NEW YORK – “Boxing originated in Sparta,” says Golden Gloves Champion Stylianos Kalamaras, whose family hails from there (and from Macedonia). “But Spartans did not compete in boxing for sport,” he explains to TNH, “due to the fact that the winner was deemed when an opponent quit, and Spartans never quit. I believe I have the same fighting spirit as my ancestors, and although I do compete, I never quit.”
For over a century, boxing has captivated the American sports fan, but also went through some lulls. Usually, it was a compelling, larger-than-life superstar who lifted the sport out of its doldrums: heavyweights like Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano – mild-mannered in words though ferocious in the ring – and Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson, who spoke loudly with their mouths as well as their fists. Rarely has fighter in a lighter weight class taken assumed the daunting task of being boxing’s ambassador, but Sugar Ray Leonard – a natural welterweight who moved up a few pounds – did that in the 1980s and 1990s.
But with Tyson’s dramatic fall from invincibility, Evander Holyfield’s eventual wear-and-tear aftereffects, and Lennox Lewis’ anticlimactic retirement, the heavyweight division, boxing’s perennial crown jewel, lost much of its luster. Two Ukrainian brothers, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, both with PhDs in sports science and standing 6’7” and 6’6” respectively, so thoroughly dominated the division over the past couple of decades, to the point where hardly anyone actually thought any of their opponents had a chance to beat them. And because the brothers vowed never to face one another in the ring, and made good on their promise – Vitali retired from boxing in 2013 to enter Ukrainian politics, and is currently mayor of Kiev; Wladimir is still champ – there wasn’t even a glimmer of hope that the sport’s two biggest, strongest competitors would complete against each other.
Rather than give up on their beloved pastime, boxing fans turned to the lighter divisions, appreciating the talents of budding young stars to shoulder the load. What they all have in common is their ability to excite the fans with their actions either inside the ring, or out of it. But Stylianos Kalamaras has the potential to do both.
The Bayside-born Kalamaras is not a professional, not yet, anyway, “but I will definitely turn professional when I’m ready to,” he told TNH. “I want to build up an extensive amateur background for experience and recognition; future tournaments I am currently looking to compete in are the US Nationals and Olympic Qualifiers, and possibly AIBA World Championships (Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur, aka International Boxing Association). Although I plan to stay amateur another year or so, I feel I will do much better in the professional ranks due to my style of fighting.”
Though he has weighed over 200 pounds before, which would classify him a heavyweight, and though Kalamaras feasibly can move up to that weight class, or at least to the cruiserweight division, which is a notch below, “I feel the light-heavyweight division is more competitive and I will become a better fighter in this class, not to mention that I have genetic advantages (height 6′ 2″, reach 79″).
But if he cleans up that division, Kalamaras just might make the move all the way up.
Does he think traditional boxing is on its way out, because kickboxing, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and other alternatives are replacing it? “Boxing is a classic sport in the United States,” Kalamaras says. “I don’t think that kickboxing, UFC or all these other fight sports will have the same recognition as boxing. There are many exciting up-and-coming fighters in boxing from America with star potential, and now that boxing is free to watch on cable television (Premier Boxing Champions on NBC), its popularity will only grow.”
But there don’t seem to be as many young Americans turning to the sport as in decades past. To that point, Kalamaras provided a good deal of insight: “I believe the sport does not attract young Americans for several reasons. Society has changed, and there is much opportunity for Americans in other avenues of life. Boxing was usually always linked with troubled youth, poverty, and oppression. It was an escape from everyday life and an opportunity for a better future, so many turned to that sport. Today, society has much more to offer them because of social reforms, and funding in school programs which are set in place to land players in organizations like NFL (National Football League), and the NBA (National Basketball Association). So if they don’t make it to the league, they still have a college degree to pick up a respectable job. There is no organized route to the WBC(World Boxing Council), WBO (World Boxing Organization), or any other sanctioning body in boxing. I believe it is much more difficult to become a successful boxer, than a successful athlete in any other sport. And as for Russians and Eastern Europeans dominating in the sport, I believe it is because they do have organized programs for Boxers to get to the Olympics, and then to the professional ranks on up. They have schools in place, which basically consist of academics, with a focus on their respective sport, boxing being one of them which mold them into elite, top level athletes. This is the case for most Olympic sports involving Eastern Europeans, so they are usually successful in most sports.”
Kalamaras has a very fan-friendly style of fighting that is bound to make him a crowd-pleaser as a pro. Though he keeps his guard up, “when I’m on the offensive, which is usually for most of the fight, my hands are slightly lower because I throw from different angles, and look for openings. My speed and reflexes are definitely strong points, but I have devastating power behind my punches.”
Both as a fight fan and a fighter, Kalamaras admires Kazakh middleweight Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin (“Triple G”), an undefeated phenom whose devastating punching power has made him a fan favorite across the globe. “He is very humble, but exudes extreme confidence, and is a very appealing fighter to watch. He is known for his tremendous knockout power, but he is a technical genius, and that is why I believe he can land the shots that he does and exert his will on his opponents.”
Kalamaras has also studied the styles of Mike Tyson, for his defensive skills, attitude, and power punches; another Ukranian, Vasyl Lomachenko, for his agility and fluency; American super middleweight Andre Ward, for his ring intelligence, and Welsh lightweight Joe Calzaghe, for his tenacity and workrate (frequency of fights). Calzaghe also has the rare distinction of retiring on top of the game: he walked out of the ring, for good, in 2008, with a record of 46-0, having beaten the best.
Turning to boxing’s most talked-about event, a welterweight showdown between undefeated Floyd “Pretty Boy” Mayweather and knockout sensation Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao on May 2, being billed as the “Fight of the Century” (indeed, it is arguably the most compelling fight thus far in this 15-year-old century), Kalamaras predicts that Mayweather will win, “controversially, so that there can be a rematch, and generate another couple hundred million. The second fight will probably be a clean sweep.”
In addition to Kalamaras’ gratitude to his coach and entire team, he attributes his success to his family and his Greek roots. “Both of my parents were born in Greece,” he says. “I visit every year, and have a lot of family there. I’m very proud to be Greek, and feel that this gives me a great advantage in the sport since fighting is in our blood and we created this sport in Ancient times.”
Channeling that Hellenism, Kalamaras proclaims: “I will continue to be successful because I put the work in to do so, and my will to win is undefeatable. Expect me to be a World Champion in the near future.”