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Michael Costantino - Boxing Experts Divided OverDaring One-Handed Fighter

by By Bryan Joiner
The Queens Courier
March 7-13, 2002

Los Banos' own Tammy Allard won two gold medals at the national level in her first year of competitive water skiing. She was awarded the highest award for the best rookie skier. Her name will be enshrined in the Waterski Hall of Fame in Florida.
The walls of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn bear a quote from the poet Virgil, emboldened on a blazing red and yellow sign: "Now, whoever has courage and a strong and collected spirit in his breast let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands."

The sign applies to every boxer in the gym. Except one. Whitestone’s Michael Costantino, who was born without a left hand, but who believes he has enough skill — not to mention quickness and smarts— to make it as a boxer in a town known for its fighters.

"It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks but me and my trainer," said Costantino, 23. "If my trainer didn’t believe in me and I was not going to be able to compete then [I’d give it up]. It’s up to me."

His decision to enter New York City’s most prestigious amateur event, the 75th Annual Golden Gloves tournament, led to mixed results.

In the first formal bout of his young career, held at the Police Athletic League in Harlem in late January, Costantino stunned novice Kareem Delesline with compact right hooks, five inches shorter than his left. The fight was over so quickly — a standing eight-count in the first round — that Delesline said he didn’t even notice Costantino’s disability.

The Queens fighter’s second fight was a different story.

Costantino was overpowered by the Bronx’s Juan Ortiz. Twice, he was backed into a corner and was unable to fight his way out. While Ortiz wailed away, Costantino used his left arm to protect his face while countering with his right. Unable to reach, he fell to his knees, virtually unheard-of in amateur boxing. After being backed into another corner seconds later and taking another knee count, the referee ended the contest.

"I was relieved to not have to fight him anymore," Ortiz told The Queens Courier in Spanish. "A little part of me was glad to have this over because I didn’t want to hurt him so much."

For many in the boxing world, Costantino’s pugilistic dreams are noble but foolhardy.

"A kid like that shouldn’t be allowed to fight, it doesn’t make any sense," said the renowned trainer Angelo Dundee, who managed such boxing legends as Muhammed Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. "A fighter with one hand can’t fight effectively against one with two hands."

Longtime boxing writer Bert Sugar called Costantino’s efforts "amazing." "I have nothing but admiration for what he’s done," said Sugar. "We build monuments to people like this."

As much as Sugar admires Costantino, he stressed that the boxer needs to know his limitations. "If he wants to prove something," he said, "He’s already proven it!"

Eric Raskin, managing editor of The Ring magazine recalled two bygone fighters with severe disabilities, one missing an arm, another a leg. Raskin said his concern was not that Costantino’s missing hand would create an unfair disadvantage in the ring, but rather an advantage. "Someone would have to determine if it made him any more dangerous, if the bone was harder than a fist," said Raskin. If not, Costantino should be allowed to fight, the editor said, adding "anyone can try."

Golden Gloves fighters must have their amateur boxing license. But that’s a small hurdle. All it takes is $35 and some paperwork. To register for the event, fighters line up at the Daily News, the sponsor of the tournament, for a physical which tests primarily for eyesight, heart conditions and drugs.

There are no specific provisions for physical disabilities, so in Costantino’s case, the doctors had to determine whether he could adequately defend himself.

John Woluewich, president of USA Boxing and a member of the committee that allowed Costantino to fight, admitted having doubts. So he paid a visit to Gleason’s to get a peek at the Queens boxer. Costantino was "healthy enough and strong enough, so we couldn’t in good conscience say no," said Woluewich.

"The kid proved himself in the first fight, and the considerations went out the window," he said.

As for the pummeling he took in his second bout, Costantino denied that it was a result of his not being able to defend himself. "I just lost focus, I really did," he said. "The guy won the fight but it was more about me."

He swears that despite the loss, he is still a boxer to be reckoned with. If anything, the loss has strengthened his resolve.

"Now I know what to expect," he said. "I just have to train harder."

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