Two teams of young boxers, one from Ireland and another from Boston, squared off in a series of three-round fights on City Hall Plaza Sunday evening.
About 200 spectators watched the bouts, which organizers said was the first international sporting match hosted in the concrete open space. They also called it the first step in a partnership with Connemara, a region in Ireland, that will allow young athletes to travel between the two countries.
The event was conceived by Peter O’Malley, uncle of Boston’s mayor, Martin J. Walsh, and organized by the Boston Police Athletic League, which hopes to create a citywide after-school boxing program.
On Sunday, 36 boxers, 15 from Ireland and 21 from Boston, from age 9 to 19, participated in the fights, which were organized by weight class.
The Irish fighters marched into the ring first, waving an Irish flag, followed by the Americans. A singer performed the anthems of both countries.
“It’s great for kids from here and the kids from Ireland to get together and talk to each other,” Walsh said, noting his mother hails from Connemara and was in attendance. “For me, this is much, much more than a boxing match. Regardless of the outcomes of the fights here tonight, there’s going to be friendships made that are everlasting.”
Asked whether he might show the crowd his right hook, Walsh joked, “no, that’s a long time ago.”
The first contenders were the lightest and youngest, battling each other with a near-constant flurry of jabs and counters as the crowd cheered.
The young Irish boxers arrived in Boston a week ago, and have spent their time training at local gyms, learning the rules of USA Boxing (which sanctioned the match), and bonding with their American peers.
Bill Stoddard, the executive director of BostonPAL, said he hoped the event would raise the profile of boxing, a sport he worries is being drowned out by more popular pastimes. Some parents, he said, worry that the sport is too violent, but he argues that the sport has evolved significantly.
“We truly believe the sport’s been cleaned up,” he said. “There’s no more, you get in the ring and beat the heck out of each other and then you go fight that night. The right people are involved.”
Stoddard said he and Walsh are set to meet about possibly starting a citywide boxing program that would be coupled with an after-school program.
Peter Welch, who owns a gym in South Boston where boxers from both countries trained last week, said he has enjoyed watching friendships form between the athletes, and he was thrilled to see the city begin to recognize the sport.
“It’s like we died and went to heaven to have this opened up to us,” he said.
After fitness, Welch and Stoddard both said increased interaction between young people and police was a top ancillary benefit of BostonPAL. Welch said participating in similar training with firefighters and police officers as a teenager helped steer him down the right path.
“It opens up the world. If it wasn’t for boxing, I wouldn’t be where I am,” he said. “Now, it’s our duty to pass it on to the next generation.”