The Halloween Boxing Bash at The Garden isn't the first time Anthony Casal will be part of a main event, but this opportunity is one of the most important honors ever earned by the 16-year-old, three-time national champion.
That's because Casal isn't the only national champion on the card who could have been selected to participate in the final match of the night. He's one of five national champions scheduled to appear on the 22-bout card that begins at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Wintergarden, 304 Rainbow Blvd. N.
Casal's opponent is old friend and fellow national champion Jeff Boyd.
The match figures to be quite intense since Casal beat Boyd last November during the main event of a Casal's Boxing Club event at Niagara Catholic High School.
A lot has changed since their last encounter. Casal (54-9) is coming off an outstanding performance at the PAL Nationals, where he recovered from his first career knockdown to capture the gold medal in the 138-pound division. Boyd is the 15- to 16-year-old 152-pound Canadian National champion.
"Most guys when they win something, they don't go after (champions from) other countries," said Ray Casal, Anthony's father and trainer, and owner of Casal's Boxing Club on Hyde Park Boulevard. "Very rarely do you see that."
Three-time national champion Joey Trusello of Ransomville will face Canadian and 60-fight veteran Tony Lewis in the second-to-last bout of the card.
This is one of three amateur cards Casal's Boxing Club and local entrepreneur Smokin' Joe Anderson will conduct at the Wintergarden over the next five months. The other scheduled cards are New Year's Day and March 19.
General admission tickets cost $10 while ringside seats are $25. Tickets can be purchased at Casal's Boxing Club, Smokin' Joe's and at the door the night of the event. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Besides the boxing, there will be various raffles and a silent auction.
"We've been trying to think of different fund-raisers and ways to keep the gym open because some of the kids that come to us, they have financial problems and issues. But rather than turn them away, we allow them to train here," said Lesli Casal, Ray's wife and Nick and Anthony's mother. "Joe was trying to come up with an idea to help us and to also bring people into the Wintergarden, bring people into Niagara Falls for some type of events. We figured this is what we do best so we would do it on a much larger scale than we had been doing it."
This will be the first boxing card held in downtown Niagara Falls since heavyweight Donovan "Razor" Ruddock stopped Egerton Marcus during an October 2001 Orion Sports Management card in the Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center, which has since been transformed into the Seneca Niagara Casino. The Seneca Nation also is helping sponsor the event.
"We're trying to build boxing back up because it was big for a while there with (unbeaten heavyweight) Joe Mesi," Ray Casal said. "There are still people out there waiting. They want to see the fights. Hopefully, now we'll be fighting here three to four to five times a year and build a good following, so when they go pro people will follow them right into the pros just like they did with (my son) Nick."
While competing against the best is the only way for an athlete to truly gauge his or her ability, another win over Boyd will serve as further proof that Anthony Casal has officially stepped out of the shadow of his older brother Nick, a former world and national amateur champion who has been building a reputation as a knockout artist in the welterweight division since turning pro last spring.
"I know he's my brother and everything, but it's good to be (out) from beneath him," said Anthony, who also won the PAL Nationals in 2001 and National Junior Golden Gloves championship in 2002. "I'm making my own name now at the nationals and everything. It's good not to just be in his footsteps."
Nick is a quick, fearless fighter who likes to work his way inside so that he can hurt foes with devastating power shots to either the body or head. Anthony is a bobber and weaver who looks to make his opponents miss so that he can hit them with a flurry of combinations.
Though Anthony is naturally right-handed, he fights as a southpaw so that his power hand is his lead hand, which means he can hurt people with his jab and hook. He's also developed a left cross that deserves respect and isn't afraid to use that to force opponents into his power hand.
"He's one of those intimidating fighters because he hits you with so many punches you just don't know where they're coming from, where as Nick just needs one punch and, if he lands it right, you're going down," Lesli Casal said.
Anthony also knows how to recover from a shot. He was floored late in the second round of his first fight at the PAL Nationals by International Junior Olympic champion Maurice Pope, who has a history of winning his matches via stoppages. Casal mercilessly pummeled Pope in the third round, winning it 8-3 to capture the fight 15-12.
"I kind of walked into a punch. I was angry that I got knocked down, period," said Casal, who earned three silver medals at national events in 2003. "I had to get up and finish my fight."
"What impressed me is that he came back from something like that," said Ray of the devastating upper cut that landed on Anthony's chin. "I'm telling you most guys that get knocked down like that either do two things: they stop or they run, especially at that level. Not Anthony. He went out and took it to that kid and almost knocked him down twice."
Casal's boxers have won 14 national titles since 2001.
Trusello is coming off an impressive win at the PAL Nationals, where he beat a 17-year-old to win the gold medal in the 125-pound 15- to 16-year-old division.
How does a 17-year-old get into the 15- to 16-year-old division? It's boxing, which isn't the fairest or most honest of sports. At the PAL Nationals, fighters compete in the division of their age as of Aug. 1. The 15-year-old Trusello's opponent turned 17 after the deadline. Trusello said winning the PAL Nationals is the biggest win of his career.
"You're fighting kids who have fought internationally, as well as nationally. Usually you don't see those kids at the Junior Golden Gloves," said Trusello, who won National Junior Golden Gloves titles at 106 and 119 pounds the last two years.
Trusello (50-4) used to be a counter-puncher who liked to backpedal, but he's become stronger and more aggressive with age. Trusello, a righty who fights lefty, hasn't lost in 15 months. He credits sparring sessions with Nick Casal as the reason he's improved in the ring.
"Fighting someone with that much skill is going to help us get that much better," Trusello said. "You have to push yourself to keep up with him. He shows you a lot of things just sparring with him. He improves your skills, defense and offense. He teaches you how to take a punch better."
Other Casal's Boxing Club national champions on the card include 15-year-old heavyweight John Harless of Wilson, a two-time National Junior Golden Gloves and two-time Ringside National champion; and 15-year-old Anthony Ferlito. Ferlito beat three national champions en route to winning the National Junior Golden Gloves title at 132 pounds in 2003.
Other Casal boxers on the card include Terry Carter (13-3), the only Niagara Falls heavyweight to win a state Golden Gloves title (2002); National PAL bronze medalist Roy Burns and 2003 National Junior Golden Gloves silver medalist and two-time Junior Olympic gold medalist Trevor Nye. Casey Castanzo, a 13-year-old girl from Niagara Falls, also will see action.