takes on opponents at the annual Thrilla in Camilla to raise money for a great cause—Building Homes for Heroes. This national nonprofit has made it their mission to gift mortgage-free homes to those who were injured or who live with PTSD as a result of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year, the hero being recognized at the boxing event is United States Marine Corporal Jeremy Kelley. Kelley will be at the event to help present a check of $40,000 to the organization that has helped build him a home in Florida.

For FDNY Bravest Boxing and their president Bobby McGuire, this cause is something that’s near and dear to their hearts. “First, this is a great night of boxing. But more importantly, it’s for a good cause—to take care of our veterans that take care of us. These guys are coming back from fighting the War on Terror with severe injuries and they should be taken care of. This is so important, especially after 9/11. There are about 1,400 FDNY members that are active in the reserves or are veterans, so we want to make sure they’re taken care of,” McGuire said.

In the spirit of taking care of those that need it, in addition to Building Homes for Heroes, at the event another check will be presented to FDNY firefighter Matt McDevitt, who is suffering from sinus cancer, to help him and his family offset some of the medical and travel costs for treatments.

To raise money for such donations, several opponents duke it out in the ring. This year, FDNY Bravest Boxing is taking on Garda Siochana, Ireland’s National Police Service. But this won’t be the first time the team has met its match. In March, FDNY Bravest Boxing took on the home team in Belfast, Ireland, and defeated them in all but one of eight matches. “We went to Belfast on March 30 and won their Battle of the Badges, which shocked the Irish team,” McGuire said. Now FDNY has invited Ireland to the shores of Rockaway for a rematch, and McGuire says he feels good about the FDNY holding their title. “I feel really good about our team. The Irish are always tough and none of them are going to give up easily, so there are going to be a lot of good fights,” he said.

While the fights between FDNY and Ireland will surely be ones to talk about, many will be waiting for the final event of 12—the local super heavyweight grudge match. In the red corner, hailing from Howard Beach, is Robbie “Smokey” Salmon. And in the blue corner, from Rockaway Beach, is Richard Pontieri. And the two are ready to duke it out for a good cause.

This all started about three weeks ago, when Pontieri called out Salmon during a night out enjoying Wine With Sue at the Bungalow Bar. While others turned down Pontieri’s challenge, Salmon stepped up and agreed. Neither have boxing experience, but both have a bone to pick. “We have a love-hate relationship,” Salmon said. “We’re the best of friends, who always get on each other’s nerves.” Pontieri explained more about their grudge. “We battle it out on Facebook often. I love breaking his chops about anything he puts up, whether it’s a stupid post or picture,” he said. Now they’re taking their tendency to bust each other’s chops into a public arena, battling it out in three one-minute rounds during the last fight of the night on Friday.

While both agree they’ll stay friends before and after what happens in the ring, tensions are already building. “It’s gonna be a match between the Local 1-2 Utility Workers of America vs. Mr. Mom,” Salmon, an employee for Con Edison said, taking a jibe at Pontieri’s role as a stay-at-home dad. “Every time I leave a one-liner on his Facebook posts, he comes back at me because I’m a stay-at-home dad. I was in construction for 16 years, but he keeps running his mouth,” Pontieri said. However, Pontieri says he doesn’t think Salmon is quite ready to let his fists do the talking. “I’ve been putting on the gloves and headgear and shadowboxing to get a feel for it. I see he’s doing his usual 12-ounce curls. That’s what I hear from the grapevine. He’s going restaurant to restaurant, bar to bar, but I don’t think there’s a treadmill in any of those places,” Pontieri said.

Salmon says that he too, is taking the match seriously. When asked about his training… “I’m doing my curls,” he said, picking up an Angry Orchard Cider at Healy’s. “Plus, lots of bike work, leg work, and a little jump rope. I’m hoping my arms still work,” Salmon said, adding that he thinks Pontieri’s long “orangutan arms could prove to be a challenge. “I don’t know who’s gonna win, but I do know I’m not gonna be that far away from him. I’m gonna stay close to the inside,” Salmon said. Pontieri says his biggest concern is his own adrenaline wearing out by the time of the late event, but says he’s feeling good about the outcome. “I’m taking this seriously because I have a ton of people coming and I’m not being embarrassed by Robbie Salmon,” Pontieri said.

With a classic match between a Howard Beach and a Rockaway guy, many are expected to come out to root for their favorite in a fight reminiscent of the old days. “That’s been an ongoing battle over the decades. Back in the day, kids from Howard Beach used to come to 108th and fight with the Rockaway kids. I’m sure Robbie wasn’t there. He was probably hiding,” Pontieri said.

But on Friday, both will be in the spotlight, fighting for Heroes. “I’m humbled to be able to step up and help sell those extra tickets with Robbie for this amazing organization. All jokes aside, Robbie stepped up with no hesitation and this grudge match is going to bring out a lot of people,” Pontieri said. “It’s for a good cause. That’s what it’s all about,” Salmon said.

On Friday, gates open at St. Camillus (Beach 100th and Shore Front Parkway) at 6 p.m. with the first bout at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at www.FDNYBoxing.com. General admission is $30, but to get close to the action, ringside tickets are $50, and VIP Ringside tickets are $100.  All of the proceeds go to charity.

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