MATT FARRAGO has braved the New York rain to meet me at Morris Park Boxing Club in the East Bronx. For the previous few weeks, the President of Ring 10, a non profit boxing charity, and I have swapped several text messages arranging this meeting, but it’s only while on the congested 5 subway train from Manhattan to the Boogie Down region that a quick scan of Google Images identifies the man I’m supposed to be looking for.
Inside a bustling gym, Farrago stands out. His smart-casual attire is distinct from the routine gym wear that abounds and I’m certain he recognises me due to my clothing selection being similarly inappropriate for exercise. The ex-fighter nods at me like we’re old friends then salutes me with a firm handshake, strengthening his grip like most boxers do. It took me some time to find the place, but I tell Farrago it was easy enough as we engage in some small talk while admiring the fight-show posters that wallpaper the interior.
He suggests a nearby diner so we can talk Ring 10 and, once cosily ensconced, Farrago lights up as he tells me all about the outstanding charity work the organisation has contributed. “We don’t make a single cent from it,” declares Farrago, his eyes hiding behind spectacles fully focused on my notepad to see if I’m transcribing his earnest words. “Every single donation that Ring 10 receives goes straight out helping some boxer out there who needs it. Everything we make is given to the fighters.”
Farrago’s initial boxing aspirations were of the selfish variety harboured by most young fighters finding their way in the sport. A product of the unforgiving New York streets that has given birth to ample dangerous combatants, Farrago failed to hit the heights reached by some of his peers though chalked up an admirable 25-2-1 record in a career that lasted from 1983 until his retirement eight years later. Farrago fought on big shows, but never in big fights, and although the spotlight didn’t focus its bright glow in his direction, Farrago earned the respect of the fight community, and that was good enough for him.
“They were good times; hard times, but good times,” reflects Farrago before ordering a second Diet Pepsi, having evaporated the first one. “It’s not how it is now where kids are really only interested in the money. People wanted to be boxers back then because they had a sense of pride, and because it gave you some sense of purpose, an identity. It meant something to be a fighter back in New York then. The gyms were much busier, there were more gyms, you could get a good workout all over the place back then and there was respect from everybody involved.”
As well as throwing himself ferociously into every contest, Farrago embraced the traditions of the sport and was constantly in awe of the fight game’s old-timers. These were soldiers who had laid the path for him, and so many others, and Farrago greatly valued any time spent in their company.
“I would sit with the older fighters any chance I could and just take in some of the craziest stories you could possibly hear,” he recalls, almost as rapt in conveying the story as he was living it. “They were men who spent the best part of their lives fighting and what did they have to show for it? Nothing. I wanted to try and be part of something, something bigger than boxing, because these ex-fighters need someone to look out for them when their career is over and that’s what I want Ring 10 to be.”
Initially a major figure within Ring 8, another charitable boxing group, Farrago didn’t like the direction in which they were heading and broke away to form Ring 10. He lists a large number of fighters who benefitted from the company’s generosity, but Matt is quick to highlight the confidential nature of some of these transactions.
“I’m wishing right now I could line up all the guys who have had things taken care of by Ring 10, but I have to respect their privacy because some of these fighters can’t believe their [bad] luck when they find themselves asking for stuff,” Farrago explains. “But there are others that are happy to acknowledge the work we do. We make sure a cheque reaches the family of [severely ailing legend] Wilfred Benitez every single month. We helped Aaron Davis with some medical bills. Iran Barkley fell on some really bad times and we did all we could to get him going again. It’s so rewarding to be able to help these ex-fighters, guys who put it all on the line, but this shouldn’t be the job of a charity when there are people in the sport making so much money.”
Farrago, now a successful salesman in the New York area, is more than content with the role he plays in boxing. With Ring 10 taking up a significant portion of his time by way of multiple fundraisers and publicising the group’s existence, the diverse roles Farrago held within the Empire State’s boxing circle have been replaced by a singular focus: making Ring 10 a bigger success than it already is.
“We’re still working on it,” he confirms, determination evident in his tone. “The big boys know about us, but they won’t mention us because it makes them look bad. My dream in life is for Ring 10 to no longer exist because when that happens, I’ll be safe in the knowledge that boxing finally has a union, or the big boys are passing some of the money down and looking after those fighters who need it the most. When that day arrives and I no longer have to do this, that will be one of the happiest days of my life.”
For more information on Ring10 or to make a donation, please visit their website at www.ring10.org.