The glitz and glamour of professional boxing in its purest form is a small, all-encompassing snapshot of the sport at its best, the aura of invincibility only a small percentage of fighters are fortunate enough to experience.
What most people don’t see is what happens when a fighter at the top of the game suffers an unexpected loss, the physical and emotional stress that comes with defeat, and the inevitable fallout when friends — and sometimes family — hop off the bandwagon.
Worcester, Mass., junior middleweight Khiary Gray never knew what losing felt like at the professional level until he suffered his first career defeat in mid-July to Ian Green on national television, nor did he anticipate the sudden aftermath, an emotional nightmare that almost drove him away from the sport.
“After that fight, I really just wanted to quit boxing,” Gray said.
“We lost some fans and lost some friends over it,” added Gray’s trainer, Kendrick Ball Sr. “You have some people who say they’re with you when you’re riding high, but when things change, they’re not there.”
What kept Gray (13-1, 10 KOs) motivated to silence his critics and get right back on the horse was the support from those who stuck by his side, all the encouraging messages, texts and phone calls. When it came time to decide on his next opponent, he wanted nothing but the best, no shortcuts or “tune-up” fights, just a real test against another fighter with just as much to lose or gain once that bell rings.
He’ll get his wish Friday, Oct. 21st, 2016 at Twin River Casino when he defends his Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) International and Northeast Junior Middleweight Titles against Chicago’s Chris Chatman (14-5-1, 5 KOs) in the eight-round main event of CES Boxing’s 2016 Twin River Fight Series season finale.
“This is a big fight for us. He’s a well-known fighter, a real tough fighter who always brings it,” Ball Sr. said. “I feel we’re going to beat him. I think we can outbox him for eight rounds. Khiary has to stick to the game plan. If he sticks to the game plan, I feel no one can beat us.”
Though Gray might’ve strayed off the path during his fight against Green, a fight he dominated through the first round and a half until Green scored an unexpected knockout, he learned a lesson, albeit a tough one to learn, Ball Sr. said, on national television.
Nonetheless, he now knows there are highs and lows in this sport. He’s experienced them both and, at the same time, he’s learned who’s really in his corner regardless of whether or not he wins or loses. It’s a lesson all young fighters must learn at some point, even if the learning curve can be rather painful.
This is no easy task for Gray, who acknowledges Chatman is a major step up in competition. The Chicago native is a familiar face in Rhode Island, where he’s fought seven times since 2009, and has already guaranteed another victory against a hometown fighter on the 21st. Nicknamed “Last Chapter,” Chatman has promised to close the book on Gray as a top contender in the 154-pound division.
“I’m ready to get back in there and show Chris Chatman he’s not going to end my title reign,” Gray said. “He said this will be my last chapter as champion. He’s not writing my story. I’m writing my own story. On Oct. 21st, you’re going to see the rebirth of Khiary ‘Too Sharp’ Gray.”
Tickets for Oct. 21st are priced at $47.00, $67.00, $102.00 and $152.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com, www.twinriver.com or www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
The Chatman-Gray main event is one of nine fights on the card. Undefeated Worcester, Mass., junior welterweight Jamaine Ortiz (2-0, 2 KOs) puts his perfect record on the line in a four-round bout against Durham, N.C., vet Isaiah Robinson (3-3, 2 KOs) and fellow Worcester native Kendrick Ball Jr. (3-0-1, 3 KOs) aims for his fourth win in his fifth pro fight in a four-round bout against Oregon middleweight Rafael Valencia (3-4-1, 2 KOs).
Also fighting out of Worcester, Irvin Gonzalez Jr. (3-0, 3 KOs) returns to face Providence, R.I., native Cido Hoff (1-0-1) in a four-round featherweight bout and Worcester super middleweight Ben Peak makes his professional debut in a four-round bout against Jose Rivera (1-0, 1 KO) of Hartford, Conn.
Unbeaten junior middleweights Ray Oliveira Jr. (5-0, 1 KO) of New Bedford, Mass., and Gerald Schifone (3-0-1, 1 KO) of Brockton, Mass., tangle in the six-round co-feature and former amateur standout Anthony Marsella Jr. (1-0) of Providence makes his Rhode Island debut against Philadelphia’s Bardraiel Smith (0-1) in a four-round junior welterweight bout.
New London, Conn., junior welterweight Cristobal Marrero (1-0, 1 KO) takes on Woburn, Mass., vet Bruno Dias (0-1) and junior welterweight Jonathan Figueroa (1-0, 1 KO) of Hartford, Conn., faces Florida’s Irvin Veloz, both in four-round bouts.