For one evening, on Friday night, the National Guard Armory at Southampton Road and Roosevelt Boulevard was transformed into a showcase event for some of the top up-and-coming boxers from the Philadelphia area.
The energy in the building was palpable as roughly 1,500 fans packed the arena. The main event, presented by Power Productions, was a rematch between rising lightweight contenders Angel Ocasio of North Philadelphia and Camden’s Jason Sosa.
And although the main event spurred anticipation among the raucous crowd, it was the undercard that hit close to home for many in attendance, as Croydon native Brian Donahue got the opportunity to fight in front of his family, friends and the community where he grew up.
It was a long, winding road for Donahue to return to the ring, and his journey posed more than a few detours.
Five years ago, Donahue, a former longshoreman at Pier 84, suffered what doctors told him would be a career-ending injury. A workplace accident caused three ruptured discs in his back — an injury that would be difficult to overcome in any sport, let alone one with the physical rigors of boxing.
The back injury led Donahue down a dark path. An addiction to painkillers left him homeless and sleeping under the El tracks on Kensington Avenue. But just when this fighter appeared to be down for the count, he embarked on a comeback with his new wife, Jennifer, in his corner.
Seventeen months ago, Donahue set out to give it his all. He lost 83 pounds to get back into fighting shape and trained relentlessly for the chance to get back in the ring. Friday night’s fight was more than a venue for 31-year-old Donahue to show hometown fans what he could accomplish in the ring. It was the ideal setting to show what he has overcome outside of it.
Donahue made his entrance into the ring to face John Bowman of Dover, Del., in a super middleweight matchup, and not one section of the arena failed to be caught up in the fanfare created by Donahue’s presence.
He began the fight on the defensive, displaying a patience that is a rare find among today’s boxers. Donahue (2-2) clearly had come in with a strategy, and every punch he landed earned the approval of the hometown crowd. Donahue provided great showmanship, especially while taunting his opponent early in the fight, and Bowman (2-0-1) landed a series of jabs early that seemed to have little impact on Donahue.
After the first two rounds, it appeared as though the resurrected boxer would be the hero of the night. However, fatigue and a series of head butts from Bowman began to take their toll on Donahue. He did everything in his power to overcome the mounting aggressiveness of his opponent, including firing a barrage of body shots at Bowman that stirred the crowd during the third round.
Donahue’s trainer, Pedro Rivera, continuously barked at his fighter to “work with your tools.” However, as the four-round fight concluded, Donahue’s admirable efforts weren’t enough to deliver victory; Bowman won the fight in a unanimous decision.
But even in defeat, the intimidating grimace that Donahue had flashed for four rounds in the ring soon gave way to a smile. Well aware of his grueling recovery from injury, as well as his tough bouts with some personal demons, Donahue knew that this was a night to be happy, and he hugged his training staff, congratulated Bowman on the victory and finally faced each section of the arena to give his supporters a gesture of thanks.
ldquo;I know I have a long way to get where I want to be as a boxer,” he said. “But tonight wasn’t a loss for me. I’m going to keep working and do whatever it takes to stay in the ring, but this definitely wasn’t it for me.”
And although Rivera, of the Tenth Round Gym in Bristol, said it was clear that “we have a long way to go,” he also spoke highly of Donahue’s dedication and refusal to quit in the ring — the same bounce-back fortitude that allowed him to overcome injury and addiction. Donahue’s persistence immediately led him to make plans for a future rematch against Bowman.
Although some local fans may have left the Armory disappointed that Donahue didn’t come away with a victory, there was plenty to be talk about on the local boxing circuit. Not only did the Sosa-Ocasio rematch end in yet another controversial draw, but it also was undeniable that everyone in attendance witnessed the beginnings of a great boxing comeback story.
Brian Donahue proved he has what it takes to fight through adversity, and that he’ll do whatever it takes to win, in life and in the ring. ••EndFragment