Put the gloves on Isaiah McAliley and you know you’re looking at a boxer. You might not see it in the 11-year-old’s slender 65-pound frame, but you can see it in his eyes. He looks back at you with a ferocious determination that has no mercy behind it.
Watch Isaiah practice his jabs with his trainer, retired boxer Danny Sally, and you know you don’t ever want this kid to hit you. Ever. You can be standing several feet away and feel the power of his jabs. And he’s so quick. The jabs keep coming faster and harder. See all that and you’d have to pity anybody who gets in the ring with him.
“There’s been some broken noses and split lips,” Sally said during an interview in his Frankford home on July 9. Most of Isaiah’s opponents leave the ring with bruised ribs, he added.
Not at this level. Isaiah boxes in the Middle Atlantic Association’s 65-70 pound class. Each fight consists of three one-minute rounds, Sally said. Points are scored, Isaiah said, by landing punches on an opponent, and, Sally added, by impressing the ring judges with style.
“Every punch that lands is scored,” Sally said, adding a boxer may get credit if he impresses the judges. “He has a unique style. Judges are impressed with his jabs; he throws a lot of jabs.”
His ring prowess isn’t described by strength alone. Talk boxing strategy and styles with Isaiah and you have to remind yourself you’re talking to an 11-year-old. What he knows about boxing is as impressive as his punches.
“You know your opponent and you know how to read him,” Isaiah said. Sally said he can look over another fighter and quickly know how Isaiah can beat him.
The young boxer has been taught to fight Texas-style, he said, a method of boxing that capitalizes on his strong jabs, he and Sally said.
“I’m from Texas, so that’s my style,” Sally said.
“With Philly style, they throw a lot of hooks. They’re hook crazy,” Isaiah said. And the best offense against a Philly-style boxer? You guessed it: the jab.
“I keep jabbing so they can’t throw the hook,” he said.
Because Isaiah knows how to keep moving in the ring, he hasn’t had to take too many hard hits, Sally said, or many hits at all for that matter.
In his two-year amateur career, Isaiah said, he’s won nine of his 12 fights. In the winter, he fought for the his local boxing committee championship and, recently, in the Junior Olympic Regional championship, and won both. The young boxer from the 5100 block of Cottage Street is the reigning regional champ in his weight class.
The title is “kind of a big deal,” said Bill Billingsworth, the MAA’s president. Isaiah is the best in his class in seven states, he said. “Young boxers like him are the successful future of boxing in the United States.”
Later this month, Isaiah and Sally will be in Kansas City, Mo., participating in the Ringside World Junior Olympics, an open invitational tournament. Isaiah said he expects to be in seven or eight bouts with boxers from all over the world. In August, before he returns home, Isaiah will box in a Washington, D.C., bout.
AN OLYMPIC FUTURE?
Billingsworth said the MAA, which covers a huge chunk of Pennsylvania and the rest of the East Coast east of Harrisburg, is under the auspices of the USA Boxing, an organization that feeds into the Olympics.
Sally said that is where Isaiah is headed.
The young boxer trains and fights locally, he said. He’ll be at the 215 Gym at Ditman and Bridge in a couple weeks. Training goes on five days a week, sometimes, six, Sally said. It’s part of the young boxer’s strict regimen.
Isaiah said the self-control he’s learned as he’s trained has helped him outside the ring. He said he never had any worries with his grades, but he viewed himself as a school discipline problem. That stopped when he started training with Sally, he said.
“I was usually a problem kid before I started boxing,” he said.
“He really is self-disciplined now,” Isaiah’s mom, Ilene McCray-Akindele, said in a July 10 phone interview. “Even his teachers see it. I am proud of him.”
“My teachers said I am a whole new person,” Isaiah said.
Part of that self-discipline involves not doing something — giving out fighting advice to any friends who are getting picked on. “I tell them to tell a teacher,” he said.
Sally met the First Philadelphia Charter School pupil when he was 9 while Sally was conducting boxing demonstrations at the Gambrel Rec Center in Frankford.
Isaiah was very interested, Sally said. Sally was willing to train Isaiah but exacted a commitment from him.
“I told him I would coach him as long as he promises to go to college,” Sally said.
Isaiah said he’s looking forward to it. He’s interested in studying acting. ••