Organizers of the New England Golden Gloves boxing championships were relieved in March 2020 when they were able to conclude their annual tournament in Lowell just before the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to life as we knew it.
They would not be as fortunate in 2021, when the tournament was postponed, and eventually canceled for the first time in 74 years. It was a crushing blow to the city that had hosted the tournament since 1947, but it has made the return this year all the more meaningful, with the 75th edition coinciding with the 100-year mark of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium opening for business.
Some of the sport’s legendary figures have made their way through the doors of the auditorium, which twice hosted the national tournament, in 1973 and 1995. The field in 1973 included Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Aaron Pryor, and Leon and Michael Spinks. A 16-year-old Mike Tyson climbed into the ring as an amateur in 1983, and of course hometown favorite Micky Ward fought not only as an amateur but also had four professional bouts in the auditorium.
“The building is classic,” said Bob Russo, the Lowell tournament director and national president for the Golden Gloves. “It’s perfect for this, with the balcony 180 degrees around.”
Russo said about 1,500 fans are expected for the first few weeks, with the number expanding to near-capacity at around 2,500 for the finals. Each night’s event runs 2½-3 hours long.
“2020 was just a great year overall,” said Russo. “The crowds were great, the revenues were great. I believe the crowds will be back, and the enthusiasm will be back. It’s just too strong of a tradition in Lowell.”
While the rise of the Omicron variant is a concern, organizers believe they have protocols in place to safely welcome back boxers and fans alike. Spectators will have to abide by a mask mandate, which will also apply to boxers outside of the ring.
Additionally, a company in Tyngsborough, Sanalife, has donated portable air purifiers, ultraviolet disinfection robots, and hand-sanitizing stations to be used throughout the tournament’s run.
There is a men’s and women’s field, with 10 weight classes for each. Amateur boxers with 10 or fewer fights compete in the novice class. Those with more than 10 bouts are in the open division. There are approximately 10-15 fights each night. All bouts are scheduled for three rounds at two minutes each, with the boxers wearing protective headgear and 10-ounce gloves.
The tournament will run every Thursday through March 10. In honor of the 75th anniversary, tickets for all nine sessions start at $75. Individual sessions begin at $20.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.