Northeast Times

Local boxer fights demons to return to the ring

— A short time ago, loc­al box­er Bri­an “Wild­man” Do­nahue was ad­dicted to paink­illers and liv­ing on the streets. Now, he's back where he be­longs: in­side a box­ing ring.

Bri­an ÒWild­manÓ Do­nahue (right) faces John ÒThe church boyÓ Bow­man (left) for a four-round, su­per mid­dle­weight match at Na­tion­al Guard Army sponsored by Power Pro­duc­tions/Box­ing Ring­side, Fri­day, April 20, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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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. ••

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