Guyanese pro boosts Schenectady boxing club

Promising young pro boxer Markus Williams has become the pride of the Guyanese community and a boon

The nat­ional flag of Guyana is called “The Golden Arrowhead” because of the sharp triangle that pierces a green background.

Each of the five colors on the flag symbolizes something; the yellow wedge represents the mineral wealth of the country, specifically gold and diamonds.

Markus Williams wrapped himself in this symbol last month and punched his way to a modest $800 payday. So much for gold and diamonds.

It was a sharp start, though. The 22-year-old, who moved to Albany from the South American country in 1996, made his professional boxing debut last a little over two minutes by knocking down Daren Graham three times at Tioga Downs near Binghamton.

That further validated his status as the flagbearer for the relocated and rejuvenated Schenectady Youth Boxing club and, as a

bonus, makes him a potential source of pride for the large population of Guyanese immigrants in the city.

Club trainer Vince Kittle has regained a foothold in Schenectady after being forced out of his old gym on State Street, where the only thing left standing on that flattened corner is a chain link fence and a sign with an artist’s rendering of Metroplex’s proposed Clinton Square project. Without a signed promoter or agent for Williams, Kittle is doing what he can to push his burgeoning pro into the limelight.

The light heavyweight is scheduled to fight Donyell Dukes on the undercard of Pug­nacious Productions’ annual “Night of Future Champions” at the Saratoga Springs City Center Aug. 25, to be televised on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.” If Williams’ fight is part of the broadcast, viewers will see him draped in the Guyanese flag when he walks into the ring. They’ll also see a polished, if inexperienced, young pro who carries himself with dignity.

“Our biggest push in this show, because it’s close enough where we can call it local, is for promoters to see what a draw Markus can be,” Kittle said. “We were able to get a nice little caravan down to Binghamton.

“He’s going to be entertaining and draw a crowd, and he’s going to be a gentleman at the end of the day.”

What’s good for Will­iams is good for the Schenectady club.

Kittle doesn’t have the resources of the other boxing operations in the Capital Reg­ion, but he was fortunate to secure a bus­iness relationship with real estate broker Jeff Christiana, who bought the long-vacant Joseph’s Pharmacy building at 2527 Albany St. and turned it into Schenectady Youth Boxing & Fitness.

Unlike the dingy old James’ Ringside Gym on State Street, the Albany Street gym has big, inviting windows in front, and is clean, neat and brightly lit.

Nothing in the room is brighter than Williams, unless it’s superheavyweight prodigy Trevor Bryan, who will remain an amateur because he is being groomed by the Team USA coaches to be a 2012 Olympian.

Williams was recruited as a boxer when he was at Livingston Middle School in Albany, where Kittle works as a hall monitor.

Williams stuck with it while taking night classes to graduate from Albany High School, and now has a job as a cafeteria worker in the school district. Kittle, a former flyweight champion in the Marines who competed at the 1984 Olympic Trials, doesn’t seek boxers that he can turn into pros, but if one comes his way, he knows what to do with him.

Through years of fighting as an amateur, Will­iams gradually developed the tools and savvy to get in the ring and fight for a check.

“They start taking on professional habits,” Kittle said. “They don’t start as quickly, they start paying more attention to the body, which Markus is an excellent body puncher.

“There’s certain techniques that are used that aren’t taught. Do you say dirty techniques or professional techniques? But they’re leaning on a fighter to hold him, putting their arm under your glove and punching on the opposite side of the referee, the tricks of the trade. We’ve been together for 10 years, almost, and Markus is an extremely schooled fighter. Those are the telltale signs when a guy is ready.”

“It was nice, it was fun,” Williams said of his pro debut, which was scheduled for four rounds but lasted less than one. “I wasn’t nervous. I saw the kid, and I was more excited than nervous, and I was in a zone, because I was training hard, so I had nothing to worry about. I was relaxed and calm.”

Kittle, Williams and many of the regulars at the gym sat down one night to come up with a nickname and settled on “The Rude Boy,” which couldn’t be more comically inappropriate for Williams, an exceedingly friendly, polite, dil­igent young man who is liable to clasp a hand in both of his when greeting someone.

Boxing is a hard business, though. Williams had no trouble shifting his personality and concentration to a different spot on the dial for his first pro fight.

He and Graham “were on the inside trading,” he said, when Williams caught Graham with a hook for the first knockdown. On the third one, “I just overpowered him. I just jumped on him, and he never threw back, so that’s why they stopped the fight.”

“I didn’t get to celebrate the way I wanted to, because everything happened so quick that day, so it was like, I couldn’t believe it,” Will­iams said. “But then I did it and I made it to another level.”

“He was able to hit the switch and go from the nice, calm young man he is to being a professional fighter, to make that transition from a guy that’s warming up to a guy that’s totally in the zone,” Kittle said. “That was as we walked down the aisle with the music playing. You could see the change in his attitude, and that’s that next level, that professionalism.

“Although it was a very short fight, it was all business. He didn’t just run out there whaling. He moved, he threw punches up high, he threw punches down low, he came from angles, he worked the body, he softened up the guy, and once he had him there, he went ahead and finished him. Yeah, methodical.”

Because Kittle is performing a little grassroots marketing of Williams, but otherwise doesn’t have a conventional promotional mechanism in place, they don’t have the luxury of setting up a line of tomato cans for Williams to build up a glossy record.

That’s OK. Kittle wants Williams’ boxing to speak for itself, anyway.

“He’s a throwback,” Kittle said. “He pays a lot more attention to the science of it, the actual breaking the guy down and then trying to attack him. He doesn’t have a lot of flair. His show comes after the bell rings.”

At the club, Williams serves as a big brother and coach to the rest of the fighters, some of whom are just looking for a workout.

Kittle started the original club at James’ Ringside to use boxing as a tool to keep kids off the street and teach them the principles required of a solid citizen. That goal continues to be the centerpiece of the club in its new location, where cursing is forbidden and one of myriad signs on the wall has a red circle and slash over the text, “The N Word.”

There’s no better example than Williams, a workout machine who is out jogging at 6 a.m. and is able to keep McDonald’s out of his diet despite making fast-food runs to the drive-thru for other people.

“I mean, Markus is a hero, a legend, to these guys,” Kittle said.

It would be a big mistake not to explore the possibility of extending that image to the surrounding neighborhood, which is dotted with shops run by the Guyanese.

In fact, Williams bought his flag at a store on Brandywine Avenue.

“They asked me what I was buying it for, and I told them I box,” said Williams, who also wears a Guyanese flag bandana sometimes when he works out. “They couldn’t believe it. They wished me the best, then they told me to come back and tell them if I won or not.”

“Yes, it will be extremely helpful on home turf,” Kittle said. “He should be a huge draw, because they’re a very closeknit and proud group of people.”

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