The reaction is almost identical to the last whenever a student learns about the other side of Mike Ragusa. The eyebrows are raised and there’s a baffled expression, followed by the inquiry he has come to expect:
“‘What!?’” the Poughkeepsie resident said, impersonating a teenager. “’You really box?'”
Ragusa is an assistant principal at Newburgh Free Academy and has been an educator for 23 years. Before that, though, he was an accomplished amateur boxer. And, it turns out, there’s more he wants to accomplish.
The 53-year-old will slide the paperwork to the side and ditch the business casual attire to step into the ring one more time, at least. He is among 36 fighters from the Hudson Valley competing Saturday in the Ring Masters Championships: Road to the Garden, a tournament that will serve as a qualifying event for the national Golden Gloves championships at Madison Square Garden in June.
“There’s a combination of nerves and excitement,” Ragusa said of what will be his first bout since 2000. “I don’t think anyone goes into a fight without having some nerves. I realize I’m not a 25-year-old anymore. But, I do think I’m talented for my age and I’ve been sparring with guys more than 20 years younger than me.”
The tournament will begin 3:30 pm at the Hudson Valley Sportsdome in Milton, featuring several boxers from this area hoping for a moment of glory or to earn a spot on the big stage at the Garden.
The event will also serve as a fundraiser for the John Flowers Community Events organization and the Police Emerald Society of Hudson Valley, and it will be streamed live at Millions.co/USABoxingMetro.
“Hudson Valley fighters are starting to make some noise,” said Anthony Bongiorni, owner of the Floyd Patterson Boxing Club in Highland and the promoter of this event. “There are some talented boxers and coaches in the area who don’t get as much attention. But Leonard Lee is a great coach in Newburgh and Kariym Patterson does a good job at APJ Boxing (in Poughkeepsie). The sport seems to be alive in the ‘845.’”
Emilio Torres, a coach at APJ, is among the combatants. He will fight at 156 pounds and is a victory away from reaching the Golden Gloves final. Miguel Matias, a superheavyweight who trains at Patterson, is among the favorites to win.
Ragusa and 60-year-old Clint Hodder are locals competing as Masters boxers — a sanctioned division for longtime fighters over the age of 35 who have never fought professionally in any combat sport.
Ragusa began boxing as a youngster in 1978 and went on to enjoy success, competing in more than 100 amateur boots and winning several tournaments. He made a run at the Olympics in 1992, but lost in a regional round to John Ruiz, who went on to become a world champion. Ragusa’s career was paused after a series of tragedies, including the sudden deaths of his father and younger brother.
“I was devastated,” he said. “I thought at the time I was done with boxing. I still had a passion for the sport, but my mind was elsewhere at the time, plus I had other responsibilities in life.”
He came a teacher in 1999, but the ring beckoned again the following year. He fought and won a match in 2000, but significantly injured his wrist and required surgery. That, he thought, would be the end of his career. Until the itch returned a few years ago, and he began training at the Patterson Boxing Club in 2018.
There have been matches scheduled for him since, but a torn meniscus and shoulder injury kiboshed both opportunities, and then COVID-19 halted everything.
So, the bout against George Kayumov on Saturday will be his first in more than two decades. As those two are the only Masters in their weight class, this match will determine a champion.
“I haven’t felt this good physically in several years,” said Ragusa, who lost 25 pounds and expects to weigh in at about 192 pounds. “I’m gonna go out there and do the best I can, and I believe I’ll win.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org; 845-437-4826; Twitter: @StephenHaynes4