By Thomas Gerbasi
If you’re a fan of boxing, there was inevitably a time when you watched a great fight and said “I could do that.” Or if you weren’t so bold, maybe you just whispered to yourself that you wanted to do that, that for one moment, you wanted to see what it was like to put on the gloves, step between the ropes, and engage in a pure one-on-one combat session with someone else.
For most, that thought quickly fades away when you realize a) you might have to get off the couch or b) that as fun as it is to hit, it’s not so much fun getting hit back.
As far as being a fan, Long Island’s Mike Haltman is like most of us, having been stung by the boxing bug early on. In his case, it was when he was working as a bellhop at Grossinger’s resort, which doubled as the training home to an endless list of world-class boxers.
“Back then the fighters all came up there to train, and I was around it,” he said. “There was a bar across the street that had a boxing club in it, so I went there, and I fooled around a little bit.”
That was it. For the moment. After his brief brush with the sweet science, he remained a fan, but he also got on with life, going to school and to work, and eventually becoming president of the title insurance company, Hallmark Abstract Service. He also married and had three kids, and as far as boxing was concerned, that was something for Saturday nights on television or to be practiced on the heavy bag and speed bag in his basement. That was at least until he was at a networking function and overheard someone talking about an event where local businessmen and women competed in the ring to raise money for charity.
“I heard a guy talking about it, he told me what it was and I said I wanted to do it,” said Haltman.
“When I heard about this it rekindled a desire. I have a heavy bag and speed bag in my garage, I’ve always had that, and this seemed like a great combination to raise money for a great cause, get into shape, and have my one chance to be in the ring.”
The cause, Long Island Fight for Charity, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary on November 25th, raising money for various local charities, and with the effects of Hurricane Sandy still being felt around the area, it’s important for Haltman and his fellow boxers (23 at the latest count) to do their part to keep awareness high.
“It’s extremely important,” he said. “Sandy, for those who haven’t been directly affected, is starting to fade from people’s memories. My son and I have done some charity work at one of the houses, pulling up floorboards, cleaning, and that sort of thing, and there’s unbelievable devastation, so I think what this charity does is extremely important.”
There are easier ways to give back than getting punched in the face, but the 53-year-old Haltman isn’t looking for the easy way, so he signed up to fight in November, hitting the Glen Cove Boxing Club to work with Frank Pena.
“He runs the gym to keep kids off the streets,” said Haltman of Pena. “But when I went in there, they treated me like they treat the other guys.”
That means he got put to work right away, quickly finding out that boxing isn’t as easy as it may look on television. So when asked if he gained a deeper appreciation of the sport after a few days in the thick of it, he responded without hesitation, “A hundred percent. If you want to be good, it’s a seven day a week deal. You have to make a real commitment and it’s a life change.”
Slowly but surely though, Haltman is starting to pick things up, saying “the difference is amazing” when comparing himself now to when he first stepped into the gym. He is a work in progress though.
“You hit and you’re supposed to move – jab and move or jab and duck,” he said. “It’s almost like dancing, and I’m not a very good dancer. (Laughs) I don’t really have a big problem punching, but learning the moves is the toughest thing.”
He has gotten some good advice from a fellow New Yorker who knows a thing or two about the sport.
“I talked to Gerry Cooney and he said it doesn’t matter how short a round is and if it’s for charity; when you get into a ring, your heart’s pounding, you get tired, and you’re anxious, so you’ve got to get in the ring and spar and get in shape.”
Haltman admits that his wife of 25 years and their three kids weren’t too thrilled about the idea of him stepping into the ring, but he’s not about to be deterred from doing something only a select few can say they did.
“My first goal is to go in there and not look like a fool,” he laughs. “My second one is that I’d like to be competitive. I’d like to actually fight and I want a tough guy.”
Sounds like a fighter already. And truth be told, he can’t wait.
“When I think about it,” he said. “My heart starts pounding.”
For information on the Long Island Fight for Charity, visit www.lifightforcharity.org