South Boston, the heart of the human fighting spirit
On Friday night, South Boston's very own Kyle Bochniak goes up against Sean Woods at UFC on ESPN 6 at Boston Garden, but to understand how he got there, you'll have to look at the entire South Boston fighting tradition. And the South Boston fighting tradition isn't just about its fighters in the ring, cage, or street, it's about a fighting spirit that has created countless highly-decorated soldiers in every war America ever fought.
That's because South Boston isn't your average neighborhood, it's a place that encapsulates the spirit of MMA perhaps more than any other. This is where Dana White learned the fight game before going on to be the father of modern MMA. While Las Vegas has its massive arenas built for blood sport, South Boston manages to create a spirit of fighters that goes to its very foundation. That spirit isn't one that is exclusive to the ring or cage.
South Boston has always sent more than its fair share of fighting men to America’s wars, and Vietnam was no exception. South Boston is also one of the few places that didn’t turn their backs on the returning veterans when things got ugly. In fact, South Boston was the very first community to erect a monument to those fallen in that war.
“South Boston wasn’t like other neighborhoods,” said Vietnam vet (and bestselling author) Patrick Nee. “People welcomed us back. We weren’t heroes, but we had done our jobs and were respected for it.”
No matter what the fight may be, whether it's in the ring, the cage, the ice, the court (and not just basketball!), the street, or on the battlefield, the neighborhood of South Boston is one that honors its warriors.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a moving ceremony commemorating the anniversary of that Vietnam veterans monument. with former Marine Corps Commandant (and former Trump Chief of Staff) General John F. Kelly as keynote speaker. Also present were Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Marty Walsh, former Mayor Ray Flynn, Congressman Stephen Lynch, and State Rep. David Beale. I was lucky enough to be standing behind the Governor during the veterans memorial Mass at St. Brigid’s, and was close enough to give him a heartfelt “Peace be with you.” After the Mass, we all crossed the street, entered Medal of Honor park, and approached the monument along Sgt. James R. Nee Memorial Walkway, to watch an amazing performance by the various military, police, and firefighter color guards. General Kelly gave a moving speech, not just about his service in Vietnam, but about how it felt to lose his son in Afghanistan. After the ceremony for the Vietnam Vets, he led a separate ceremony for those who had lost children fighting overseas.
After the event, I got to spend a little time with Congressman Lynch and State Rep. David Biele. Lynch is a true political heavy hitter - his committees oversee government misconduct, all US financial institutions as well as the Federal Reserve, but he is still a man of the people and I often see him at a nearby neighborhood gym. I was occasionally attached to his security detail as a police officer when I was stationed in South Boston, have worked for his political campaign as a private citizen, and I still consider myself his honorary bodyguard at the gym when I see him there. State Rep. David Biele is doing a bang-up job occupying the State Representative seat once held by my cousin Paul Gannon prior to his retirement from politics. And it’s always good to see City Councilor Michael Flaherty, best known to the cops of my era as the crusading Assistant District Attorney that helped bring order back to the streets of Boston in the 90s.
Afterward, the former Marines, former cops, and former firefighters walked down the street to Roza Lyons, a local upscale Marine/Firefighter/Cop/Prosecutor/Politician bar. Not many neighborhoods have one, but Roza Lyons is the real deal, and General Kelly is not the first former Marine Commandant to walk through those doors. To feel truly welcome there, you must be tested by fire, a veteran of some kind of war, whether overseas, in court, business, the ring, or the political arena (or be a lady of exceptional sophistication and class).
Earlier today, at the UFC Open Workout at Peter Welch’s Gym in South Boston, Chris Weidman asked if there were any good local spots to be recommended, and Roza Lyons is the one recommended by me. It’s not for the young kids, but it is for the grizzled types that have been through some wars, and I think Weidman qualifies. And after his incredible war with scary Russian fighter Zabit Magomedovshapirov last year, Kyle Bochniak does too.
Magomedovshapirov is a miniature Ivan Drago that everyone else in the UFC was ducking. Kyle Bochniak not only took the fight, he reprised Stallone’s role in Rocky IV by getting in Zabit’s face and making him pay for every strike he landed. Kyle took some terrible punishment, but he kept going for the win until the very last bell sounded, earning the respect of both Russian and American fight fans everywhere, along with a $50,000 Fight of the Night Bonus from Dana White. I’m hoping to see a similar action-packed fight against Sean Woods this Friday at the Boston Garden.
Video from the ceremony.
South Boston Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Patrick Nee and other South Boston Vietnam Vets line up to honor their fallen comrades
President Trump's former Chief of Staff General Kelly and myself
Roza Lyons wall
Roza Lyons wall patches
Classic Marine combat knife courtesy of Marine Commandant General Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, highest-ranking member of the most powerful military in history
Wording from Plaque
The lovely Amanda Gurley, Roza Lyons owner Robbie Fitzharris, and some plug ugly bouncer pretending to be a barback
Roza Lyons (Exterior shot)
At the incomparable Peter Welch’s Gym in South Boston, which hosted the open workout
Chris Weidman at Peter Welch's Gym
At Peter Welch's Gym
Joe Lauzon at UFC Open Workout at Peter Welch's Gym
Kyle Bochniak at Carlson Gracie South Boston with coaches John Clark, Nick Drummond and Sean Fisher
Author Sean Gannon is a 6-time Golden Gloves Champion, Massachusetts State Judo Champion, NAGA World Champion (Intermediate and Advanced Divisions), regional Mixed Martial Arts champion, UFC veteran, and perhaps most famously, was the best bare-knuckle fighter in the US (taking that honor from Kimbo Slice in an epic war). He's also a decorated, 20-year veteran of the Boston Police Department. He's larger than life, but that is just the beginning of it. Gannon is amiable, well-read, witty, self-deprecating, and can chime in knowledgeably and compassionately on an extraordinarily wide variety of subjects. He's a member of MENSA (the high IQ society) and one of my favorite writers on The UnderGround, ever.
Photography by Sam Bishop.