Professional boxing in Israel is here to stay

Boxing 298.88 (photo credit: Joseph D. Robbins)
Boxing 298.88
(photo credit: Joseph D. Robbins)
For years American and European boxing promoters have been coming to Israel with the hope of jumpstarting their favorite sport in this country. But differences in style, and the problem of promoters trying to impress foreign methods and ideologies on the Israeli warriors, kept them from succeeding. That changed in 2000, when Ra'anan Tal and Shlomo Nizarov founded the Israel Professional Boxing Organization (IPBO) in Ra'anana. While foreign promoters had either left empty handed after achieving nothing, or grabbed top Israeli prospects to train overseas, Tal and Nizarov were Israeli, and had an Israeli take on boxing. The pair realized there was a wealth of talent present in Israel at the time, even though Israeli boxing had already lost some of its brightest young stars to foreign promoters. The prime example of talent taken overseas was Roman Greenberg of Haifa, who went to London three years ago after boxing promoter Peter Waterman saw him train in Israel. Waterman, who gave up trying to get the ball rolling in Israel, brought Greenberg back to his gym in London, and has since transformed the Israeli from an unknown amateur fighter, to an undefeated pro, currently on the verge of bigger things. While they may not have Greenberg, the IPBO has prospered since its inception six years ago, hosting some 30 fights at the Israel Center in Ra'anana. The bouts, which are held every eight to ten weeks, attract "close to 1,000 people per show," IPBO's Jerusalem representative Brian Rakoff told The Jerusalem Post. Thanks to the IPBO, Israel is also now affiliated with the World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Association (WBA) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF). Being accredited by boxing's ruling bodies enables the country's fighters to be fully recognized in Europe as well as America, giving them the eligiblity to fight anywhere in the world. Rakoff claimed the CMA gym in Tel Aviv, which the majority of Israel's fighters call home, "is on par with any gym in Europe or America." To date, the IPBO has helped cultivate 20 professional fighters in Tel Aviv, out of the tremendous talent in Israel. One such competitor is Ilad Shmuel, the uncrowned junior welterweight champion of Israel. Shmuel, who has fought professionally 15 times, is 14-1, with his only loss coming on a split decision scorecard. The 22-year-old has become a household name in both Israeli and American boxing circles. Recognizing the talent of the fierce Israeli fighter, Nizarov paid for Shmuel to fly to the United States to compete. Now, two knockouts and an undefeated 3-0 record later, the only Israeli-born fighter active in the world stage today is hot property in America. Another IPBO success story is that of Hagar "Super" Pinar. Pinar is the Women's European WIBF champion at 51 kilos, and a legitimate contender for the world title. Pinar's only loss in 12 fights came on a technical decision in a title fight against the current world champion, Hungarian Reka "Boxqueen" Krempf. Pinar, who won the European title in her home ring in Ra'anana, was defeated on points when an inadvertent headbutt in the third round brought a halt to the contest. Still Pinar, who spars with men in training, is considered by many to be the favorite in her scheduled rematch with the world champ. While the IPBO has managed to nurture talented boxers to fruition, the majority of its success has been in and around Tel Aviv. In addition to the training in the city, and the fights held in one of its suburbs, the professional boxing club in Israel is also located in Tel Aviv. However, there is, "lots of talent in Jerusalem," Rakoff said. People are just unaware that boxing is currently being developed in the City of Gold. The South African trainer knows that there is another Roman Greenberg in Israel, and since making aliyah just under five years ago, has dedicated his life to finding one. When it comes to boxing in Jerusalem, Rakoff is king. He has been in the business all his life, training, managing and promoting boxers in South Africa for over 40 years and runs boxing classes and trains up-and-coming fighters at Jump Gym via his own Brian Rakoff Organization. Although Rakoff noted that establishing boxing in Jerusalem is hard because "all of the action is in Tel Aviv," he is still tirelessly working at it. "I want to develop some top fighters in Israel and from there, be able to develop a champion who can fight overseas," Rakoff said. "I want to have people come [to Israel] to fight as well." So far, Rakoff has discovered Jerusalem's first-ever professional fighter. "Rocky" Ruby Birnbaum - as he is affectionately known in the Israeli boxing world - is a middleweight fighter from Brooklyn, New York, weighing in at between 75 and 76 kilos. He has been boxing since the age of 13 and said he spoke of his excitement to be able to participate in Israeli boxing. "It is exhilarating to be able to box in Israel and represent Jewish youth in America interested in making aliyah," Birnbaum said. The 23-year-old, who will travel to America to be with his family in August before his upcoming bout in Ra'anana in October, also said that it is a gift just living in Israel, and "getting to box on top of it is incredible." While boxing in Jerusalem is not yet on par with the Tel Aviv scene, Rakoff is confident that his organization will soon reach the city's level, thanks in large part to David Stolzman, the CEO of Jump Gym. "All the credit goes to David," Rakoff said. "Without him providing his facilities, I never would have been able to get boxing in Jerusalem off of the ground." For now, Rakoff is working hard to make his dream a reality. As well as training and managing Birnbaum, Rakoff has enlisted Shai Baum of Detroit to be Brian Rakoff Organization's American representative in the hope that he will make setting up fights for Israeli fighters in America that much easier. Despite the length of time it took for Israeli boxing to get off the ground, it is now clear that Israeli Boxing is here to stay.