Ready to rumble

Isaiah McAliley may only be 11 years old, but the young boxer from Frankford is no stranger to the ring.

  • Isaiah McAliley, an 11-year-old boxer from Frankford, has won nine of 12 fights in his two-year amateur career. He recently won the Junior Olympic Regional championship title and will be competing in the Ringside World Junior Olympics in Kansas City, Mo., later this month.

  • Retired boxer Danny Sally has been training 11-year-old Isaiah McAliley.

  • Practice makes perfect: Isaiah McAliley, 11, trains with his coach, retired boxer Danny Sally. The young boxer trains and fights locally. Training goes on five days a week, sometimes, six. It’s part of McAliley’s strict regimen.

  • Put ’em up: Isaiah McAliley, an 11-year-old boxer from Frankford, has won nine of 12 fights in his two-year amateur career. He recently won the Junior Olympic Regional championship title and will be competing in the Ringside World Junior Olympics in Kansas City, Mo., later this month. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

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.

Any knock­outs? 

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.


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. ••

You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus