x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Pilot lands on the big stage

From a "ghetto ring" set in the sands of Kirkuk, Iraq, to a debut at Madison Square Garden amid the lights of Broadway. It has been quite a journey for Steven Badgley, a US Army helicopter pilot.

NEW YORK // From a "ghetto ring" set in the sands of Kirkuk, Iraq, to a debut at Madison Square Garden amid the lights of Broadway. It has been quite a journey for Steven Badgley, a US Army helicopter pilot. Badgley, 30, will make his professional boxing debut on June 12 in a four-round bout on the undercard of Ivan 'Iron Boy' Calderon's WBO light-flyweight defence against Jesus 'Azul' Iribe of Mexico.

"It's a dream come true, fighting in Madison Square Garden," Badgley, a Kiowa Warrior armed reconnaissance helicopter pilot, said. "Who would have ever thought?" Badgley, whose opponent has not yet been announced, took up boxing at 16, but shelved thoughts of making it a profession when he joined the army in 2002. Still, he dabbled. He tried out and made the Fort Carson, Colorado, boxing team where he got great training from the US Olympic coach.

After becoming an aviator, Chief Warrant Officer Badgley was sent to New York's Fort Drum and linked up with Watertown Area Boxing Club, where he worked out and trained fighters. When he made his next return to Iraq in October 2008, Badgley left base armed with heavy bags and other equipment donated by John Pepe, the boxing club chief. "Right out in the middle of the sand, I built a little ghetto boxing ring with plywood and rope. It was very cool," said Badgley.

The makeshift ring gradually attracted interest. "At first one guy came out and I was training him and then two, then three. We initiated a night fight thing. Our whole unit would come and watch. "Then I'd come back and there would be a crowd of people waiting to work out with me." The fight scene grew to where they were allowed to organise an exhibition. "We had 12 fights and 600 people showed up. It turned into a huge event televised by the Pentagon Channel [the US Armed Forces' channel]. It was amazing."

After the year of duty in Iraq, Badgley, whose non-sanctioned armed services amateur record is 14-6, began to dream again of getting serious about boxing. "I had regretted not going pro," said light-heavyweight Badgley. "If I don't do it now I would never do it." Back at the Watertown gym, Badgley mentioned his frustration to Don Majeski, the promoter. "Don talks to this guy, who talks to that guy, who talks to Top Rank," Badgley said about the promotions firm. "I got an e-mail back asking if I wanted to make my pro debut in Madison Square Garden. It was a no-brainer."

* Reuters