Greenwich rugby’s Kelly is ready for his Friday night fights

Greenwich High School rugby head coach Joe Kelly will step into the ring for a good cause tomorrow night in Darien. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School rugby head coach Joe Kelly will step into the ring for a good cause tomorrow night in Darien. — John Ferris Robben photo

Tomorrow night, for the first time in nearly three decades, Joe Kelly will get the chance to trade in his clipboard and whistle as head coach of the Greenwich High School rugby team and lace up some boxing gloves and help a worthy cause all at the same time.

“I found this opportunity to raise money for a local charity and I asked the organizer that if he finds someone over 50-years-old, who is in the super heavyweight division, I would be more than glad to help out,” Kelly said. “They found someone in Brooklyn. I don’t know that much about him, but I am ready for the fight.”

Kelly, along with several athletes from Revolution Training & Fitness based in Stamford, will be boxing against boxers from the Brooklyn-based Starrett City Boxing Club. The event will take place in Darien at The Water’s Edge at Giovanni.

After the cocktail hour and auction, a three-course buffet-style dinner will begin at 7. The first bout will go on promptly at 8 p.m. and Kelly believes that his fight will take place approximately at 9 p.m.

“His size is an enormous advantage,” said Rajiv Bhattacharya, one of the organizers of the event for Revolution Training & Fitness. “He’s a rugby player and it shows because Joe’s a tough man. Anything can happen, but I think Joe is going to listen to instructions, will go the distance and get the victory in points.”

Starting five years ago, Kelly was looking for a place where he could get some exercise and continue his love for boxing. Working a few minutes away from Revolution Training & Fitness made the facility a perfect fit for Kelly, who would work out during his lunch break.

He would enter the gym and hit the heavy bag for four rounds, three minutes each round. Then it was off to jumping rope for three rounds. Finally he would finish his exercising by working on his hook, uppercut and the speed bag.

“I like coming to the gym and shutting my brain off,” Kelly said. “By the time the hour is done, I am sweaty and exhausted, but I had a great workout. I’ve been coming to this gym for five years and it’s a casual hello to the guys when I was just hitting the bag. Now after a sparred a few guys and we both tried to knock each other’s head off, you create this strange camaraderie. I have friends now that I haven’t had before I started training.”

For Kelly, keeping up with his fitness has been the most challenging aspect of his training.

“I’m 51-years-old, have two hip replacements and because of that I can’t run on a track,” Kelly said. “I have to rely on jumping rope and an elliptical machine and that’s not the same workout as hitting the roads or running the stairs like Rocky did.”

Going through the hard work and dedication needed to train and getting into competition shape makes the time in the ring the most enjoyable thing for Kelly.

“I didn’t know this would be the case after 28 years, but the fighting brings me the greatest joy,” Kelly said. “I sparred about six times now and I remembered how when I actually got hit, it excited me. I was afraid that 28 years later, it would maybe disappoint me or make me not want to do it, but the same thing happened. I got punched for the first time square in the head and I felt like I was turning into the Incredible Hulk. It was amazing.”

“Joe is the oldest guy we have in the show and he came to us with an enormous amount of enthusiasm to participate,” Bhattacharya said. “He didn’t have a care and was all guns blazing to have fun. He’s taken his training very seriously and has been in the gym as much, or more than anybody else that will be in the show. He has progressed massively, is very coachable and is very good company.”

Tomorrow night won’t be the first time that Kelly stepped into the ring.

Almost three decades ago, Kelly traveled to New York City and competed at the Felt Forum, now The Theatre at Madison Square Garden.

“This is absolutely thrilling for me,” Kelly said. “The last time I fought was 28 years ago at Madison Square Garden and it was for the Wall Street Charities. We did it similar to this, but the difference is that I was in my mid-20’s back then and things were slightly different. I thought I did pretty good back then and I knocked my opponent out.”

Even growing up, Kelly was enjoying the sport of boxing. As one of four brothers, he would fight one of his siblings with the gloves all the time.

“Our local boys club had a boxing program, so I stayed with it and used it as a way of working out,” Kelly said.

Win or lose, Kelly will be coming out of this fight feeling like a champion.

“It’s great,” Kelly said. “I feel a lot younger, I’m getting fit and I’m being driven to get fit more so if I wasn’t going to be in a fight. Knowing you have a chance of getting our head handed to you by most of the people you know very well locally is motivation to get fit.”

Ringside tables for tomorrow’s event in Darien went for $1,500 and general tables went for $1,000. The proceeds to two worthy boxing causes.

Revolution Fitness Youth Boxing is an after-school program with a boxing focus that serves the youth of Stamford. Alongside introducing its intake to boxing, the program also seeks to emphasize and reinforce the non-physical benefits of the sport such as sportsmanship, respect, discipline and maturity.

The other group getting help is Youth Fighting Forward. Out of the Starrett City Boxing Club in Brooklyn, the program instills the values of its five pillars, which are boxing, education, employability, youth support services and youth leadership.

“This event is really rewarding,” said Bhattacharya. “We get to see that our funds get replenished for both youth programs and the proceeds can be seen in a very tangible way. We will see new equipment in the gym for the kids and personnel that will be arriving that wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. Also, the guys on the show are going to have a unique experience and it’s going to be fantastic for them. I say that whether they win or lose. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”

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