Ring 10: Providing a Safety Net for the Ex-Boxer
By Mike Silver on March 30, 2015
Matt’s integrity has won him many fans, including HBO’s Harold Lederman (on the left).
Aside from the financial woes experienced by many ex-boxers, Matt Farrago is also well aware of the inherent physical danger connected to his sport…
At 7 p.m., on the second Tuesday of every month, several dozen boxing enthusiasts, including such former ring stars as Mark Breland, Iran Barkley, Aaron Davis, Dennis Milton, Tyrone Jackson, Junior Jones and HBO’s Harold Lederman meet in a private room of Rino’s Ristorante in the Throgs Neck neighborhood of the Bronx to discuss their latest efforts and plans to help former professional boxers who have fallen on hard times. The organization is the Veterans Boxing Foundation of New York, Ring #10.
From the early 1950s to the 1980s there were scores of veteran boxers’ associations located in various cities throughout the U.S.A. The very first VBA originated in Philadelphia (Ring #1). Most were primarily fraternal organizations where retired boxers who fought from the 1910s to the 1950s would get together and schmooze over coffee and doughnuts while reliving memories of old times and old battles. Over the past several decades, as the old-timers died off, so did the VBAs. Only a handful remain.
Five years ago a former professional boxer named Matt Farrago decided that the few VBA chapters still in existence were not doing nearly enough to help former pro boxers in need. He decided to form his own organization for just that purpose. Even though Matt, a college graduate, had a full-time job as a medical device representative he devoted all his spare time to organize and establish Ring 10 with the same bulldog enthusiasm and tenacity that was the hallmark of his professional boxing career. Matt, a light-middleweight, fought from 1983 to 1991 and compiled an enviable 25-2-1 record (11 KOs).
It was Matt’s vision to create an organization that would be far more proactive than any other group claiming to help impoverished and physically ailing former boxers. In just a few short years he has accomplished that goal. Under Matt’s leadership Ring 10 has made a huge difference in the lives of dozens of ex-pros, including several former world champions. In the late 1980s Iran Barkley was one of the sport’s biggest stars, having won the middleweight title with a spectacular third round KO of Thomas Hearns. Subsequent bouts with Hearns, Roberto Duran, James Toney, Michael Nunn and Nigel Benn grossed several million dollars. Yet, in a scenario repeated far too often, 10 years after Barkley retired he was broke and homeless. Ring 10 found him and took him in.
“The board and members helped to get him an apartment, basic furniture, TV, and we made sure he was able to acquire social services,” says Matt. “He regularly attends our monthly meetings and has great input in all our decisions and conversations. Due to his knowledge and experience with the sport of boxing, we brought him onto the Board of Directors where he participates in all aspects of Ring 10. I’d also like to congratulate Iran for getting back on his feet and now he’s busy planning his wedding to Pamela Graham in November of this year.”
Ring 10 sends financial assistance to former ring great Wilfred Benitez who suffers from dementia and can no longer care for himself. The organization also made arrangements to have a credit at a local grocery chain so that ex-champion Gerald McClellan’s sister can purchase food for herself and Gerald. McClellan was forced to retire from boxing after suffering a severe brain injury in his final fight.
Many other lesser known boxers benefit from the organization’s largesse. Each month Ring 10 sends out food gift cards all over the country to various fighters and their families so they can shop at their local grocery store to purchase food. All of these fighters know that they have support from their “Brothers” in New York.
“Our sole purpose is to help boxers get back on their feet and to give them a fighting chance to become self-supporting,” explains Matt. “I feel we are successful in what we do because of our core group. They are all connected deeply to the boxing community in some way and they truly care. We meet once a month for a nice night of productive conversation and great food. Fifteen dollars gives you an Italian style dinner and a great opportunity to mingle with some of the greatest professional fighters from around our area.”
Aside from the financial woes experienced by many ex-boxers, Matt is also well aware of the inherent physical danger connected to his sport. He is very interested in the research conducted by Dr. Ann McKee, M.D., a leading authority on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that is most commonly found in athletes participating in boxing, football, ice hockey and other contact sports. Dr. McKee is co-director of the Center for the Study of CTE at Boston University. “Ring 10 has been involved with their research,” says Matt. “Our organization provides boxers for frequent mental testing and they track each fighter’s status. Many of the former boxers in our organization, including myself, have decided to donate our brains which will be harvested and studied after death. Ring 10 wants to be a part of the ongoing research that is needed to identify, treat, and maybe reverse the symptoms of head trauma.”
Trying to reverse the downward spiral that afflicts so many former boxers once their careers are over is a daunting task. Matt believes that fundamental changes within the structure of the sport might help: “Ideally I would like to see the sport somehow unionized. This would give more control to the fighters and less control to promoters and managers who don’t always have the fighter’s best interest at heart. Professional boxing has no health benefits, no financial security, nothing that educates them regarding their finances, and no protection from some of the unscrupulous handlers. Unfortunately, this is a sport that has no use for you when it is over, and no one prepares these fighters for the aftermath. That is why so many end up broke, homeless, and hopeless.
“Ring 10 has two fund raising events each year. Our next one is on May 31st when we will host our Second Annual ‘Run With The Champs Walk/Jog-A-Thon.’ It takes place at the Villa Maria Academy in the Bronx. This is a beautiful school on 10 acres of waterfront property. It will be a fun and fit activity for all. We will also have music, BBQ, Ring 10 original merchandise for sale, and raffle baskets. The champs sign gloves and everyone has a wonderful time.
“The second event is our Fifth Annual Ring 10 Gala on September 13, 2015, at the beautiful Marina Del Rey catering facility in Throgs Neck. This is our main source of fundraising. World champions, both retired and active, contenders, actors and comedians come together to support the organization and its mission. There are raffles and live and silent auctions. People seem to enjoy bidding on the great boxing memorabilia we have to offer. Over 200 people attended last year’s gala. Some of our past guests included Carlos Ortiz, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Jake LaMotta, ‘Buddy’ McGirt, Tony DeMarco, Marlon Starling, Earnie Shavers, Tim Witherspoon, Riddick Bowe, comedian Pat Cooper, and actors Danny Aiello and Holt McCallany.”
Matt’s integrity, dedication and sincerity have won him many fans in the boxing community. He understands the problems facing many former professional boxers and feels compelled to make a difference. “The biggest battles facing some of our former world champions and the brave fighters who entertained us over the years often take place well after their careers are over. With no union, health benefits or governmental assistance, their ability to pursue a normal life outside of the only one they know within the ring is extremely challenging and difficult. These men deserve a fighting chance. Ring 10 has no intention of throwing in the towel on these brave athletes who dedicated themselves to the sport and deserve our help.”
Ring 10 is a tax-exempt 501(c) charity. Membership is open to all who want to help. Dues are $ 25 dollars a year. Matt proudly states that “one hundred percent of all membership fees and donations go towards helping fighters. No funds go to any members or directors of Ring 10. Their service is voluntary.”
Membership applications, donation instructions and news about upcoming events can be accessed via the web site: www.Ring10ny.com. Like and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @ring10ny.
Boxing historian Mike Silver is the author of the The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science (McFarland Publishers, 2008).