Michael McSorley enters the Conn-Greb Boxing Club—a purposefully tucked away, nearly hidden gym on North Craig Street—and sets down a box. “We got some new gloves from our sponsors,” he says to a pair of young men training in a corner. “I got some new mitts, too— let’s compare them to my old ones.”
He walks across the small gym and picks up a worn set of trainer’s punching mitts. Though nearly the same model as the old set, the new mitts still have vibrancy in their color, and they appear larger than the old ones; they haven’t been broken in yet.
“We’ll work on that today for our drills,” McSorley says.
The two young men happily examine their new gloves as well. They’ll be using them for their next match on March 31st at the Carnegie Library of Homestead’s opulent, historic music hall. While McSorley—also well-known as cutman to Sammy Vasquez—has helped foster a number of impressive fighters over the years, this will be his first time on the promotion / production end of things.
“I knew it was going to be stressful,” McSorley admits, but that hasn’t dissuaded him.
In fact, the most difficult part of the event hasn’t been ticketing or setting up a ring in Homestead’s nearly 120 year-old hall: so far, the tricky part has been getting opponents.
“These two aren’t the easiest to match.” McSorley grins, looking towards the two young men working out across the room. “The word is out, y’know?”
The two boxers, Lyubomyr Pinchuk and Oleg Dovhun, requested to train with McSorley and moved to Pittsburgh from the Ukraine to do so. He says they both enjoy it here.
“They’re liking it here, and after next Friday I think Pittsburgh’s going to like them.”
McSorley proudly lists their strengths. Pinchuk as a high-volume counterpuncher and Dovhun as a “super aggressive” puncher that’s light on his feet. Both are former national champions who have traveled and fought around the world; they have racked up over 500 matches combined.
Each fighter, McSorley feels, is the real deal. Between that and their impressive amatuer records, it’s been an uphill challenge to find them opponents for their Pro debuts next week. The bright side of this, McSorley says, is that Pennsylvania is perhaps the strictest state in America to host boxing— meaning no easy or lopsided fights get past the commissioner.
Because matches must be so thoughtfully prepared, “The audience can really get a show here,” McSorley says.
From the main event—Gerald Sherrell at 6-0—to the various undercards, each of the boxers in McSorley’s stable can put on a good show. Mostly undefeated fighters, plus a Golden Gloves winner in fighter Mark Daley, the entire night promises plenty of action.
The most important fighter in McSorley’s life won’t actually be in the ring, but he’s hoping he can at least attend the event.
“Last week my father hit his head and began to bleed out,” McSorley says. “He went into cardiac arrest.”
At the hospital, things looked grim.
“A priest read him his last rites; they were telling us to say our goodbyes,” McSorley says. “But [my father] just wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t give in.”
Incredibly, McSorley’s father—who he says the Conn-Greb gym wouldn’t even exist without—is feeling better and even hoping to watch the fights in Homestead.
“He’s going to try for sure,” McSorley says with a laugh. “He’s going to make a hard push to be there.”
Another important figure in McSorley’s life, Jimmy Cvetic, will be honored during the event as well. Cvetic, a former police officer-turned-trainer has operated downtown’s WPAL gym for years. A Pittsburgh legend known as much for his training as for his, of all things, poetry readings at Hemingway’s bar in Oakland, McSorley is proud to consider Cvetic a mentor and friend. Beyond the honoring ceremony, however, Jimmy is also involved with one of the night’s undercard fighters, “The Magician” Amonte Eberhardt, himself undefeated at 6-0.
After getting changed and talking to his men Pinchuk and Dovhun for a few moments, McSorley throws on his brand new mitts and begins drills with each fighter. The punches snap like fireworks and, between drills, McSorley smiles. The new mitts will get broken in quickly.
Underneath a grand chandelier in Homestead’s historic music hall on the 31st, the results of Michael McSorley’s training will show themselves to a lucky audience eager to take in a night of fights.
Photos by Julie Kahlbaugh