Thrilla in Camilla Returns Friday

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 The bouts are back! After a hiatus due to the pandemic last year, Thrilla in Camilla is returning with some great matchups between New York’s bravest and Massachusetts police agencies, a special Xavier vs. Xaverian grudge match, and a local grudge match featuring two stand-up guys that are taking to the ring, all for a good cause to help America’s heroes. It all goes down this Friday, July 16.

Like a fire engine stopping at a burning home, last year’s pandemic put FDNY Boxing events at a screeching halt. Competitors were flown in from around the county to take on FDNY Boxing in a near sold-out show at Madison Square Garden on March 15. As the state and city shut down, so did hopes of duking it out at the Garden and all of the fighters from departments in Boston to Chicago, San Francisco to Seattle, were all told to go home. The fight was off. Same went for last year’s Thrilla in Camilla.

However, it wasn’t a total loss for the main reason these fighters get together each year. “We had sold out the Garden in March 2020 and had that canceled a day before. We had flown everyone in and put out all the advertising. It was tough to recover from,” FDNY Boxing president Bobby McGuire said. “But luckily, a lot of the fans were so generous that they chose to donate the ticket cost to the charities we raise money for, and we were able to give $20K to each for an event that didn’t even happen.”

As restrictions have eased, the fight is on! For the first time in two years, FDNY Boxing will resume on home turf at Friday’s event in the parking lot of St. Camillus (185 Beach 99th Street). Gates open at 6 p.m. and the action starts around 7 p.m. There will be food trucks and drinks for sale. And with 12 action-packed bouts, it’s not going to be one to miss.

And it will all be for the same two charities. During the intermission, the night’s beneficiaries will be honored. For years, Thrilla in Camilla has helped Building Homes for Heroes, which builds mortgage free, handicap accessible homes for veterans returning home with severe injuries, and recently received the highest rating possible from Charity Navigator. Friday’s event will honor United States Marine Corps Lance Corporal Matthew Benny, who hopes to receive a new home through the program in Wood-Ridge, NJ. Lance Corporal Benny served in Iraq during the Battle of Fallujah in 2004 and was left with physical and psychological injuries. He struggles with chronic PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, migraines, pain in his neck, lower back and shins, degeneration of his cervical intervertebral disc and more. Lance Corporal Benny will be at the event on Friday, where he will be honored.

Additionally, this year, Thrilla in Camilla will benefit the Matt McDevitt Children’s Education Fund. Matt McDevitt was a NYC Firefighter who recently lost his battle with a rare cancer. He left behind his wife Jackie, and two beautiful children under the age of five.

“We owe our freedom to the brave men and women of our military, including the 1,400 members of the FDNY who are veterans or military reservists,” McGuire said.  “We also need to help our fallen FDNY family members who are often exposed to toxic atmospheres and many succumb as a result of that exposure, long after the fire has been extinguished. As first responders, giving back is in our DNA and our team believes in raising funds for charity through spirited competition.”

Some of the fight highlights include a highly-anticipated bout between Nicole Malpeso of Eng. 76, who has a 12-2 record and recently won the Championship of the Annual Atlanta Classic and Ashleigh Moore, a decorated amateur boxer with a 10-1 record representing the Mass. State Troopers. There are also some big grudge matches. The first grudge match, for the first time ever, is a high school rivalry match between Jimmy McGovern of Xavier and Jeremiah Ryan of Xaverian. The FDNY grudge matches will follow with Dan Palmieri of Lad. 169 vs. Gary Schmidt of Lad 17 and Capt. Chris Livolsi of Lad. 114 vs. John Cadott of EMS Station #4.

However, as usual, one of the most anticipated fights of the night for Rockaway will be the local grudge match. This year, retired Local 79 construction worker, Rich Pontieri, who duked it out with Robbie Salmon in 2019 and reigned champion within seconds, is coming back for round two, this time with one of New York Strongest’s strongest— New York City Sanitation Deputy Chief James McGovern.

Pontieri says this matchup came about right after his 2019 fight. “I was in RBQ with Jimmy, and we had had a few drinks and we know this is a great cause, so we shook hands and said next year, we’re gonna fight. Unfortunately, Covid hit, or we would’ve had this fight last summer. I found out two months ago it was on and I texted Jimmy in a playful manner saying, ‘you have two months to get ready’ and here we are, a few days away,” he said.

Pontieri says he expects this match to be solid. “Jimmy’s unbelievably tough. He’s a worthy opponent. Hopefully I’ll survive,” he said. However, he also sang his opponent’s praises. “Jimmy is a Sanitation boss. He’s a hero. He was the catalyst to get us through Hurricane Sandy when they were trying to figure out where to put all the garbage. He came up with the idea of using the Riis Park lot. He was named Irish Man of the Year and got an award at City Hall. He’s done a lot for this town. He’s an unbelievably generous guy,” Pontieri said.

And both honorable men know it’s all for a good cause. “This helps firemen and soldiers, so whatever I can do to help, whether it’s help sell tickets or get in the ring, I’ll do it," Pontieri said. "People look for the local grudge match and with Covid and finally lifting restrictions, as long as the weather is good, this year is going to be incredible and there will be more people and more money raised and to be a part of that is humbling. This is all for a great cause. May the best man win, and we’ll grab a beer after.”

Thrilla in Camilla wouldn’t be possible without its sponsorship from local unions, restaurants and bars, plus community support. Tickets for the event are $30 for General Admission, $50 Ringside and $100 p.p. for VIP Tables. They can be purchased in advance at www.FDNYBoxing.com  or at the gate on Friday. A “Black n Blue” after party will be held at Whit’s End on Beach 97th Street. The after-party is BYOB.

 By Katie McFadden

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