New England sports fans are categorized several different ways. We are, of course, a Red Sox Nation and a hockey town, but we also happen to bleed green. Plus, as Robert Kraft put it, "We are all Patriots."
But people are forgetting that this area also has a great tradition of boxing.
New England has paved the way for some of boxing's greatest and most memorable athletes. Rocky Marciano is a legendary heavyweight, and the only champion to retire undefeated. Marvin Hagler is not only one of the best middleweights of all time, but his third round TKO over Tommy Hearns is a fight that will be talked about forever. We also have to give major props to Lowell's Micky Ward for giving us a splendid career as well as three devastatingly amazing fights against Arturo Gatti.
More recently, the Northeast has spit out quite a few promising pro prospects, including Matt Godfrey, Edwin Rodriguez, Peter Manfredo Jr., Jason Estrada, Danny O'Conner and Demetrius Andrade.
What do all these fighters have in common? They have all gone through the New England Golden Gloves tournament. The Gloves has been a tradition in New England since 1964 and sells out the Lowell Memorial Auditorium year in and year out.
"There is a different mentality for boxing in Boston," said John Ogden of Mill City Studios. “I've been to the Golden Gloves in other places and they don't even fill the place."
Ogden is the senior producer and editor of Fighters: Road to the Golden Gloves, a 30-minute special which is airing on NESN throughout the next four weeks.
In Lowell, the Golden Gloves doesn't just represent amateur boxing at its best, according to Ogden.
"For a lot of guys it's the only way out, unfortunately," explained Ogden, a Lowell native and graduate of UMass-Lowell. "Growing up in Lowell, we don't have a lot of money, and we've got a lot of fight in us."
The Lowell Memorial Auditorium is not a place originally built for boxing, but there is something very special about the Gloves when it is held there. The belly of the auditorium turns into makeshift locker rooms, and the auditorium itself boils over with excitement, tension and hope.
“We tried to capture the beauty of the show, of the event, of the boxers," said Ogden. "At the beginning, there are 50-100 fighters, and they are crammed in the most ridiculous places — I'm talking about boiler rooms [and in] the closets. There's no dressing room."
The craziest part of this yearly event is that it's not about prizes; it's about pride. Many of the combatants, who range in age from 17-34, are not even on a path to the pros or even the Olympics — they are simply there to say they fought Golden Gloves.
"When you win the Golden Gloves, you don't get a trophy, you don't get anything — you get a sweatshirt, that's all you get," Ogden said. "It's not like you're getting paid, but people do respect you."
One fighter focused on during the special is Jimmy Smith, a Marine whose dream was to win the Golden Gloves. To him, it wasn't about a sweatshirt, a title, or even a spot in the coveted national tournament.
"Jimmy Smith didn't go to the nationals last year even though he qualified," Ogden explained. "Jimmy went back to fight in Iraq again — a third term. I mean, that kid's a hero."
Ogden speaks with a passionate fervor for the Lowell tradition and reiterates that the Golden Gloves is doing wonderful things for the city and the boxing community.
"It's only positive, which is the good thing about it — there's no negative things about it," Ogden said. "It's only there to give kids a way out of a lifestyle. It's only there to promote a sport. It's only to promote good health, good training, exercise and confidence."
If you've been to a Golden Gloves show in Lowell, you know that it is unlike other boxing shows — or any other sporting event in general. You know that there is electricity in the air, a certain charge that you get where you watch these fighters give every ounce of themselves for something that you can't see, touch, or even put on your mantle.
John Ogden has obviously been inspired by the this.
"I used to do an art show, I used to do a cooking show, and I will never do that stuff again,” he said. "When I started, I had 50 hours of footage and 50 interviews. The goal was to condense this all into something that people see and they say, 'I've never seen anything like that before.'"
The Golden Gloves remind us of something we tend to forget as New England sports fans, which is that to win a championship, you don't always need Kevin Garnett, Tom Brady, a million-dollar contract, or even a trophy. Sometimes all it takes is giant heart, determination and a boiler room.
Ogden is convinced that viewers will not be disappointed.
"If somebody comes away saying that was [just] a good boxing show, I haven't done my job," Ogden said.
*** Jan. 30: 5 p.m.
Fighters: Road to the Golden Gloves will be airing throughout January and February on NESN:
Jan. 31: 12:30 p.m.
Feb. 1: 1:30 p.m.
Feb. 5: 5 p.m.
Feb. 12: 10:30 p.m.
Feb. 24: 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 30: 5 p.m.