Corkman Crowley building a reputation in Empire State

Bryant ‘Peewee’ Cruz’s life changed when a local policeman took him off the Port Chester streets and hand delivered him to a boxing gym called Champs in New Rochelle, just north of New York City.

Corkman Crowley building a reputation in Empire State

That’s where Carrigtwohill’s Kevin Crowley first met the 130lb 24-year-old.

In spite of the wrong track he was on at that time, Peewee Cruz was a surprisingly unassuming character. He was simply hanging around with the wrong crew, was how it was explained to the regulars at the gym.

Cruz would soon become the reason why Cork-born building contractor Crowley would try his hand at boxing promotion for the first time.

Crowley recently guided Cruz to a high-profile contract with promoter Lou DiBella and in his first fight as part of that influential stable, Cruz secured a dominant third-round stoppage at the cavernous BB King Blues Club in midtown Manhattan last Thursday.

“Lou DiBella had been chasing him for a while so he’s finally going places,” Crowley told me last week.

“I met him just before he decided to turn professional and being a keen follower of boxing, I was hoping to get involved on the management side of things.

“It’s a tough business. I have my own general contracting business so I’m not in boxing for the money. I just love the sport.”

The Halco Contracting owner left Carrigtwohill in late 1994 and found a city where his love of boxing could be nurtured during the heydays of fighters like John Duddy.

“I have a lot of connections in the boxing world and that’s how I finally got on a DiBella show. He’d be the biggest promoter in the city.”

His junior lightweight prospect, who is now 10-0 after overrunning the game veteran Willshaun Boxley in what was scheduled to be a six-rounder, was a finalist at the 2012 National Golden Gloves.

As a pro, Cruz has quickly become one of the biggest draws in New York, thanks in part to a canny hook-up with Irish bars in Yonkers. Cruz turned pro in December 2012 and fought eight times in his first full professional year. He is now coming off two of his most impressive victories, having previously enjoyed a unanimous decision against Joshua Reyes.

“DiBella is the best option for us if we want to push on,” says Crowley in his impeccably Cork accent which has been unblemished by the two decades here.

“Showtime were at our last fight and they like him and want to get him on but we probably need him to do another few fights.

“Peewee is a good kid. He’s very approachable. He goes in guest-bartending in the Irish bars that sponsor him. He’s very humble. His upbringing was tough up there in Port Chester. He got in a bit of trouble when he was younger. It was actually a cop that brought him to the gym when he was younger. He said he was a good guy who was in with the wrong crowd.

“Since then, he hasn’t been in a bit of trouble. He worked his way through amateurs and did pretty well. He’s a good guy. No issues with him. Very easy to manage. He trusts me.”

Crowley is firmly of the belief that sport offers redemption. He just wishes more fighters could be drawn from the poorer areas of the city.

“A lot of kids that deserve a chance that don’t get one because they don’t have the right person to guide them. “I know a lot of good young boxers from Brooklyn and South Bronx who just have bad people around them.

“They deserve a chance as much as ‘Peewee’ does but they don’t have anyone to guide them.”

Crowley is already looking ahead to the time when he can add an Irish boxer to his ranks.

“John Duddy had New York hopping for a few years,” he recalled.

“It was amazing. The way he filled the Madison Square Garden Theater was amazing. John would fill it if it was me or you he was fighting against.

“The atmosphere was great. But I think there were more Irish around when he was in his heyday though. All the young lads were here and everyone went to the fights.

“I don’t think there’d be the same intensity now (for an Irish fighter) because of the lack of young people coming out here the last few years.

“But when Duddy was fighting, you’d have 4,000 people at a fight and the atmosphere was incredible.

“But I’d like to get an Irish guy at some stage. There have been a few people in touch with me. I’m trying to find the right guy that’s dedicated enough.”

* Contact: johnwriordan@gmail.com

Twitter: @JohnWRiordan

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