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Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Manly Art of Self-Defense in the Holy Land

Israeli boxers Ran Nakash and Danny Netzer spoke with The Jewish Boxing Blog in Nakash's gym in Tel Aviv this week. They discussed the state of Israeli boxing, some revelations from their past fights, and their futures.

The gym is located in the Azrieli section of Tel Aviv and is up a flight of stairs. From the street, it's a nondescript set of lights in a plain building that sits beneath the spectacularly sparking Azrieli Towers. Inside the gym, it's clean, furnished with a ring, dangling heavy bags, and a lot of open mat space. The gym was sparsely populated, but those present were incredibly dedicated men.

Both Nakash and Netzer lament the lack of interest in the sport in Israel. Netzer noted that both men have full time jobs. Nakash teaches krav maga and boxing at his gym and Netzer is the head instructor of krav maga for the Israel Defense Force, a position Nakash used to hold.

Both men said the financial support in Israel for boxing is not there. There's no big sponsor willing to back the boxers, so both men have had to pay their own ways throughout their careers. When asked why they do it, Ran matter-of-factly said, "I love to fight." For Netzer, he was invited to a bar mitzvah ceremony in Canada after his first fight and was treated with such admiration. Nakash hopes to stage a ten fight card at his gym on February 23, bring in 200 chairs, and promote the sport in the country.

We sat in Nakash's office, which was littered with pictures from the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia on the back wall. "Were you there?" Ran asked. I said no. He gasped wistfully and reminisced about the boisterous crowds that came out to support him there. Nakash sat behind his desk and leaned on his massive left arm. As he sat there, he was intimidating without trying to be. His neck was twice the size of my torso.

Nakash was eager to open up about the debacle in South Africa, his world championship fight against Marco Huck in 2011, and his future in the ring. Ran's promoter, Lou DiBella, told the boxer that he couldn't find any fights at cruiserweight because Americans don't find the division interesting; they're more concerned with heavyweights. So DiBella used his connections to force Nakash on a tournament in South Africa put on by promoter Rodney Berman. Nakash came into the first round of the tournament a half pound overweight. He said he believed he would have two hours to sweat it off. Instead, he was immediately disqualified. Nakash asserts that Berman never wanted Nakash in the tournament because he was foreign and the heavy favorite to win. "At least I got to see a safari," Ran said of the experience.

Against Huck, Nakash knew he wouldn't get the decision when it went to the cards because, in Germany, he understood he had to knockout the champ or suffer defeat. All Huck had to do was stay on his feet and retain the title. He was quite proud- after taking the fight a week in advance- to have lost a ton of weight and then go the distance with Huck.

Since his win over Derek Bryant- who he acknowledged was a slick southpaw and a tough guy- in January of 2012, Nakash has sparred with Alexander Povetkin as the latter prepared for Huck. He didn't feel Povetkin, a heavyweight beltholder, was stronger than himself. Ran had hoped to fight Huck at heavyweight but the German didn't want to grant a rematch. The Haifa native realizes he's short for a heavyweight, but believes he can compete with any boxer this side of a Klitschko.

Danny Netzer sat in a chair to my left and was more relatable and jovial. He often laughed with bemusement as he discussed his boxing career. He started boxing when he showed up to what he thought was a kick boxing meet in Europe until he arrived and there were only gloves available. So he became a boxer. Both Nakash and Netzer went into boxing because the money in kick boxing is terrible.

Netzer knew nothing about his first opponent Eric Roy, the Canadian middleweight titlist, before their match. When Danny saw Roy carry a belt into the ring before his first pro fight, he thought he was in for a rough night. "It's my first pro fight and I see this guy come into the ring with a belt. I said, Uh oh! What's going on here?" But Netzer won. His second opponent, Steven Tyner, outweighed Netzer by so much that Danny had to drink water before the weigh in just so the fight would be legal.

About his fight in Panama against Jose Luis Doviasa, Netzer said the experience "was crazy." He got to meet Roberto Duran. He said Panamanians just stand and trade punches. In that fight, Netzer thought the ref was too stern with him. In his sole loss, Netzer cited jetlag as the reason for his lackluster performance against Phil Rose. He had flown to North America from Israel twice in two weeks.

When asked about fighting an opponent on short notice, he aptly compared it to getting lost in a new city. It took me over an hour wondering around Tel Aviv searching for the Nakash Gym. "You have to figure it out," he said. Danny backed out of a fight last September due to a hand injury. When asked about the hand, he admitted, "It's a problem."

When we left the office, Netzer began shadow boxing. Nakash led me to the window, pointed and gave me vague directions back to the hotel. Then, he refocused and got back to the business of boxing.

1 comment:

  1. I have heard a lot about the famed Israeli martial arts Krav Maga, it is surprising to know when we often associate Israel with all sorts of machismo, with its intelligence agency and army are renowned for pulling off remarkable and impossible feat, where there is a compulsory army training, youngsters are not interested in learning boxing.

    Though I would like to know, if Krav Maga enjoys same popularity as Kungfu enjoys in its place of origin i.e China. I would love to learn Krav Maga some day because it appears to be really tough and makes one stronger and faster.