MARCO ISLAND — Laydeeez and gentlemen! Coming to Marco Island, a premier primetime presentation of the pugilistic arts, featuring courageous combatants, local lads Rob “the Macedonian Mauler” Popoff and Jimmy “the Irish Assassin” Downey, augmented by an international bevy of bouts by accomplished amateur antagonists.
They really are going to duke it out.
“I figure, a lot of people on this island would like to see me get punched,” said Rob Popoff, going back to his days as a city councilman. He was in office for the contentious debates over the establishment of the island’s sewer program, so getting into the boxing ring should seem less scary.
Doing the punching will be fellow Islander, and Popoff’s good friend, Jimmy Downey. Like the entire event, including a dozen more serious matches, to be held Friday, Nov. 1 at the Marco Island Marriot’s Island Ballroom, the meeting will be a charity benefit.
“Jimmy’s built like a tank, and has fists like sledgehammers,” said Popoff. “If he gets a good jab in, I might go down.” Downey also has more experience in traditional boxing.
Popoff, though, is five inches taller, with much longer reach, and has extensive martial arts experience. He holds a black belt in Okinawan Isshinryu, kickboxing similar to karate, and previously owned a martial arts studio on Marco.
“They’ll both do really well,” said trainer and gym owner at Hardcore Gym in East Naples, who has been working with both pugilists. “They’ve been working out hard. Rob does have a tendency to bring his knee up,” an instinct from his kickboxing days.
“It will not happen during the fight,” interjected Popoff.
“Jimmy’s got those Popeye forearms. If he hits Rob with the right hand, I think the party’s over. But Jimmy has the tendency to use his face to block Rob’s jab,” said Guidish.
“Don’t forget, we’re old,” said Popoff. “He’s 51, I’m 52. But we’ll be fighting. We’re legitimately going out there.”
For Downey and Popoff’s “masters’ division” exhibition bout, the schedule calls for three rounds of one minute each. Most of the other fights, between serious amateur fighters from clubs in New Jersey and Ireland, will feature three three-minute rounds, in divisions from lightweight, up to 145 lbs., through super-heavyweight, over 201 lbs., which is where the locals fit in, although they are decades older than the fighters who are mostly youngsters 19 to 21.
Promoter Rich Stoltenborg, a Marco resident who is part owner of New Jersey’s Dover Boxing Club, which is providing many of the U.S. fighters, said this is a great opportunity for his young boxers.
“A lot of these are inner city kids, although some have over 100 fights under their belt. For them, and the Irish kids, to come down to Marco Island, this is an experience they’ll never forget.” The match is a USA Boxing-sanctioned event, and proceeds will be divided between the Dover Boxing Club and Marco’s Island Parks and Recreation Foundation, both of which are 501(c)3 groups. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.
Tickets at $20 apiece are available at O’Donoghue’s Restaurant & Pub, the Crazy Flamingo and the Sunset Grille, from Stoltenborg, Popoff or Downey, or at the door at the Marriott, which will have free self-parking for the evening. Refreshments including beer and wine, soda and water, hotdogs, corndogs, nachos, popcorn and pretzels will be available. The event will have all the trappings: ring girls, bagpipes playing, DJ Steve Reynolds, and the U.S. and Irish national anthems sung by Michael and Mary Jo O’Regan.
“Come out and enjoy some live international boxing, some exciting fights. This is going to be good entertainment,” said Stoltenborg.
For more information, call (239) 642-2208 or (211) 694-2182.